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Healthy Detroit

Detroit, Michigan

Nicholas Mukhtar

By Dan Jones
June 20, 2014

“As a country we spend 2.5 trillion dollars on healthcare while seventy five percent of that is on something we can prevent,” says Nicholas Mukhtar, co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit Healthy Detroit. “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know there is something wrong with that.”
Mukhtar, who is wrapping up the public health portion of an MPH/MD degree at Johns Hopkins, had no reason to believe he would ever be anything except a surgeon. “I wanted to be [a surgeon] my entire life.” He stresses, “Living in Detroit the past six years I really saw a different side of the health care system.” He was seeing a health care system that most people only became a part of once they were actually sick. A new passion was sparked.
As Mukhtar explains, “We really need to broaden our healthcare system.” By this he means, health care does not start in the hospital but with prevention.
Healthy Detroit grew out of this idea, beginning with the humble thought that we have so many abandoned parks in the City of Detroit, something should be done with them. The concept mushroomed from there. “It went from, ‘Hey, let’s make a few basketball courts’” to the expansive idea of a HealthPark. Mukhtar explains the principle succinctly: “The concept of a HealthPark is to put everything there that residents need to live their lives. You have your typical park amenities then you add a farmers market or food system, add a preventative care clinic and doctor screenings, immunizations and things like that. Then you add on a outdoor fitness system.”
With the first HealthPark slated to open in Southwest Detroit’s own Clark Park, things are moving rather quickly for the young 501(c)(3)-designated Healthy Detroit. Clark Park, the well-maintained city park, is, in fact, largely maintained by members of Southwest Detroit’s Clark Park Coalition. As a result, this park already enjoys a large amount of public recognition and support. Mukhtar believes the intersection of broad community support of the park, established businesses in the area, along with the strong neighborhoods in Southwest Detroit make Clark Park the ideal first HealthPark location (with many more to follow).         
On paper the aims of Healthy Detroit (and Mukhtar) and necessary resources to pull off their vision may seem overly ambitious. However, they are not going it alone. With over forty partners in the public and private sector Mukhtar’s vision is quickly becoming a reality. These partners are varied and include the Detroit Recreation Department, the Eastern Market Corporation, Wayne State University, and many others.
Perhaps the most important partnership that Healthy Detroit has established is with the President’s National Prevention Strategy (a program under the umbrella of the Affordable Care Act). “A year and a half ago I wrote an email to the Surgeon General and the President’s Health Council. The Surgeon General emailed me literally with in minutes [of sending the email] and had me come in and meet her!” Mukhtar says excitedly. 
When nonprofits look to work in partnership with other organizations (let alone over forty!) the process can often be chaotic. Not so with Healthy Detroit, says Mukhtar. They were able to to approach organizations on their “hit list” with zeal and confidence having already gotten the endorsement of the Surgeon General and, by proxy, the Obama Administration.
This is not to say that Healthy Detroit has everything that it needs to move forward. “We need all the help we can get from volunteers,” Mukhtar says. “There are internship opportunities also. All the information is on the website. But the best way to get involved is to come to the Health Park and have fun!”  
Such a large project may seem daunting to many but as Mukhtar says, “The number one thing we have been this whole time is just fearless. We had nothing to lose. I just love it.”               

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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    Founded in 1868, Wayne State University is a nationally recognized metropolitan research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 29,000 students.
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