National WIC Association

Black History Month Highlight: Sonia Gamble

March 1, 2024


As part of Black History Month, NWA aims to shine a spotlight on Black individuals within the WIC workforce and public health field. Today’s spotlight focuses on Sonia Gamble, a 2023 Health Equity Champion, DEI professional and Dietitian Supervisor at Franklin County WIC Program in Columbus, Ohio.


Q: First question! Did you initially start out in health/nutrition or were there any defining events in your life that led you to pursue this path?


A: Yes! So right after high school, I knew I wanted to be a Dietitian. When I was little, my mom was very food conscious, always tracking the amount and type of food she ate. She also began to slowly change my family’s eating habits, doing small things like buying healthier foods, switching us from whole milk to skim milk, and incorporating more fruits and veggies, so I naturally became more interested in food and nutrition. We always had music playing in our house, so we were constantly dancing, and being active. Also, in high school, I worked in a nursing home kitchen with my best friend, and we got to see what a dietitian does throughout the day. It also gave me an appreciation for the work they do with older adults, who I loved working with and talking to. So, helping the elderly was initially my passion and that eventually evolved into working with new moms and babies.


Q: What did you study in university?


A: I went to Bowling Green State University in Ohio where I received my Bachelors and Masters in nutrition. I ended up staying there for what they called the AP4 program: Approved Pre-Professional Practice Program with a combined Masters of Family and Consumer Sciences. My professors were really good to me. I think being African-American, they knew that I was one of the few in the field and they were very gracious, wanting me to succeed, and doing whatever they could to help so I could be successful in my field.


Q: What was your experience growing up with healthcare? Did your family struggle with equitable healthcare access?


A: I grew up in Mount Vernon, a small rural town in Ohio, about an hour northeast of Columbus. It’s a predominantly white demographic, and I was one of four African-American people in my graduating class of 300 people. I knew I was different from an early age. I didn’t know how and what made me different when I was young, I just knew that I was different. Now I understand that it was a difference in privilege. When I was younger, my mom, who had a mental illness, had to seek treatment for mental healthcare, so the only thing I remember when it came to equitable healthcare came from the mental health perspective. Years ago, mental health care seemed more experimental, and my mom’s treatments and medications switched all the time, and they never helped her with understanding any of the side effects. Historically, when people looked at someone who was mentally ill, they would turn a blind eye and leave them alone. If a mentally ill person was treated, it was solely the patient that was treated. Looking back, I see how detrimental it was for her to be the only one receiving healthcare and not the whole family.


Q: You talked earlier about recognizing a difference in privilege as what made you different from your peers. Do you have an example of an experience that revealed the difference in privilege?


A: When I was younger, in elementary school I would see the different sports that kids would play versus what I was playing. I think it would be considered more “pay to play” sports, versus the community sports that I was doing. I noticed where people would travel to, too. People would go on spring break vacations or summer vacations somewhere out of state or the country, and my vacation might be going camping on the weekends. It was still wonderful, you know, a nice family outing. It was just knowing that some people had more money or accessibility related to privilege.


A. As an African American female, I have realized there is a big difference in healthcare services and I do worry about not being heard by my healthcare providers. Previously, I had a primary check-up appointment and in reviewing my bloodwork, I noticed my white blood cell count (WBC) was high. Since I work in the health care field, I knew that a high WBC count could be a sign of an infection. When I inquired about this, the doctor said that it must be a cold or something. Fast forward to two separate urgent care visits, additional lab work, a misdiagnosis, and an ER visit, I ended up having emergency surgery for appendicitis. At the follow up appointment with my doctor, I was told that “I did not present the “typical” symptoms for appendicitis.” Even though I had, on multiple occasions, advocated for my symptoms and pain. The magnitude of that statement, of not presenting with typical symptoms, was eye opening. As a person of color, I don’t want to be dismissed or thought of as someone who can tolerate more pain than a white person, so I’m given less consideration, less medication, or even lifesaving treatment. 



Q: So, in our previous conversation for the health equity champion blog, we talked about your focus on language as a means of receiving equitable services and quality care. Are there any experiences that inspired that for you?


A: What we see at our health department and our WIC program, which is the largest WIC program in Ohio, is a variety of clients. We have a lot of refugees that come to us first, in particular we see a lot of Haitian Creole families coming here and we are helping them find resources for everything. We are the first stop for a lot of these families. It’s important for us to make sure that we have our interpreter services available, and that means having the funding to provide for these services. As we continue to grow, I think that’s where we’re going to see that a lot of our funding is from interpreter services. So, it’s important to have those interpreters in person as well as on the telephone, and with ASL interpreters, we’re starting to do more video conferencing too.



Q: What do you enjoy most about EDI training?


A: It is really special getting to know our cohort group more. We have definitely bonded over the last year, to the point where we see each other at conferences and we’re excited about the work we’re doing and the fact that we get to evolve in our practice. We do call on each other to ask questions or to ask for input, so it’s a very special group; I’m glad I have the chance to develop my skills to grow both professionally and personally. My EDI training has helped build my confidence at work. I am engaged in more EDI workgroups and use this lens as part of my everyday practice.


Q: Why is EDI training specifically important for WIC?


A: It’s important for WIC because we are ever changing and always growing. We are always seeing a difference in our clients in each side of town we have in Columbus, Ohio. We have different population groups and it is important to understand backgrounds and cultures, so we can best help and serve each person we see.


Q: Can you describe some examples of ongoing EDI efforts that you have practiced and that others can adopt in their organizations and WIC agencies?


A: Definitely! So at my program at Franklin County WIC, we continually implement DEI training for our staff. We work within our health department and our city training programs to develop ongoing trainings on implicit bias, customer services, and making sure we know how to utilize interpreters properly. Also, we do trainings on poverty simulators and refugee simulators so we can get a better understanding of what our clients may face.


Q: What does Black History Month mean for you?


A: It’s doing reflection and introspection, looking back and honoring my ancestors- understanding the struggles and obstacles they faced and looking internally to see how I can continue to overcome some of the obstacles that are faced currently.


It also means striving to do better than the generation before me. For me personally - advancing education was very important for me. I am the first in my family to have a four-year degree and master's degree. Starting that for me was very scary because I was navigating it on my own - not having anyone before me that could encourage or help me. I struggled initially in navigating some of these spaces, like getting to school and knowing what I needed to do. Now that I have done it, I can help pave the way for future generations and guide them.



Q: What does Black History Month mean for WIC and WIC families?


A: I think it would be understanding and knowing the struggles that we face as Black people and knowing that building better nutrition habits is better for them and their families now and their families down the line. It's all about striving to do better than those before you and helping the next generation do better as well.