2020 40 Under 40 Honoree: Jessica Ruffin
“You can’t make decisions about what’s best for people without them at the table.”
When COVID-19 made its way to Western Pennsylvania in the spring, Jessica Ruffin, the senior leader for equity and inclusion at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, immediately knew there were communities that would not fare well, including the city’s Black, Latinx and LGBTQ populations.
Traditional means of communication were not going to be enough to reach people who already harbored an inherent — and well-earned — mistrust of government and health professions.
So Ruffin, a third-generation Beltzhoover resident who hails from a long line of public servants, convened a series of listening sessions for underrepresented communities. There, participants could ask the questions that weren’t addressed in press conferences, like “How can we safely celebrate Ramadan?” and “Can we still have a quinceañera?”
“You can’t make decisions about what’s best for people without them at the table,” Ruffin says. “It’s very easy to skip that step, but skipping that step in a time like this means someone loses their life.”