Mona Hanna-Attisha

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha will be the guest speaker at the Justice Forum presented by Pisgah Legal Services.

The 11th annual Justice Forum, presented by Pisgah Legal Services, will be held via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7. Attendance at the Forum is free, but registration is required. Register at pisgahlegal.org.

The focus of this year’s forum will be the intersection of health and justice, especially in addressing social determinants of health, or conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.

Pisgah Legal’s poverty law experts provide legal services to address socio-economic issues that impact health such as homelessness prevention, adherence to safe and healthy housing codes, domestic violence protections, and access to healthcare and basic needs.

Last year, the group helped some 7,000 children, many of whom were living in difficult situations that impacted their health, and consequently, their ability to learn and develop into productive adults. These consequences are not always obvious. As detailed in Justice Matters, the newsletter of Pisgah Legal Services, “A child who dozes off at his desk during the day might be exhausted because he and his parents are homeless and sleeping in the family minivan at night. A kid who cannot focus on her algebra lesson may be distracted because she’s not getting enough to eat. And could that surly teenager who defies authority at school also be the same person who is bravely defending his mother from an abuser at home?”

Pisgah Legal Children’s Law Attorney Molly Maynard said, “One family discovered their rental house had bacteria contaminating its well water. The water caused a series of stomach infections that resulted in their child missing so much school that he was going to fail the grade. In addition to his health issues, what does that then do to a child; to get held back, lose all your friends and get teased by other kids for being called ‘stupid?’ Not having your basic needs met as a child impacts everything — your social life, academic performance, your short- and long-term health. It’s all related.”

A major contributor to these issues is being homeless. With the coming of winter and the recent federal lifting of the eviction moratorium, the potential is there to increase negative impacts.

Pisgah Legal Services is working hard to minimize that impact.

Attorney David Bartholomew, co-director for the PLS’s Homelessness Prevention Program, pointed to the many services available to tenants facing eviction, and the efforts being made by county officials to help them and the landlords.

“In fact, the state has been doing a much better job in processing available federal funds than most others, with the federal government recently placing North Carolina in the top five in the country,” Bartholomew said.

The forum’s guest speaker, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha MD, MPH, FAAP, is the advocate who exposed the dangerous levels of lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water. A pediatrician, a scientist, an activist and an author, Hanna-Attisha was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In addition, she has been selected as one of USA Today’s Women of the Century and received the 2020 Fries Prize for improving health. She is the founder and director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, an innovative and model public health program.

Hanna-Attisha is the author of the widely acclaimed book “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.” Her telling of the shameful Flint drinking water disaster that became a tale of activism and hope is the subject of the book.

In addition to the free virtual forum, Pisgah Legal will host an in-person reception and watch party. The pre-event outdoor reception will be held, starting at 5:30 p.m., at Rabbit Rabbit, 75 Coxe Ave.

The reception will feature networking with other Pisgah Legal supporters and community members; catering will be by Céline & Company with beverages from Asheville Brewing Company.

Following the reception, attendees will watch the Justice Forum together on Rabbit Rabbit’s large outdoor screen. Tickets for the event are $50 and can be purchased online at pisgahlegal.org.

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