American Public Health Association
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Michael Bird

Michael BirdName:    Michael Bird, MSW, MPH
Leader Position:   APHA Past President
Member Since: 1984
Current Employer:   Self-Employed

My APHA Indigenous Leadership Story
My story with APHA started in 1984 with the New Mexico Public Health Association. There had been little to no outreach by the affiliate with the American Indian Community so I joined the  affiliate to address this issue and to explore potential opportunities for all communities. I served in a number of  positions with the state affiliate and eventually  became President of the New Mexico Public Health Association. I also got more involved with APHA. Nationally, I served on the Section Council for Health Administration and on the Executive Board. During my final year on the Executive Board, I was elected to Chair of the Board serving as the First American Indian Chair. In 1999, I ran for President Elect and became the First American Indian to serve as President of APHA in 2001, a historic moment for both APHA and myself.

At this career highpoint, I was forced to make a life changing decision when it became evident that my employer at the time, where I spent twenty years of my career, would be unable to accommodate my new duties as APHA President. I had to reluctantly decide whether to leave my two decade career, not to mention my livelihood, behind. If I left, I considered it a bit like jumping out of a plane in not knowing if my parachute would open or if I was well supplied to survive new terrain. Needless to say, I resigned and it turned out to be the best decision that I ever made. Taking that leap of faith opened up several doors and a world of opportunities which continues to this day. As for those closed doors, those challenges, I tackle those one at a time in the hope of creating more opportunities for the leaders of tomorrow.

Although it is never easy to leave that which is familiar and comfortable, real growth often time requires risk and taking a leap of faith. My opportunity to serve as President of APHA changed my life both personally and professionally and provided me with opportunities that I never could have imagined. It challenged me to develop new knowledge, skills and abilities which enhanced my professional growth. I travelled extensively during my term and met APHA members across the country establishing a record number of visits to state affiliates. I also had the opportunity to visit a number of Indigenous colleagues from across the globe. Through my travels, I met many people who shared their work and communities with me, many of whom I now call friends.

One element that was significant in my journey with APHA was the role of mentors. Anything I have achieved in my life could not have been accomplished without a significant number of mentors both within APHA and in my life journey. The role of mentors cannot be overstated especially for those who come from backgrounds where there have been limited opportunity to learn the skills or develop the necessary networks which are the basis for advanced learning and career building in the larger world. It is also incumbent upon all APHA Members to make a commitment to Public Health Values of Equity, Diversity and Social Justice, and to give breath and life to the words. This requires a commitment to reach out past artificial boundaries of race, color, creed, sexual orientation and social status. Equality is about all of us or it is about none of us. I’d like to encourage everyone to take more risks and to take the time to mentor someone because it could change that person’s life and enhance your life as well.