Published April 20, 2018
If you’re an African-American living in the 14204, 14206, 14211, 14212 or 14215 zip code, you are almost three times as likely to die prematurely as a white person living in a different zip code in Buffalo.
That fact is one of many reasons behind a conference being held later this month called “Igniting Hope: Building a Just Community with a Culture of Health and Equity.”
Free and open to the public, the conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 28 at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, 955 Main St. Register online.
“To live up to our motto of a ‘City of Good Neighbors,’ we must all work together to create a community where race is no longer a defining factor in a person’s health and life expectancy,” says conference organizer the Rev. George F. Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church-Buffalo and a member of the African American Health Disparities Task Force and the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable.
“This conference is the first step of a call-to-action to eliminate health disparities,” he continues. “I am excited that UB is partnering with the community to take on this challenge.”
“UB is committed to working to address and ultimately reverse the consequences of the health disparities that Buffalo’s African-American community has lived with for too long,” says Michael Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School.
Consuelo Wilkins, executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance in Tennessee and an expert in improving community health through community-engaged research, is the keynote speaker. Stephen Thomas of the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity and one of the nation’s leading scholars on eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities, will join the group by Skype.
Charles F. Zukoski, UB provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, will make opening remarks.
After discussion of the causes of disparities, breakout sessions will focus on actions to take in the areas of housing, health care, education, personal security and economic/employment.
The conference is the result of a collaboration between UB, the African American Health Disparities Task Force, Millennium Collaborative Care, Erie County Medical Center, Population Health Collaborative and Greater Buffalo United Churches. It is designed to attract activists, scholars, students, clergy and members of the public to come together to figure out how to address — and ultimately reverse — these disparities.
The event follows several years of intense research by the task force led by Willie Underwood III, associate professor at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center; Nicholas; and others aimed at quantifying the extent of health disparities in Buffalo’s African-American community.
In 2015, the task force issued a report revealing dramatic discrepancies between the outcomes of blacks and whites in Erie County. For example, infant mortality among blacks is almost three times the rate of whites, asthma hospitalizations for black children is more than four times the rate of whites and the percent of premature deaths in people younger than 75 is nearly double for blacks than whites.
In addition, national data show that black women are less likely to get breast cancer than white women but are more likely to die from it.
“These unjust indications show you something is systemically wrong,” Nicholas says. “This is a crisis; this is not episodic. We are in a continued, ongoing health crisis.”
“It’s significant that we are having the conference at UB,” he says. “It’s incumbent on the university to say, we are providing leadership and resources. It makes it real. Without it, it just becomes a PR (public relations) exercise.”
And while faculty, administrators and students throughout the university have been involved in numerous efforts focused on some aspect of health disparities, efforts often aren’t well-coordinated.
Last spring, Alan Lesse, senior associate dean for curriculum at the Jacobs School who has been involved in educating students about health disparities and the social determinants of health, convened a meeting at UB to bring faculty from all the disciplines together to discuss how to address disparities.
“It just blossomed from there,” Lesse says. Now, the African American Health Disparities Task Force has representatives from throughout the university, including UB’s Jacobs School, School of Nursing, School of Management, Graduate School of Education, School of Law, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Public Health and Health Professions, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the Clinical Translational Science Institute.
Nicholas stresses that the conference is designed as a call-to-action to attract individuals who are working to reverse disparities or who would like to be involved. And it isn’t just people involved with health professions who should attend.
“We are trying to change the conversation,” Nicholas says. “We are trying to develop a movement at this conference to change the narrative to present the data to a larger population.
“In our community, black folks are sicker and don’t live as long as whites. This is 100 percent preventable and fixable.”