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Health Advocate Elizabeth Bustos Named KPBS Community Hero

Elizabeth Bustos has been selected as a Community Hero for her work promoting health and justice in Southeast San Diego.

“Dying of heart disease does not have to be anybody’s legacy," Bustos said. “And it shouldn’t. Too many of us let it be that way.”

Bustos is the community engagement director for Be There San Diego, a coalition of health-care systems, government entities and community organizations working to prevent heart attacks and strokes. She directs the Southeastern San Diego Cardiac Disparities Project, which aims to reduce the incidence of heart disease among African-Americans, who are at greater risk for developing the disease, according to the American Heart Association.

In less than three years, Bustos says she has helped 21 faith-based organizations create programs to promote healthy habits among parishioners. The collaborative nature of Bustos’ approach has led to such success that federal funding for the project is expected to be extended an additional year, she said.

But things didn’t go smoothly at first, Bustos recalled. Some predicted she would fail “miserably and very publicly.” The reasons were many, but among them was the fact that she was a Latina working in the African-American community.

“You don’t look like them,” she said she was told.

Rev. Gerald Brown, executive director of the United African-American Ministerial Action Council, works closely with Bustos. He attributes Bustos’ success to her intelligence and humility.

“She seeks permission in everything she does,” Brown said. “But she is driven. She will work through night and day to see a project come about.”

Photo credit: Photo Courtesy of Be There San Diego

Elizabeth Bustos hands out materials to promote disease prevention at a fair outside Immanuel Chapel Christian Church, which held a celebration of women in July 2015.

The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Bustos grew up in San Diego. She says her parents instilled in her the importance of hard work, family and education. She wished for a Barbie, but her father gave her pencil sharpeners instead. And a manual typewriter.

“We were doing term papers back in the day,” Bustos said. “We would look out the window and see other children having fun and we would wonder why we were doing this.

“I have to say there is such wisdom with my parents. They really had a vision for being here —for us living and thriving — and really being contributors to this country, contributors to this community.”

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