In Memoriam: Naomi Cottoms

It is with great sadness that NACHW mourns the loss of Naomi Cottoms, beloved friend, colleague, and member of the NACHW founder’s circle. Naomi was a prolific leader in the community and public health space. A CHW through and through, her impact will be felt for decades to come, and she will be greatly missed. 

Naomi’s obituary can be found HERE

Naomi Cottoms, Presente!

Statement of Appreciation and Remembrance by her fellow founders of the National Association of Community Health Workers

We love Naomi, and we will miss her.  She brought light to the national CHW movement that will never be extinguished. She was deeply involved in creating the National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW), and she served as a pivotal leader of our organization from NACHW’s inception in 2014 to the time of her passing.  She drew upon her vast experience to ground planning of NACHW in the values of justice, service, community connection, and love.

Naomi was a committed and visionary Community Health Worker.  She served as founder and director of the Tri-County Rural Health Network, as founder of the Arkansas Community Health Worker Association, as a research partner with the University of Arkansas Medical Center, and as a civic leader in her home of Helena, Arkansas. She led an annual Thanksgiving food distribution, raising funds and organizing volunteers including some of the NACHW founders who  traveled from out of state to support the event. Food distribution was a critical lifeline to many families during the holidays. In addition to the turkeys and fixings, volunteers assembled food boxes that had enough food and paper goods for multiple meals for large families, and potentially a week or more of meals for smaller families and elders. 

She served as a member of NACHW’s executive committee and chair of our nominating committee, helping to develop leadership for the organization from across the country.  She helped develop our organizational structure, bylaws, and operating systems.  She built support for the organization at regional and national conferences. She devoted countless hours to developing and sustaining NACHW, in sickness and in health.

By her own description, Naomi was a proud and humble Southern Black woman. She was candid.  She was discrete.  She was devout.  When asked, “How are you doing?” at the beginning of a meeting, Naomi would invariably say, “I am grateful.”  She brought a unique combination of gravity and humor to board deliberations.  She had a strong sense of decorum and a firm commitment to accountability.  She had an artist’s vision for how to inspire and include people in building the organization’s legacy.

Naomi conceived and led the ceremony that marked NACHW’s official founding at the organization’s launch in April, 2019.  With 900 people present, she led a procession into a darkened hotel ballroom, holding a candle aloft, and solemnly invited everyone in attendance to light their own candles.  There we stood, bathed in light, bringing a new organization into existence.  There were few dry eyes in the house as Naomi led the assembly in reciting NACHW’s founding oath, which she had principally authored.

Naomi brought light to our organization, to the CHW movement, and to the world.  She lived in the light of God.  We loved her, and we will miss her.  We are grateful for her life.