An Interview with Dr. Cecilia Barbosa

November 22, 2021

Hispanic, Latino and undocumented communities across the country have been particularly adversely impacted by COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, RMHF served as a fiscal sponsor for a grant from the CDC Foundation, and $588,230 was contributed from the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond’s Covid-19 Response Fund, to address the vital needs of the Latino population in the Richmond region. Cecilia Barbosa, PhD, MPH, MCP, principal and owner of cBe consulting and immediate past chair and current health committee chair of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board, led an evaluation of the CDC Foundation initiative and its impact on our region’s Latino community. We sat down [virtually] with Cecilia to talk about the report and its findings, the reasons Latino communities have been exponentially impacted by COVID-19 and the ways she hopes our region will build on the relationships we’ve created to move forward in partnership and collaboration with our Latino neighbors. 



Cecilia, we are so grateful to have the opportunity to talk with you about your ongoing work within the Latino community, and your evaluation of the CDC Foundation initiative to support the community in the Richmond region. 


The significant disparities in COVID-19 health outcomes for our Hispanic and Latino neighbors have been widely publicized. What do you think contributed to these disparities? 

First and foremost, many in the Latino population work critical jobs. So, they are out there interacting with people, which made them more vulnerable to COVID. But, those in the Latino population were also more at risk of losing their jobs, which of course reduced their income and could have meant that they had to move in with a family member or friend, further exposing them to the disease. We found that, sometimes, it wouldn’t just be one person infected in a household, but the whole household. It might be 10 to 15 people. So that, of course, created a lot of vulnerability and increased the numbers. 

Not having the same level of access to resources was also a factor. Given that a good proportion of the impacted population may be undocumented people, that creates fear of accessing resources due to a distrust in government.  These, and others, were all factors in the very high rates of COVID, hospitalization and death in this community, especially early on in the pandemic. 


What was the goal of the evaluation you conducted on the CDC Foundation initiative, and how did you go about conducting the research? 

The ultimate aim was to better understand the inequities in the system and to look for ways to dismantle these inequities, increasing opportunities for the Latino, Hispanic and undocumented populations. But of course, within that, we were looking at the impact of the funds from the CDC Foundation and collaborating organizations, along with the incredible generosity of the community. Looking forward, we can take advantage of and leverage some of the learnings we’ve had and provide recommendations for how to make progress. 

The research was conducted largely through qualitative interviews. I was aiming to really reach a wide range of voices, so I engaged some of the Latino-led organizations and Latino leaders in the community. I also reached out to some of the safety net providers who have connections with the Latino community. We interviewed more than 50 people between February and May of 2021. 


What were some of the key takeaways from your research? 

In terms of the impact of the CDC Foundation work and the money generated by the Community Foundation, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and others, we were able to quantify the tremendous growth in food distribution to the Latino community during the first wave of the pandemic. It helped many families get through this extremely challenging time, and there was a deep sense of gratitude for that extension of kindness and responsiveness in the Richmond community. 

We also found that donors in the community came out of this initiative with a much better understanding of what has happened to the Latino population during the pandemic. There was increased awareness, appreciation and respect for the contributions of this community and the nonprofits that serve it. A definite takeaway for recipient nonprofits was that they felt they were recognized and valued for their unique contribution and their deep understanding of the needs of the Latino community. And, of course, with increased resources they were also able to do more. They were able to strengthen and amplify their voices and reach. 


Based on your evaluation, how can Richmond’s philanthropic organizations continue to build on the success of the CDC Foundation initiative and the increased trust that has been established? 

One takeaway that was very enlightening for me was the depth and commitment of long-standing Latino leaders here. And not just Latino leaders, but the generosity and willingness to listen that has been demonstrated by the community at large. We saw firsthand the amazing attributes and strengths this community has, and we can really draw upon those strengths to help us move forward and continue to establish communication and trust. 

Part of what I hope philanthropic leaders can learn from this experience, is that there are new ways that foundations can work with the Latino community and the nonprofits that serve it. Our philanthropic community being willing to explore new ways and models of working with striving populations has been a big step in the right direction. Foundations have a lot of power to make changes. It’s not just about giving money. It’s about opening up avenues and opportunities for communities to voice their needs and their ability to contribute.


What lessons do you hope we all, as a community, take away from the success of the CDC initiative, and from your evaluation? What do you hope comes next? 

Looking forward, what we would like to see is people taking advantage of this new interest and awareness, on both sides. We want to increase and continue that, because it’s an opening into more understanding. We want to continue to build knowledge and connections. I want to see our full community better understand the history of the Latino community, where they’ve come from and the journeys they’ve taken and the stress and difficulties they’ve faced to be here. And then, we want to increase awareness of the positive contributions of the Latino community here, of their strengths and resilience, and what they can share with all of us. 

One of the interviewees mentioned that all immigrants bring with them histories and cultures and languages, and this is an added gift to the community. We should recognize that. How can we take advantage of this newness, and the gifts that come in? Because I think that when we talk about the fabric of America, that’s what it is. It’s embracing the new and being able to then learn and benefit from that, which we have done over many, many centuries. 


Ultimately, this opens the door for a greater articulation of the Latino voice here in the community and the greater trust that can be built when we listen to that voice. 

We are so grateful for Cecilia and the important research and advocacy work she is doing in the community. 


Download Report in English 

Descargar Informe en Española  


Bio – Cecilia Barbosa

Cecilia E. Barbosa, PhD, MPH, MCP is principal and owner of cBe consulting and immediate past chair and current health committee chair of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board. She has a PhD in Social and Behavioral Health from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and her Master of Public Health and Master of City Planning degrees from the University of California at Berkeley. Barbosa has worked for over 20 years in maternal and child health in Virginia. She was the Director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Child and Adolescent Health, and the Executive Director of the Virginia Public Health Association. Barbosa also serves on the Boards of the Jenkins Foundation and Dancing Classrooms of Greater Richmond, the Virginia Department of Health Institutional Review Board, and the Mayor of Richmond’s Breastfeeding Taskforce. A dual citizen of Brazil and the United States, she has helped to organize events and initiatives to promote Brazilian culture and trade in Virginia, and served on the Board of the Virginia Center for Latin American Art and the planning committee of the Latino Health Summit.