A health equity podcast by students, faculty and staff of Public Health and Health Professions.
Season one co-hosts Tia Palermo, Schuyler Lawson and Jessica Kruger take a deeper look at racism and health. Experts from Buffalo and around the U.S. talk about how racism negatively impacts health, groups working to address this problem, and how to make our classes and campus more inclusive for all students.
May 20, 2021
Stan Martin, Cicatelli Associates, Inc. and Ebony White with the African-American Health Equity Task Force. They discuss health inequities in Buffalo's Black/African American communities in the COVID-19 era.
April 15, 2021
Adia Harvey Wingfield is the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor of Arts & Sciences and Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research examines how and why racial and gender inequality persists in professional occupations.
Hello and welcome to Buffalo Health Cast. A podcast by students, faculty and staff of the university at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, we are your co-hosts, Tim Palermo. Jessica Kruger. And in this podcast, we cover topics later, the health equity here in Buffalo around the U.S. and globally. And this first semester of the podcast, we're taking a deeper look at racism and health. We'll be talking to experts around the U.S. as well as individuals here on campus and in the Buffalo community who are working to remove inequities to improve population, health and well-being. You'll hear from practitioners, researchers, students and faculty from other universities who have made positive changes to improve health, equity and inclusion.
Tia Palermo: OK, Hello and welcome to our SPHHP podcast. I'm here with Adia Harvey Wingfield, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. Adia, I'm delighted to be speaking with you today.
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.
Tia Palermo: This year we've launched a new podcast for the university at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, or SPHHP. In the first year of the podcast, we are broadly focusing on the topic of racism and health. And today I want to talk to you about one aspect of racism in academia. The hiring of faculty.
You were recently involved in hiring several faculty members for a new Department of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, an effort that you detailed in your article in the Harvard Business Review, which was entitled ‘We built a Diverse Academic Department in five years, here’s how’ can you tell me a little about these efforts?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Sure. So I should say that when I came to Washington University in 2015, I was actually hired as part of a small cohort that was tasked with building the sociology department from the ground up. The university did not have a department prior to my arrival with my two senior colleagues, and our job primarily was to change that pretty much and to built to do the work of making sure that the department grew into a top sociology department.
And one of our shared goals early on in those stages was that we really wanted to be indicative of the fact that departments can be really strong academically. They can do a great job focusing on research and teaching, but they also can do so in a way that prioritizes both excellence and racial diversity. And that contrary to what some might think, it's not impossible at all to meet both of those goals and to set those standards.
So our focus was on making sure that we certainly built an outstanding department, but that we did so with an eye towards what it would mean to be a racially diverse department in the university and in the discipline. And that's driven a lot of our focal points on hiring and outreach and building over the last five years.
Tia Palermo: That's great. Thank you. So how did your own research background examining how and why racial and gender inequality persist in professional occupations inform these efforts in building this Department of sociology?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: That's a great question. I would certainly say that my own research gave me some insights into the types of pitfalls and challenges that many workers of color encounter when they are in spaces where they're in the racial and or gender minority. I know a lot about that experience from the work that I've done in identifying what those challenges look like and some of the processes that workplaces and organizations engage in that can be unwelcoming or hostile to communities of color.
But I have to say that it wasn't really so much an issue of building from my own research as much as it was working collaboratively with my departmental colleagues and university administration, all of whom were very supportive and enthusiastic and shared this goal of wanting to make sure that we did have a racially diverse department. It was very much a team effort at a variety of levels, which is really critical and important for being able to achieve these goals.
Tia Palermo: When you and colleagues decided that you wanted the new hires to be racially diverse, did you face any pushback? So you talked about how you had support at multiple levels, but was there pushback from any corners and how did you overcome this?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Again, luckily we all were of the same mindset and the fact that we believe that racial diversity and really working to achieve it was important. So there were not issues internally around why this mattered or if we could do it or if it was something that we really wanted to focus on, or, again, this false dichotomy between diversity and quality. None of that was an issue at a department level, and certainly it was not an issue at the administrative level either. We were really very fortunate and supportive of that. Excuse me, we're really very fortunate that we were very clearly supported in this goal by the administration and the workers that we dealt with that level, the dean, the provost, the chancellor at the time, we're all very much on board with this being an important factor for us, which is part of why I write in the article that for these types of initiatives to succeed, I believe it's really critical to have support from multiple levels of leadership.
I think it would have been a lot more difficult for us to achieve the diversity that we did. If I were alone with making this argument in a department with colleagues who did not share this principle, similarly, I think it would have been very difficult for us to achieve the outcomes that we did if as a department, we had to face a lot of headwind from the administration, if we were working with leaders who did not share our commitment to these values and see this as important. I think that my experience shows that the synergy along those lines indicates that change certainly is enabled when it comes from the top, but that that change also has to have Buy-In at what you might think of as middle management levels as well. But when you do have those synergies lining up, that's it really opens up a lot of potential doors and opportunities for what you're able to build and accomplish.
Tia Palermo: Thank you. When you were going through the hiring process, what efforts did you make for the candidate when they were visiting? Both so that they would feel that Washington University in St. Louis was a welcoming environment for them, and then once you hired candidates, how did you make them feel? Welcome and supported once they arrived on campus as new hires?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Yeah, that's a great question. So when going through the interview process, I think it's really critical to make sure that people get a feel for what their experience on that campus will be like should they decide to join the department. So you have to make sure that people see that there are opportunities for them that relate to the things that they want to pursue.
If you have a candidate who might, for instance, be interested in studying issues related to immigration, it's important to let that candidate know that not only rebuilding that in our department, but there are other people on campus that you might want to connect with who are doing this kind of work. We're talking about attracting faculty of color. It's critical for faculty of color to see that they won't be alone, isolated or excluded in everyday campus interactions and deliberations.
So I think it's really key to make sure that when you are trying to recruit underrepresented minority faculty, it's important to make sure that they see other people on the faculty and that they have a chance to talk openly and candidly and privately with them about what their experience has been like, rather than having simply people tell them this is a great place for scholars of color and people are really happy or that doesn't carry as much weight unless you hear it from the scholars of color in question who can tell you again in a private setting where they can speak honestly whether or not that's that's actually true. So when we were recruiting candidates, we made sure to try to show them that there were links between their personal and professional identities that the university recognized, respected and wanted to support so that if they accept an offer and they joined us in the university community, they would have a view from their interview with that with that experience would look like for them up front.
When it comes to people actually being here, I think if you want to build on the groundwork that you've laid through the interview process to make sure that once people have accepted the offer, you can't then pull a bait and switch and have them in an environment where they and their work are not supportive and are not respected or treated equitably and fairly. So we obviously have a pretty robust system.
Obviously, we have a pretty robust mentoring program in our department to make sure that everyone has access to mentors and support and people who can guide their careers, particularly for assistant professors who are going through the tenure process.
But we also make sure that assistant professors, particularly underrepresented minority faculty, continue to remain aware of and feel connected to the life of the university, whether, again, those are through initiatives and groups that speak to their personal identification and or things that speak to their professional research interests.
Tia Palermo: So it sounds like you had a lot of support systems built in in this department from the beginning. Do you have any examples of cross campus initiatives that help support those incoming candidates?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Sure. Well, so our pro vice president provost for diversity and equity and inclusion actually runs a number of initiatives that are designed to reach out to all areas of the university and provide those kinds of supports. There are informal activities. There are more formal activities. There are monthly lunches for women. At the university to make sure there's a sense of camaraderie in cohort building.
There are also leadership development seminars for faculty of color who may be interested in pursuing those types of initiatives there. So this isn't just one office. So there are a number of programs on campus that are in place to draw attention to the fact that if WashU is going to be a place that does want to take seriously these imperatives of diversity and equity and inclusion, it's not enough simply to say that that has to be matched with clear, robust directives that speak to acknowledging those issues, tackling them head on and making sure that the university is working to do all it can to support faculty who are underrepresented.
Tia Palermo: Thank you for that insight. Have you seen the success that your own department effort has had influence other departments or initiatives university wide in their hiring practices?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: It's a little hard to measure just because there's so much variance across arts and sciences and there's so many different disciplines within the one that one college alone that there's a lot of range among them. But I will say that I think that the fact that we have been so successful and done so well in building a racially diverse, academically strong department in a short period of time has certainly been recognized in the university community. And I think serves as a clear message, an indicator to other departments that, again, this is something that's possible to do with the right programing plans, commitment and initiatives in place. I will say that I do think that the work that we have done that functions to show that this is a step that that departments can take, to to follow this lead.
Tia Palermo: That's great. And it really is an impressive group of scholars that you have in your department.
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Thank you.
Tia Palermo: You have a recent paper entitled ‘Getting In, Getting Hired, Getting Sideways Looks, Organizational Hierarchy and Perceptions of Racial Discrimination’ The participants in that study were from the health care industry, not academia. But in this work, you demonstrated that position in the organizational hierarchy is linked to perceptions of racial discrimination, whereby individuals at the top of the hierarchy so examples in that study where doctors reported fewer individual incidents of racism but identified more structural and organizational discrimination as compared to individuals lower in the hierarchy. Examples of structural discrimination included the education pipeline, hiring decisions in developing a mentoring relationship, something you spoke about earlier. What parallels can you draw between that study and implications in academia, given that academia is also vertically ranked in terms of students, professors and hierarchy among professors?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: So that's another great question. And I first want to offer the caveat that the study, as you mentioned, is focused exclusively on health care workers. So I think that there likely are some parallels, but I don't want to give the impression that I'm speaking from data. When I answered a question, I did not interview primarily academics. So I cannot say with certainty that the patterns that I described among health care workers would necessarily be present among people in academia. But that said, I do think that it's at least likely to I think it's safe to hypothesize that there may be some comparable outcomes and there might be some some parallels. Right. So by way of example, when we think about how academia is hierarchically organized and how it's very hierarchically structured and ordered in a lot of ways around similar ideas of status and prestige, I think that it may certainly be the case that for faculty, the experiences that they cite with how race has an impact on their work may certainly be more likely to include more structural processes as well as the more interpersonal ones, which was what I found with with actors in my study.
They cited that there were some cases when they had interpersonal experiences with race, racial discrimination. But as you mentioned, by and large, what stood out for them were the structural barriers that made it difficult to advance into and thrive in in medicine and in physician work in particular. I think it's not difficult to speculate that similar processes might be true for black faculty and certainly for black administrators in ways that I think might reflect different outcomes. If we're talking about black employees of a university who are in staff positions, particularly if they maybe a lower level staff positions that don't offer the same autonomy or status or ability to shape one's work environment.
That, I think, is certainly true for professors. So I think that there are likely some comparable outcomes that we would see between academia and the health care industry. Even though the study didn't focus on those fields, I think it's a I think it's safe to guess at least and hypothesize that the higher one is positioned in the organizational hierarchy. The more impact that may have on perceptions of racial discrimination in academia as well.
But that's a question for maybe a future graduate student to just study a little bit further and to see if my hypothesis is correct.
Tia Palermo: That's great. We're exploring ideas for future research here. Thank you. Can you say anything about the resistance to hiring more than one underrepresented minority in a department or what's sometimes termed as the ‘only one’ syndrome? Have you seen this played out?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Fortunately, in my current department, that's not an issue that we have.
Like I said, we've worked hard to make sure that we do have a racially diverse department, both among our top ranks of faculty who are full professors, and that that continues throughout the department as well at the untenured ranks as well. But I will say that this experience of being the only one or organizations that seem to feel as though hiring one person at a high level ranking is sufficient and gets the job done is not only something that exists, but something that is inaccurate in terms of the ability to really diversify an organization or or a level of an organization.
Research indicates pretty clearly and conclusively that when workers are people of color or women. But when workers are white women or people of color and they are underrepresented in positions to the point where they are the only or one of very few at that organizational level, they’re are a lot more likely to be mistrustful of the organization's commitment to equity and equal opportunity. They are, if they are women, more likely to experience sexual harassment, they are more likely to consider leaving and they are less likely to be satisfied with their employment in that company.
So organizations in many cases may see this idea of this only hiring phenomena as progress. Right, that we've got one person in our C suite and we've done a great job because we've got one person at this executive level so we can brush up our hands and say we've found that diversity problem. But again, that's short sighted and it's not correct. And it comes with creating an environment where in the short term, you may be able to say that you have this one person filling this role, but that one person's experiences are likely more challenging than they would be if they had a cohort of a cohort experience of more robust representation. And if ultimately what that leads to is that person not producing as well as expected or that person looking for other opportunities or that person being disengaged from the organization. The organization is not really winning if they're not maximizing and making full use of that person's talents and opportunities.
Tia Palermo: That's a really great summary of how the challenges that the individuals can face, but also how those challenges can play out in adverse ways for the organization as well. What would your response be to people are departments who say we've tried to diversify our hiring, but qualified scholars of color either aren't accepting our offers or they have too many offers to choose from. They don't want to come here.
Adia Harvey Wingfield: Yeah, I would. One wants to know what exactly trying to diversify your hiring looks like. Does that mean making an offer to one person? And then when that one person. If and when that one person declines, not trying again, does it mean trying to hire someone that you know is already in demand from other places who has multiple other options and then saying, well, we made an effort, but this person just doesn't want to be here? These people don't want to be here. There not much more that we can do. Does it look like that?
If that's the case, I would not really find that to be such a compelling argument. I'll put it that way. Right. I mean, we know if we look at data that they're in most cases, research indicates are more candidates of color available for positions than there are actually positions. So given that mismatch, it's not that we see the glut on the supply side. Right. The issue is not that we see the narrowing on the supply side, more so on the demand side. And if that is the mismatch, then it strikes me that most departments, if they really have the will, if they really have the interest, if they really want to put the work into finding really strong candidates of color. This this is achievable. And I think that my department and the success that we've had indicates that this is achievable.
Right. But it may mean not simply going back to your networks of people that you already know and looking for candidates through them, it might mean looking for candidates through other networks that are specifically inclusive of and designed to include candidates of color. Right. It may mean reaching out to people and explicitly saying that you really want to have a racially diverse applicant pool and asking your connections and your networks to make sure that they mentioned that you have an available job and encouraging candidates of color that they may be advising to apply for this position on top of using the top of the accessing list serves and professional organizations and things like that that are made more that are more racially diverse.
Those might be critical steps that organizations have to take when it comes to hiring. But I believe that doing so really has implications for what the applicant pool looks like. I'll also say that taking those first steps should not be the sum total of what those efforts to racially diversify look like, looks like because if organizations take those early steps and build an early pool of candidates that are racially diverse, but then as we go through the whittling process, somehow it just happens that you happen to whittle out all the candidates of color.
You want to be a little bit more reflexive at that middle stage about what you're a long short list is looking like or what your fly out list is with like or whatever you want to term it. So I would say that I don't really think in this day and age when organizations or departments say that they've tried, but they are simply unable to to hire candidates of color. That makes me wonder what processes they are using to engage in hiring, because it makes me suspect that perhaps it's those processes that are returning a dearth of strong candidates of color, more so than a lack of strong candidates of color really being out there.
Tia Palermo: There's some really great recommendations in there about directly reaching out and, you know, exploring new networks and making sure that the early steps in the process are not just where it ends. So those are really great suggestions. Thank you. What advice do you have for departments? Probably some similar advice along those lines, but advice for departments who are aiming to diversify but perhaps can't do so as rapidly on the scale that your department did.
Adia Harvey Wingfield: So that's a great question. And one thing to acknowledge about our department is, like I said when I started, we were brand new we knew that we had to build we had support for from our administration for doing a lot of hiring in a short period of time because we, we had to. Right. And I obviously recognize that every department is not going to be in a position where they are granted 10 hires in the state of three years. I think most departments are not going to be in that position. Right. Again, that said, that does not necessarily mean that it's impossible to achieve these goals. Right. And the fact that our department had these hires didn't necessarily automatically translate into making sure that our hiring process would turn out to be racially diverse.
That didn't happen just because we had hires. That happened because as a department, we made an explicit, intentional commitment to making sure that that was the outcome and that that commitment was supported by administration. Had we not had that commitment and had administration not been supportive of it, we could have fairly, very easily not had a racially diverse department. I could have not written that article at all because there wouldn't have been anything to talk about. Right. So I say that to make the point that most departments are not going to be in a position where they're doing that much hiring that quickly.
However, I recognize that we're in a pretty difficult situation now for many universities where budgets are lean and positions may be cut, but knock on wood, eventually we've got to get to another side where universities and departments do begin hiring again. When we do get to that point, I think that any department is in a position where they can follow these steps. Think about how you are initially seeking candidates for open positions in your departments. Are you simply posting an ad on a list serve and waiting for people to come to you? Or are you actively trying to cast a wide net so that you can attract candidates of color to want to apply to your department once you are going through the applications that you have, are you doing so with an eye towards making sure that you are not somehow systematically weeding out candidates of color from those who make the initial applicant list to those who make the long shortlist?
Are you doing the same thing when it comes to your your fly out list, when you do bring in candidates, if you do bring in candidates of color, are you making sure that on the campus visit you are not creating an experience that is alienating? Are you making sure that they have access to or have a window into what their experience of campus life would look like were they to be hired?
And if you ask yourself that question and the answer is that the window of what campus life would look like for a candidate of color is campus life would be pretty bleak. That's a point. Some bigger issues that could be useful to reconcile. What would it take to make your university campus? One that is approachable and welcoming and inclusive of a variety of candidates of color if that's something that is a sticking point at that point, it's useful, I think, to have a bigger conversation to raise these bigger questions of how the university at large may want to change, to be a place that is more attuned to the importance and need for more racial diversity on campus.
Tia Palermo: Thank you for that. So we've been talking a lot about the hiring side. But let's flip it. And do you have any advice that mentors and advisors should give their underrepresented minority PhD students, when they're going on the job market in terms of finding an environment that's a good fit?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: That's a great question. Again, I think that it's useful to look at the experiences that faculty in a place already have a place. Right. So if you are a mentor or an adviser to a person of color who's going on the job market, I think it's useful to encourage them. And they may already be thinking this. But I think it's useful to encourage them to get a sense of what life in that department and in that university would be like if they are applying to departments where the department in question hasn't time tenured any faculty of color. Are they applying to a department where the department in question hasn't ever hired any faculty of color? Right. Those are things that are going to matter, and those are things that the faculty of color have to navigate when making employment decisions and weighing particular particular options.
So I would encourage mentors and advisors to make sure that they are assisting their advisees in doing the legwork of finding out what the general climate and experience for them is going to be like. You don't want, in my view, simply to say that you want to send someone to a top rate program in whatever field is being in that environment is going to be miserable for that person. And my view, that is simply not worth it. Other people may think differently and probably do think differently. But I think that that's not a fair trade off to ask junior faculty of color to make when they are looking for for employment.
So I think it's important for advisers to make sure that they take into consideration that advisers of color have a relatively unique experience and that they consider what the entirety of department and university life will be like for them as people of color in these settings, and to make sure that that is a factor that they weigh in determining whether to apply for positions and ultimately whether to accept some really great advice for advisors and PhD students on the market.
Tia Palermo: This has been really insightful. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners about the topics or related topics that we've been talking about?
Adia Harvey Wingfield: I believe I would just add that I think this is really a critical moment for universities right now for a lot of reasons. We are seeing the ongoing protests for more racial equity and an end to systemic racism in society right now.
We are at a point where the nation is becoming increasingly multiracial. Students of color are growing numbers of those who are attending universities. The numbers of faculty of color have not necessarily shifted in commensurate ways.
And this presents a real problem that I think universities need to devote some time and energy and effort into tackling that kind of mismatch. In my view, does not bode well for outcomes for students. But not only that, it doesn't necessarily bode well for universities as we move into continue to move into the 21st century and becoming a more racially, more multiracial society. I believe that universities will be largely better equipped to come to terms with those demographic changes if they actually reflect those demographic changes. So I think it's really critical to grapple with these questions of how best to do that in ways that make sure that both students and faculty are adequately represented and completely included in environments that have a long history of being very extensive and unwelcoming and alienating and hostile.
Tia Palermo: Adia, this has been so insightful and really a pleasure to speak with you. I really just want to thank you for sharing your insights with me and with our listeners here at SPHHP.
Adia Harvey Wingfield: It's been really great to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you for having me. I'm happy to do it.
Hello, and welcome to Buffalo Health cast, a podcast by students, faculty, and, staff of the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions. We are your cohosts Tia Palermo, Jessica Kruger, and Schuyler Lawson.
Schuyler Lawson: In this podcast we cover topics related to health equity here in Buffalo, around the US and globally. In this first semester of the podcast we’re taking a deeper look at racism and health.
Jessica Kruger: We’ll be talking to experts around the US, as well as individuals here on campus, and in the Buffalo community who are working to remove inequities, and improve population health and well being. You’ll hear from practitioners, researchers, students and faculty from other universities, who have made positive changes to improve health equity and inclusion.
Welcome to the buffalo health cast. I'm your host today. Jessica Kruger, and I'm joined by one of our amazing three plus two students in the Department of Community health and health behavior tomorrow across tomorrow, will you tell us about yourself.
Temara Cross: Sure. So hi, everyone. My name is Tamara as she said, I'm currently in my first year of the CH HP program. I'm also pursuing a bachelor's and African American Studies, I was born and raised in Buffalo involved in several social action organizations in Buffalo, and my free time I my free time I say with air quotes I enjoy giving back to my community singing with the gospel choir at UB, going to church and also playing basketball. So that's a little about me.
Jessica Kruger: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for joining us. I'm really interested in learning more about your internship that you're currently in with REACH buffalo. Could you tell us about your role in that internship and a little bit more about REACH?
Temara Cross: Sure, yeah. So REACH buffalo stands for racial and ethnic approaches to Community Health and this initiative was funded it is funded by the CDC. We're in year three now.
And the primary goal is to reduce chronic disease and in our target population. Our priority population which is our residents along of Ferry Street which is East Ferry and West Ferry and also we kind of like try to focus on five zip codes which is 14208, 14209, 14211, 14213 and, 14215.
Temara Cross: So that's our primary goal and we we make sure that we whatever programs that we implement we make sure that we have community voice. So we have community wellness champions.
And then just several people on the team just working together, but my specific role is a reach program intern assistant, intern, slash, Assistant. So I'm helping out on various projects are not just one focus area.
We have different focus areas, by the way, one is community clinical linkages and other one is nutrition and another one's tobacco. So yeah, we're Focus, focus on all of them. And we also received a supplemental grant this year because of covert, of course, but we're our main goal is to promote and educate the community about the flu vaccine and just making sure the community knows that they had the opportunity to take it and yeah so that's what I'm doing.
Jessica Kruger: Sounds like a really exciting project and group to be part of. Could you give us an example of maybe something specifically that you've worked on with the program?
Temara Cross: Sure, I'll talk about how I hit the ground running. So I started in August of this year and soon as I got my laptop. They were like alright so black breastfeeding week is coming up in two weeks. So we want to we want to start some programming, but we don't obviously we had restrictions because of Kobe. So we did stuff virtually so we are. We broadcasted chocolate milk, which is a documentary about black women who breastfeed.
We so we did that, we had like a discussion, like a forum about partners, how they feel when they're like when they're supporting mothers who breastfeed. And yeah, we just had like discussions about black mothers who breastfeed and how they felt about that. All virtual.
Jessica Kruger: Wow, sounds like a huge undertaking that you definitely rose to the challenge for. In your internship. What, what are the most valuable things that you feel like you've learned so far?
Temara Cross: That's a great question. So I would say the most valuable thing I've learned and that is being it like in practice, I would say, is like really actually appreciating community voice because we might have X amount of years in a community, we might live there, we might know someone who lives there. We might have been in the field for so long, but if you aren't living and going through certain things you really don't know how other people like perceive what you might think is the best for them so I've just really learned to appreciate community voice and really use that as like community assessment, you know, really taking that like not just checking off a box like okay we listened to the community, but we're still going to do XYZ know like really taking that into consideration that was something that I found really valuable and really helpful because again, they don't even have to be taking their time out to help us, you know, mitigate chronic diseases in that area, but they're still contributing and we appreciate them for it.
Jessica Kruger: And that's a really important part of public health that sometimes often, like you said, as a check mark right but we really, really need to think about who we're serving and how we serve them I I heard a quote “Not about us without us.” Right? And that has really stuck with me and how you work with the community and work with the community, not just for a community.
Temara Cross: Exactly.
Jessica Kruger: So thanks so much for telling us about your internship. But I want to know more about you. In particular, you have a really interesting background in some of the areas that you have studied. So you're a major in African American Studies and you minor in anthropology. Can you tell us a little bit about why you have chosen those and how they flow into your work in public health?
Temara Cross: Of course I'll start right back to 16 year old me junior year of high school, I knew I was going to be a teacher of some sort. Didn't know what but I was just going along at Hutch Tech. That's where I went to high school here in Buffalo.
And I we had majors in high school like certain concentrations. I was in biochemistry. And I was like, I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm going to do something and it's going to be teaching and November comes around and my I find out my grandmother's really really sick. She had like kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. So I'm like, What is going on and I will before she lost a, you know she was able to speak with us anymore. I was asking her, you know, why can't you, why didn't you like take action sooner gramma. Why weren't you like talking with the doctors really doing what you had to do.
And I mean, she was obviously but um she really stress the fact that, you know, she was tired of seeing other doctors all like different doctors all the time because you know she had different different organ systems require different doctors right and so she was tired of seeing different doctors and then like when she she had to keep explaining her story to different doctors. So there's that. And then not seeing doctors who looked like her. And that was really the big thing that stuck with me.
Temara Cross: You know, in the, the distrust that we see in the medical industry. And that was just really like my first hand, like, Wow, this really exists so after she passed away. I was like, you know, is this really reoccurrence like in my community. Is this something like is it, is it just her or is it, you know, so as I'm like observing how like asking my community members asking my neighbors. So my family, my immediate family, you know, how do you guys feel about going to the doctor and they're like, we don't go there unless we absolutely have to. We don't go, we're not we're not speaking to these people, these, these people air quotes but again, that's when I realized, you know the best way I could serve my community, because I'm always very community oriented. But the best way I could was to serve in the health industry in the medical field. And so I decided that I would pursue medicine eventually and then launch a health facility in the side of Buffalo. So with that, it's kind of real it all in.
So I'm majoring an African American Studies, just to kind of gain more history like a historical point from like like get more of a historical like better understanding of why you know the why, because we're not learning that and that's another thing with we're not learning that in our general education courses we know it's like briefly talked about, but we're not learning about Tuskegee as much as we should be when I learned about Samuel Cartwright all these people who have used black bodies for the advancement of medicine.
We're not talking about that as much as we should be. So that's why I decided to major in African American Studies and then with an anthropology, um, I just kind of wanted to pick something up to learn more about why people do what they do, as far as culture. I know.
Like my, my, like, I've, I've had the opportunity to go to like a more diverse high school, so I was exposed to, you know, different cultures, but not really understanding why people do what they do, like how cultures are formed and things like that. So that's why I decided to just minor an anthropology, you know, get the best of my money's worth.
Jessica Kruger: And such a moving story that how you took a very traumatic event in your life and turning it into something positive. I'm right there with you. I also have a minor in anthropology for my undergrad and I think it's pivotal to begin to understand the perspectives of others and how that's created and You know, you bring up a really good point about the culture, the historical relevance of events that we really need to integrate into our curriculum. And think about, you know, we can't move forward. If we don't understand the injustices that have occurred in the past. Do you have any advice of of how we can begin to make some of those changes?
Temara Cross: Man, you know, I'm not going to speak too too much, you know. Can't let all can't spill the tea. But I'll say Black Council is in the works of really redeveloping and redesigning the undergraduate curriculum, just to kind of expose people to have a course where not only, of course, but also, like, make sure this is a design where it's throughout all courses but really understanding how to be anti racist because I know from personal experience, a lot of my friends from like Williams were Orchard Park, like they have never had to have those experiences and they have never had to have those conversations. So coming to you. Be I we as Black Council and also personally, we believe that it's, it should be up should be held accountable to provide courses like that and be able to input that into correct themselves required for students. Not so. Oh, I'm going to check this box for diversity because I took a class and diversity.
And it's not it's not like that. It's a you really have to be. You don't have to experience it, but you have to have training of some sort, and you really need to be exposed to it, how to be anti racist because being complacent is just as bad as being racist.
Jessica Kruger: Wow, that's, that's a really important point that you're making. Right. It's not just one class that changes you, right, it's it's being open to continually learning being open to hearing diverse voices and viewpoints. And being uncomfortable. Right. Some of this can be very uncomfortable to learn about especially. We know that in the history books that you're taught through school. It's from a very white lens. And so how can we begin to change that. And I think you've come up with some really great idea. So tell us more about the the Black Student Council.
Temara Cross: Right, so I actually saw, I saw that you look for it on UBLinked yet, and we're not on UBLinked yet. I don't know what we're doing, but, where you see the Black Council is a coalition, I would say not coalition, but it's comprised of all the black organizations that you be so we have Black Student Union a Caribbean Student Association African Student Association, UB gospel choir representative of that organization.
So many of us, but um so we came together. It all started back in 2019 February, where there was a town hall meeting, just as we were really upset about the budget cuts to or to organizations that really aim to ensure black student success. So like Educational Opportunity Program C-Step, and there's a town hall and we had a rally. And we were like, You know what, since all of us think alike. Why don't we just come together because, you know, we have all these different black organizations, but we all feel the same way. So we came together and wrote a couple proposals wrote a couple demands and you know we just hit the ground running from there and you know as people graduate as people and move on. And, you know, start adulting we have to like pass the torch and stuff.
So our main goal right now is just kind of sustainability of the Council and just making sure that we continue to increase the momentum and push the administration at UB just making sure that we keep that going. Despite having online classes in these unprecedented times, you know, it's really hard for us to come together.
But when we do, we're trying to make sure we you know, really hit the ground running in hold up accountable for ensuring black student success, but a few of the things I'll just mention.
So one of the things we are really looking forward to making sure we work to increase the minority admission or acceptance rate. And one thing that resonated with me when I read that demand was how so I serve on this as counsel I you'd be the scholarship you be which we just ensured the students at say at UB who received scholarship or us as students so they don't have to get the scholarship, but they graduated from a buffalo public charter school. So our goal is just to make sure that they have the resources they need at UB and one thing I learned was that the emissions that you'd be goes to certain high schools. They don't go to all the high schools in Buffalo.
And like, looking back like it. This is why like sometimes I just wish I knew all these things when I when I was in high school, but you know, you learn as you grow, and as you get older, but they only go to like Hutch Tech the high performing high schools City Honors, Da Vinci.
And it just goes to show you know not like they're not the students in the other high schools aren't even given the opportunity of exploring what's out there of not not just the other local colleges, you know, so it's really because this is like, you know, the university and for them.
Not to do that is alone is really like systematic. It's really a systematic and it's really something we wanted to address because the, the population of black students at UB is so small proportion is so small. So we want to just hold you be accountable, such that they really strategically seek out other students of color for to be a, you know, have the opportunity to obtain a degree there.
And yeah, we'll also, you know, we're also looking at increasing black faculty. We know that
while black faculty are recruited and, you know, they come along. A lot of times they leave because of the climate of the institution. So that's one thing that we feel like they should address
again, another thing I'll mention is like the curriculum development really making sure that it's not just one class that addresses racism and discrimination but it’s implemented throughout all fields, especially STEM fields. We have one of our members, she shared a really touching story about, you know, she came in and her advisors really discouraged her we're discouraging her from taking African American Studies courses because you know it's not you don't have space for that and all attest to that because I came in as biomedical sciences.
And it was a really rigid curriculum. I couldn't take what I wanted to take so so those are just a few of the things that we want to address you know we have we fought we're finding out as we go along that a lot of people think the same way we do so.
There's power in numbers, as we know, democracy, so we're just working together working, finding the connections, where we can but we all, we always need support. So if there's any students up there any organizations that want to get involved. Black students you can hit us up on Instagram, Twitter UB black council. I'm just like, promoting here.
UB Black Council you can hit us up and find out ways you can get involved. But yeah, we're just trying to really hold you be accountable to, especially given the climate now. And I always say this and I'll continue to see it. It's it's unfortunate that it took the death of a man for the country to realize how oppressive black people have been for over 400 years but it's time. And, um, yeah. With that, I'll, I'll stop. I'll get off my soapbox but yeah that's that's what we're doing. So, yeah.
Jessica Kruger: Well, it sounds like you're using a lot of your public health skills to, you know, organize and break down some of these systems, it's it's really powerful to hear how much you're doing as a student. You want to kind of tell us a little bit about how your work with the Black Student Council relates to your, your overall public health, you know, lens or how you kind of view things?
Temara Cross: Oh yes, I'll just say like, I don't know, every week going through at least with I don't, even an undergrad, like every week. I'm just finding how public health is my life. I won't speak for anyone else but like how public health is every day is something and I'm just like, it was a couple. I think it was last week we learned about negotiation in our one of our leadership courses in the in the CHP program and I was like, this is really like applicable to my life, it’s not just public health and they say they gave us examples of how negotiation is using public health, you know, I'm negotiating with a state about like funding for vaccines, stuff like that. And I'm like, Well, you know, we have to negotiate on a daily basis. So it's not just
From a public health lens and I'll say my internship with REACH is so it's like I'm literally taking what I learned in the class. I know this is like the purpose, but it's like I'm scooping what I learned in the class and putting it right in the internship and it's like it's like vice versa. Like I'm taking what I learned the internship and really applying it with the coursework and it's so I'm so grateful. Like I'll shout out to Heather Orom for really cheap. She was the one that emailed me was like this is for you. So, um, I thank her for that.
But yeah, it's really just so applicable and I'll just go back to the black Council on like the negotiation. That's just one primary example like really negotiating such that, you know, administration. I'm grateful for what, you know, you'd be administration has done thus far.
For some things I'll say, but, um, you know, that's a long way to go. But again, it has to be negotiation, it has to be communication consistent discussions and yes, so that's just one thing that I've learned like primarily in my program that I was able to like directly apply, but there's so so much so much
Jessica Kruger: It's so great to hear, it sounds like you're really taking what you learned and applying it exactly as you know an internship is is planned and I love how you can really translate this into multiple areas of your life, not just your internship or your professional career, but also how this you're taking some problems that are very apparent of the university and using those skills and knowledge to make some of that change. So bravo to you!
Temara Cross: Thank you.
Jessica Kruger: Tell me what's next.
Temara Cross: Oh, man. You know what's crazy is I have all these post it notes on my wall. And I said, I never put any posting notice so disorganized, but every idea that pops in my head. I just put it on my wall and I've eventually I want to go to med school. And I was like, do I take a gap year do I, what do I do because this semester alone was really like, how can I study for the. I was like, what, how can I study for the MCAT, With all this going on?
But I was thinking, okay, maybe I'll take my break considering we have an extended break take my break to study for them cat. So I guess. Next, aside from, you know, actually, finishing my master's program. I'll be starting to look at med schools and I don't want to leave buffalo, but you know, I'm a homebody but you know exploring other options. I'll say. So that's what I'll be doing. I'm just chugging along with my Social Action organizations open buffalo. Buffalo transit writers united, you know, and obviously being a student, too. But yeah, really, just chugging along but also taking days to myself. Like I said, I'll be eating a lot tomorrow with thanksgiving. I'll be eating so much but yeah, making sure my cup is full. I'll say that. That's my primary next step is making sure that my cup is full. So I can do what I want to do and give back to others.
Jessica Kruger: And still care is so important in our field. Well, I can't wait to see all that you accomplish in your program. So thank you so much for being a guest on Buffalo HealthCast today.
I'm sure all of our listeners have learned so much about reach, but also some opportunities in which we can make change and support students and making change.
Temara Cross: Of course, of course. And if you guys have any questions feel free to email me email@example.com find me on Facebook, I post memes mainly, keeps me sane.
Jessica Kruger: With the contact information in our show notes. Thanks so much for tuning in.
Temara Cross: Of course.
Schuyler Lawson: This has been another episode of Buffalo Health Cast, tune in next time to hear more about health equity in Buffalo, the US and, around the globe.
March 25, 2021
Born and raised on the east side of Buffalo, New York, Temara is a first-year graduate student at the University at Buffalo, majoring in African-American Studies and pursuing a BS/MPH in Public Health, concentrating in Community Health and Health Behavior. She is involved with organizations such as Say Yes Buffalo and Open Buffalo, actively working to achieve educational, socioeconomic, and racial equality.
Hello, and welcome to Buffalo Health cast, a podcast by students, faculty, and, staff of the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions. We are your cohosts Tia Palermo, Jessica Kruger, and Schuyler Lawson.
Schuyler Lawson: In this podcast we cover topics related to health equity here in Buffalo, around the US and globally. In this first semester of the podcast we’re taking a deeper look at racism and health.
Jessica Kruger: We’ll be talking to experts around the US, as well as individuals here on campus, and in the Buffalo community who are working to remove inequities, and improve population health and well being. You’ll hear from practitioners, researchers, students and faculty from other universities, who have made positive changes to improve health equity and inclusion.
Schuyler Lawson: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Buffalo Health Cast,
The University of Buffalo Premier Public Health podcast.
I am your host, Schuyler Lawson, a first year PhD candidate in community health and health behavior. With us today is our Reverend George Nicholas, co convener of the African-American Health Equity Task Force and a member of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of western New York. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed with us today.
Reverend George Nicholas: Well, it's certainly an honor and a great opportunity to be with you today.
Schuyler Lawson: All right, great. So first off, for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah, I'm from Buffalo. This is my home grew up here and then went to Ohio State University for undergraduate and then came back to the area, have a graduate degree from the University of Buffalo and had been working, doing various jobs, doing things, I’ve owned companies I was CEO of Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center at the time, and then I decided to answer the call that the lord put on my life many years ago, to go into ministry full time. And I did that. And it was pastoring Rochester for about 12 years. And then, you know, the Lord called me back to Buffalo. I've been here since I've been back here since 2012.
Schuyler Lawson: A lot of history in Buffalo.
Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, it's home, and, you know, I've seen the ups and the downs and, you know, I think we have an opportunity to really do something transformative right now. And it's necessary because, you know, I've seen out Black Buffalo really hasn't progressed.
You know, I mean, some of the things that in terms of, you know, we have less businesses now, we have less community based organizations. We're so vulnerable. I mean, we used to have, well, the Geneva Scruggs Community Health Center, which was a community health center that served this community, we had the St. Augustine Center, which is a tremendous community based organization on Fillmore Avenue. They're no longer there. The Langston Hughes Cultural Center, which was at 50 High Street was a tremendous cultural center. The Friends of the Elderly, and there were a number of programs and that were run by black people and that address the needs of black people.
And over time, these things have not been supported by the, you know, the existing political establishment. And they've gone away. And so and you certainly on the business side. You know, we had tons of cleaners and restaurants and all kinds of things, you know, Jefferson Avenue, Fillmore Avenue, parts of Genesee, they were bustling with black owned and operated companies. And so and then finally and I know when you get to these questions, but I think it's important to put things in a context.
You know, my you know, when I'm 57 and, you know, when we were coming up in their area, the notion of, you know, black kids not graduating from high school wasn't even a conversation. You graduate from high school. And you know, it was, you know. And so but now, you know, we have folks struggling just to graduate from high school. And then even as they matriculate on to the campuses at the University of Buffalo, it is probably is probably less black students from Buffalo there now than there was fifteen, twenty years ago. And so we have to we got to turn this thing around, Schuyler. We're not going in the right direction. And so we'll talk about that a little bit later, too, if you want to.
Schuyler Lawson: I agree with you. I agree with you. And like you said, even though even though, you know, the current you know, the current situation appears to be bleak. You did say that there is an opportunity for transformation and hopefully lasting changes, which is which is a great segue into, you know, about the into the African-American Health Equity Task Force, which appears to be a force for good with respect to the issues that you mentioned.
Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah. Yeah. So we've been working really hard since it started off with a conversation with just a few of us.
This woman, Mary, was at the time working, I think, for the Heart Association or the Red Cross, one of those places, and she wanted to engage some black clergy in conversation about colorectal cancer. You know, there's a disproportionate amount of black people who suffer from that.
And so I challenge the group to think bigger and to look at, you know, the overall health of black buffalo.
The factors that were driving high colorectal cancers are the same factors that are driving diabetes and heart disease and asthma and all kinds of things, hypertension. And it's the social determinants of health.
There has to be a shift. Between thinking about and looking at black health and putting all the blame upon the behavior of people in the black community, that old adage, well, you just eat too much fried foods and all this other stuff. Well, that's part of that. That's part of the equation. But when you look at what you know, the reputable organizations that deal with public health, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health. And every reputable organization that focuses on public health will tell you that the driving factor, the most influential factor out there that impacts the health of an individual are the social determinants of health. The lived environment, the economic status, educational attainment, interfacing with the criminal justice system, the air and water quality in the neighborhood, the quality of your housing stock.
These are the things that that that drive health outcomes.
And if you live in a community where you have access to the things that you need to maintain good health, then your health outcomes will be significantly better. But if you're living in a community where you don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because there's no grocery stores that are within a close distance proximity to your community, it makes it difficult for you to purchase the things that you want to put in your refrigerators and on your dinner table that are healthy.
And if you're living in a situation where your economic status is such that you have limited income and limited resources, then you know, the food choices that you make for you and your family are going to be influenced by your income, not necessarily about what's always healthy, because healthier food is more expensive in a lot of places
And then we'll say, well, why don't you just change your economic status?
Well, you know, if the job opportunities are not available for you and your community or if the jobs are there's a lot of jobs and Grand Island and places like that. But if there's that transportation and you don't have means for that transportation, then that creates a problem for you.
And so, you know, these are the things that drive these what we call the social determinants of health. And when so our work, our mission with the African-American Health Equity Task Force, it started off calling ourselves the African-American Health Disparities Task Force.
But we wanted to shift our thinking to a more aspiration. We want to talk about where do we want to be.
Right, and where we want to be is health equity. And so we we're we're unapologetic, concerned with the health conditions of black people. This is not a minority thing. And not to to take hits or slights.
But there are unique set of circumstances that are attached to the enslavement of the African people really in this hemisphere. Starting in 1519. When you look at the you know, the slave trade by the Spaniards and the Dutch and other those in and in the French in the South and Central America, and then escalating in to around 1619, migrating up north to what is called what they called North America. But it was a land that was inhabited by the indigenous people.
And then so this whole Notion of the enslavement of African people in this region has from beginning begun the process of the social determinants of health.
Right, because the lived environment, economic opportunities, housing rights.
And from that moment. African people living in America were at a disadvantage. And that continued throughout generations.
So you have slave enslavement from 1619 to 1865. But even longer than that Schuyler, because when you when you with the enactment of black codes and African American men forced to work in steel mills and coal mines in Alabama, Tennessee and other parts of the South after being arrested for vagrancy.
Right, and then the inability to get to accumulate wealth through to the sharecropping system and just the debt that was begun to just weigh upon freed African people living in America. And so that just, you know, from generation to generation passed on.
And then even as we began to migrate into the north and beginning to fill these some of these jobs in during the industrialization, but then as these jobs became unionized and into the migration of those from Western Europe, began to come in from Italy and Ireland and other places like that. And Poland, they took those jobs. They displaced folks who were who had migrated from the south and moved up to the north.
And so then, so this whole economic disenfranchisement of African people living in America has created such a wealth gap that even today in the year 2020, for every dollar of wealth a black person has in America, a white person has eighteen dollars. And so, you know, the medium, I believe, you guys are students, so you will look up this data. But it's about African-Americans who have about eighteen thousand dollars of wealth versus over a hundred thousand by whites. And I talk about income. I'm talking about wealth.
Well, and why is that?
Well, post Second World War, and the beginning of it, when soldiers began to be able to purchase homes as a result of the G.I. Bill. They were they were pushed into communities, segregated communities. And then and red lines were drawn and soldiers couldn't even use their G.I. Bill that they had earned on the battlefield, fighting for freedom for other people and forced to live in communities that, you know, just to create an economic disparity. And then as banks over time, as banks value property. Right. Because your biggest asset is your property. Right. And one of the factors that they put into in terms of valuation of your property is the demographics, let me say, of that community. So black folks living in black communities, buying homes, investing in homes, but then getting less equity out of their properties than white people in white communities.
Right. And then you have what I call ghetto taxes. If you have your car insurances is going to be higher if you live in a black community, then if you live in a white community, life insurance, higher premiums, if you're black than if you're white. So all these things, they just, they just suck the well out of black communities and then finally the interaction with the criminal justice system. Where, you know, black people are disproportionately arrested and convicted for crimes. Higher bails, longer sentencing.
And so what happens when a young black person gets in trouble with the law?
Well, it's grandmama and them that have to dip into the savings, the dollars that they began to generate wealth with or that they would want to pass down to their family members. Second mortgages taken on that house that they finally paid up to pay to pay legal fees and things like this.
And so this whole this whole cycle, it just, again, sucking the wealth out of the community, which creates and feeds into these disparities. And so this is the level of how we want to attach this these issues of health inequities or health disparities as opposed to just doing what the traditional health fairs and giving people balloons and coffee mugs and thinking that that's going to change outcomes.
Schuyler Lawson: in light of this, you know, the daunting challenges that you listed, what is what is the African-American health equity task force some factor in alleviating or kind of even, you know, solving the problems caused by this multi generational structural damage that's been brought upon the black communities?
Reverend George Nicholas: Well, it starts with, you know, truth telling. Right. It's you can't you can't address problems that you don't recognize are problems, so we want to change the narrative about why these conditions exist and to focus more on systemic changes, and looking more at systemic causes so that that out so that our solutions are will impact the systemic causes mean.
Let me put it this way.
One of the things that, you know, I'm not critical of it, I'm just trying to make an analysis is that one of the things that happens every year is the beginning of the school year.
People who where we speak, and I use this analogy all the time, is there's always this big push to get kids backpacks through and to give kids bread brand-new backpacks. Yet there's no data, that says the reason why Black children are underperforming in an urban schools is because they don't have a backpack.
Right, and so the remedy, has nothing to do with the problem, because if the kid, if the child, is still going to a failing school in an at risk neighborhood, and if mother and father still don't have the kind of economic opportunities, the air and water quality in their community, and all these other factors, if that has not been impacted, then the fact that this child has a new backpack, really will have a limited, if any, impact upon their ability to achieve academic excellence.
Not talking about passing right, we shifted our thinking and I’m so proud, brother, that you work on your PhD, but the thought process that we're just, you know, think about this man. We're putting a lot of energy in, if necessary, because of what the current reality is to get kids. Our children just to pass. Right.
And what we really should be pushing is, is scholarship and academic excellence.
Right. Right. If you if you would, you have to get a 70 or 65 to pass, say, 70 if you get a 70. That means that 30 percent of the information that was provided for you you didn't get. 30 percent. That's a sizable chunk. That's right.
Right. So, our work is to look at systemic issues, raising concerns, and then them bring forth community collaboration's to bring community based solutions. And then engaging partners, institutional partners to invest their resources and to the solutions.
Whether, whether it be financial resources, whether it be intellectual capacity, whether it be access to information, whatever these institutions have that could be available to them. We're saying, use those resources and invest to invest this into to create a problem solving as it relates to the issues in the African-American community.
Schuyler Lawson: Thank. Thank you for your response. It helps our listeners understand the breadth of what the African-American Health Equity Task Force does.
I do have a particular question on what have been some of the approaches that the task force has taken with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah. Well, there, we have a good news story there, Schuyler Good. And it shows it's actually proof positive to our hypothesis of the importance of community collaboratives. And supporting black leadership.
And let me let me frame this for you.
So since we have been doing so, we put out there our report in 2015 about the conditions of the African-American good health conditions, which show that you can people can have access to these reports at BuffaloHealthEquity.org, and in our at our initial report, just using state and county data and concentrating on five or six zip codes where the predominant number of African-Americans live on the east side, us, we found that that in terms of just looking at chronic disease, that an African-American who lives in one of those communities has a 300 percent more likelihood to have a chronic disease than a white person who lives outside of the area.
Schuyler Lawson: So we're talking about. Very stark.
Reverend George Nicholas: Right, right. And it translates to about [inaudible]. Right. And so we're at work, we were equipped with the data.
And so when and so when COVID-19, emerged, we knew that as because of the high rates of diabetes, asthma and heart disease, which are three comorbidities that make it individual more susceptible to COVID-19, that the African-American community would be hit the hardest.
Also, would you put on top of that?
We know that a lot of the essential workers who work in these health care spaces, health care aides, security people, people who work in dietary and environmental services, as well as the nursing in the medical area.
There is a high concentration of people from our communities that live with that, that are employed at those other level jobs.
And so they would be coming into these environments where, you know, Covid was present and then going back into their communities, sometimes using public transportation, sometimes catch it, arrive with the uncle and them.
And so and so we know that there was a real potential.
So we reached out to back in March to the county executive and the health commissioner and some other leaders in the healthcare field with leaders from our community, Dr. Vasquez and others. And we said to them, say, listen, what's your plan? What's the plan? We know this is coming. We laid out, you know, the possible vulnerabilities of our community.
And at that moment, they really hadn't thought began to think about those things in those terms. So what we said to them said, listen, we're going to come back to you with a plan, a plan on how we're going to address this issue and we need you to resource it. We need you to support it, right, because these are our dollars as well. And so and so after some going back and forth and what have you, we were able to use some of the Medicaid reimbursement moneys to the district, the Millennium Collaborative Care through Erie County, being able to to stand up what we call the COVID-19 response team.
And what we did Schuyler, we put, we've got fifteen churches on the eastern west side. And we developed these Covid response call centers, and we got we got lists from the Board of Elections and other sources. And we had our targeted area and we hired a lot of younger people who a lot of them were home from college, you know. Got them an iPhone, got them a laptop, got them a list. Dr. Vasquez and his team through [inaudible] had developed this tremendous I.T. system that allowed for our responders to actually make appointments for people right there, from where it right from their call center, what have you. And so we literally called people in our community.
And then we learned to they were there's still a percentage of people in our community that don't have a cell phone or landline. So we engage the National Witness Project who are already doing some community engagement, community health work type stuff and we said to them, ‘knock on these doors for us because we can't reach these people’.
And so why were we reached out to them?
Well, we want to find out one, you know, if they had any symptoms, two did they have access to a test, three, do they have a primary care physician, four do they have some food, a food insecurities, five, how are they doing mentally, so we ask these five questions pretty much.
And we were able to not only ask those questions, but to give some kind of response to attaching people to help. Right. So if you're you know, if you're having this some of these symptoms or what have you. Hey, you know, get to your get your primary care. Oh, you don't have a primary care. Well, we'll you know, through our network, we've got [inaudible] and we've got Jericho Road. Good lead up. We can plug you in to a primary care physician or you need transportation.
We'll get someone to come pick you up, you need food.
We engage with that, Alex, over at the African Heritage Food Co-op. Tremendous job. And we said to him so, to Alex, here's a chunk of money, get what you need and then let's set up a delivery system. Right. And so when people needed food, we were able to get it to them.
We work with Best Help if they're people needed some mental health stuff because people are dealing with a lot of stuff. Make you make that appointment for you. And then when we learned that there weren't enough testing sites within community, we were able to stand up the testing side at the Leroy Coles Library. We said to those who had access to testing, we need tests at our community health centers because the people at the Community Health Center, people, Jericho Road, the people at [inaudible] Medicine, those sites, they're already dealing with people in our community prior to Covid. So they need to have access to the resources in order to get them some help.
And so, you know, it wasn't easy, but we kind of put this plan together.
So here's the good news, so when we started the project in March, April, and the first data started coming in, now nationally, African-Americans are dying in about two and a half to three times their population rate as it relates to Covid. Erie County African-Americans make up 14.6% of the population in Erie County. The early data was showing that about 33 percent of the fatalities were from the African-American community. Which was trending pretty much at the national level. But then, as we did our work, made our calls, connected people to resources. Gave people access to PPE and others, and not only us, but there were other partners in the community. So what happened is we were able to stimulate and generate some energy that not only our project was having an impact, but it loosened other resources and other things within community where others were doing some really great work as well.
Right. And. And so. Ah, so as the data began to come back, we saw it trending downward to the point where in June, only 16.7% of the fatalities. In Erie County were from the black community. And to make it even better, the latest data we got just this week, even in the midst of the second wave and the trending upward, that only 14.7% of the deaths are from the black community, which was right in alignment, statistically in alignment with the population.
We're one of the few cities in America that can make that claim.
Why is that?
Black leadership with a vision.
We're already working in community with these around these issues, connecting with resources and systems and institutions that have an obligation to serve the black community. Right.
If you're the county health department. Well, the last I heard, the black community was in Erie County, and so you so you make these systems do what they are designed to do, what their mission is.
And then other health care providers and institutions, insurers and others collided and say, listen, we need you to invest your resources and help, help us get this thing done. But also critically following the leadership of health care professionals they were already operating with in those communities. Guys like Dr. Vasquez. Guys like [inaudible]. Right. Women like Dr. [inaudible] and Dr. Ansari, right, who are already there on the front lines, so they have to be resourced and equipped so that they can do what they need to do.
And the results are undeniable. Data speaks for itself.
Schuyler Lawson: Yeah. I mean, it's so good. Compared to nationwide data, that's I mean, it's an anomaly. You know, the work that you that you described is just amazing that the coordination and just the scale of it to achieve that type of outcome compared to like your national statistics where, you know, blacks make up, blacks pick up a significant portion of the significant and disproportionate compared to their population, a portion of the COVID-19 deaths, that’s commendable.
Reverend George Nicholas: And shout out [inaudible] who provided great leadership on this and others with our team ,Dr. Underwood, Rita Robinson, Kelly Wolfrey, we are just such a wonderful team of people who have been I worked tirelessly on the issues of health equity. Right. And so but what we can't do is, is because really what our our vision with our powerful Center for Health Equity, the health of the African-American Health Equity Task Force, and then the university having its community research institute under our CTSI under Dr. Murphy.
And this is another really great outcome is that, standing up that institute, and the system in an embedded in the university that is focused and its mission is to look at health disparities and to research and then not only research, but to come up with remedies and engaging not only the medical school, but the other academic disciplines, school of Education, a school of law, the School of Management, the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work.
They are all partners with us in this work, so that when we start coming up with solutions, then we're able to draw upon the expertise that operate within these schools to come up with innovative and creative responses to some of these issues that are that are creating these health inequities.
So it's a really it's you know, it's Dr. Tim Murphy has been fantastic, who is head of the CTSI. Dr. Margaret Grimsley, Dr. Henry Taylor. Dr. Heather Orum. They've all just been great partners with us in this work to the point right now where we were able to get through the School of Nursing where we’re able to get a grant a grant from what they call the grant, where we're going to be actually looking at how the impact of mental health has on these communities.
Post Covid. Right. And from what I understand is, one, the first kind of community university kind of collaborations to look at issues that are specifically designed to provide information, but also support for issues in our community.
So we're making some progress and we're really excited about it.
Schuyler Lawson: I'm excited about it, too. And it's great to hear that this is an all this progress made at the community level and different types of institutional levels we're dealing with beyond every county Department of Public Health and also to, you know, getting our U.B. on board, which is located within the community. So we might as well have a stake and open the ability.
Reverend George Nicholas: I mean, universities have a responsibility, ability to do problem-solving. And, you know, what's the point of doing all this research and having all this knowledge if you don't take the research and knowledge to better humanity?
And, you know, it's so that message has been heard, and the university, an institution has been very responsive and we're very hopeful in the future or at about the future, about the work we we're going to do together.
Schuyler Lawson: So I have another question. So what is what is The Concern Clergy Coalition of Western New York, and how do you how do they relate to the issues of equity that you that you mentioned?
Reverend George Nicholas: So Reverend Pointer and myself and a few others were kind of the ones right after the death of Eric Garner, and we organize clergy, about 90 clergy in there in the area to begin to start having conversations about those issues and and how they, what's happening here in Buffalo. And we began to start talking about, you know, thinking about how we can provide leadership around health, economic development, criminal justice and, something else, I forgot, but and so I've kind of education, school education and and so I kind of grab the health piece and we've been working, you know, ever since on those on those issues.
The Concerned Clergy represents, there are about five or six different ministerial groups in the black community. And so they all kind of came together under this banner of Concerned Clergy, and we're working on these kind of social justice type issues. Doing our best to present a united front, even though we differ, in some ways on issues theologically and doctrinally, but there's agreement that that we must come together to work for the betterment of the conditions of our people. And so we we've been we've been functioning, you know, pretty, pretty well.
It's difficult because, you know, historically, again, you know, there hasn't been this kind of unity amongst Black clergy., but we're not as divided as people think, but we're not as unified as we should be. So we're a work in progress. But, you know, the concern clergy has been functioning and certainly Reverend Pointer has been a leader in that group. And, you know, so so we've been really spending a lot of our energies around health issues. Bishops NAME, a lot of energy around education.
And so, you know, we're trying to span out our influence in in these spaces.
Schuyler Lawson: Thanks. Thanks for providing that background. I have another question, so has the as the Contents Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York played any roles and say I'm addressing in addressing the issues surrounding the pandemic.
Reverend George Nicholas: Well, yeah, I mean, it's, so I wear a lot of hats. Yes, so when I'm operating in these spaces, concerned clergy, I'm representing them.
You know what I mean? So, and every report back, we have conversations about things.
And, you know. I know I can always depend upon these guys and ladies for support. And so and so the the efforts around the pandemic have really been channeled through our work to the Buffalo Center for Health Equity and African-American Health Equity Task Force. Right. So so the Concerned Clergy are are part of that work.
And so then when other churches and other groups try to do things, we will support them and resource them, you know, and and work sort of works works that way.
One of the things that, though what if we did this this week? Was began to start educating the community around the pending vaccine.
And we had a conversation. I believe it was Wednesday with Dr. Alan Lessie, who is an epidemiologist at the university and really an expert on on these issues of infectious disease. And so we this issue with the vaccine because of our history, we know that the data show it about, only about. Well, 43, 44 % of black people who have been polled so far, have said that they would be willing to to take the vaccine.
And I understand those low numbers. There's a historical context. There's a rationale behind Dr. Michael Eric Dyson would say that black people are not skeptical of science, we're skeptical of scientist. And so we have to get over, I shouldn’t say that. I say this we have to enhance our understanding and knowledge around issues as it relates to research. We have to have more black folks involved in research. We have to engage in participatory research. And we have to engage more with institutions that have access to data and have conversation.
So that we'll operate with a greater knowledge base around this vaccine. So that's what we're trying to do. The fact is that the FDA and the CDC have put the, you know, Pfizer, Moderna, and all the companies that are developing the vaccine through a rigorous four step process that would certainly maximize the probability that when the vaccine comes into the public that it will be safe.
And in fact, I believe one of the lead scientists in the development of the vaccine was an African-American woman.
Right. And so and so when the vaccine emerges, we have to the decisions that we make and whether or not we're going to take it have to be based on facts and knowledge.
Right. And we need to hear from, I know that Morehouse and is going to play a role in in in in in the investigation and disseminating information into community about the vaccine, so we need to hear from black doctors, about this, you know, and it locally, you know, hearing for me from Dr. Vasquez and Dr. Underwood and people like that in community who I trust.
And if they say, hey, this will be something that'll be beneficial to our people and to our community, I will follow that leadership.
But we have to be very, this is a very delicate situation because and we cannot be dismissive of people when they express their reservation and concern about that, about the vaccine. And we should listen to their concerns and answer any and all questions with the hope that that that if the vaccine is going to be beneficial for our people, that everyone in our community does take it.
But we also have to be in, involved in the process of distribution, so what good would the vaccine be if it's gone through all four phases of approval, but yet, it’s not available to people within our communities?
So we have to continue to advocate and be at the table and say, OK, you know, we're high risk, We are already struggling with a lot of issues, we got a lot of our people who are working as frontline workers in these health care facilities, so we want to make sure that people within our community have the information about the vaccine and also access to the vaccine when distribution begins.
Schuyler Lawson: Those are those are very important issues, and I imagine that the task force and the clergy coalition are going to play a big role in trying to have a plan for Buffalo's black communities as far as like, you know, equitable distribution and also to make certain information campaign to build, to build trust and address the roots of the historic roots of the mistrust towards our scientists we have.
Reverend George Nicholas: And what's one of the things that when the outcomes of our project is we've developed just piles of data now, I mean, we've made, you know, I think over a hundred thousand contacts with people and so on and so on. Each one of them is a data point. And so we're going to be able to, as one of the outcomes of our project, be able to really make some really strong programmatic and policy recommendations about how do we can better serve the African-American community based on that, based on the data that we're collecting.
And so we strongly believe that research, we'll give you data, data will inform policy and then policy will bring resources. And so we have to make sure that we are very aggressive in those are four those phases.
Because really what's happened Schuyler years is our people have been measured and surveyed and queried and but and then institutions have have gotten tremendous grant and funding opportunities to do that, but then once we compile the data then and identify these these issues, there never seems to be a follow up of policy recommendations to address that.
It’s one thing the survey of people and say ‘Y'all got a lot of diabetes’,
But then, OK, this next step is now here are the programmatic things that we're going to put in place to address those conditions, but that has not happened at the level that we needed to happen.
So that's one of the reasons why we you know, it's very important that we have this collaboration with the university and others around research.
Research is critical. And we have this. One of my goals is to have research to no longer be a bad word in our community. Right. As we know and I understand. But now. But we understand, though, that the importance of research and importance of research being done right and making sure we don't take the data from the research to weaponize our people, but take the data to to be a bridge, to getting resources, to change the condition of our people.
And that can only happen when black leadership involved. I mean, and that's got to be real about that, we need to insist that black leadership is involved and we have to make sure that black leadership is black leadership, meaning not just black people in leadership is not black leadership. There's a difference between there. And so we have to have black folks who are in positions of influence and leadership to be unapologetic advocates for the conditions of their people.
Right. And not, you know, not get tied up in the semantics of whether you should say, defund the police or not, that's the absolutely wrong conversation to have. And it's an unhelpful it's unhelpful critique for people in leadership to to to critique that phrase without looking at, but without putting your energy around the issues or why people are saying that. And so we have to understand the nuances of how can you be an advocate for black people?
You, the only way you can do that is to listen to black people. Right. And to and to share their concerns in an unfiltered, unabridged way, so that we can really begin to start getting up to move.
You know, and there's a generation, your generation I have four sons and one daughter and your generation is very clear of the directness, you know.
And so I am grateful to see the kind of the shift things like, you know, that the unwillingness to play semantical games and to appease white institutions, but to say, listen, you know, there we have a right to be in this space and we have a right to advocate for our people, and we have a right to use the knowledge bases and the things that we've learned from these institutions to better the condition of our own people. And that is a critical, critical piece that I think we got, we have to see it in terms of shifting in our approach in our community.
Schuyler Lawson: Very well put. And I'm actually leads to, I have a final question, is there is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners? Any kind of, you know, I know. I know you've said a lot and I'll put you on the spot.
But anything else before you conclude our interview with you?
Reverend George Nicholas: I just that, you know, I guess a message I'm sure a lot of students listen to this, the issue around race, I think this is our season to really engage in real, meaningful conversations about it.
And I'd like to say, put it this way, to take the power of racism or to diminish the power of racism in our culture. While, as a theologian, I would I would be hopeful that we could eliminate racism, but also as a sociologist, I would degrees sociology as well, understanding that I think are our best hope is to be able to diminish the power of racism and the power of white supremacy and the ideology of white supremacy and its influence on institutions.
To diminish that power that it has, I think is something that we could, which is a realistic goal. And I think it happens through, you know, people engaging in transparent and honest conversations about the history and the present practice of white supremacy and systemic racism and to engage in conversations that would define allyship in the terms that centers the needs of black people in that allyship work and to and to be cautious in our conversations about intersectionality to the point where we I believe that we do that, but not at the expense of the needs of black people.
And I think what has happened historically post, since I know we've run out of time, but post civil rights, I think that at times, our desire to do intersectional work and to do coalition work has at times put the needs of black people secondary. Right, though. And so we have to be, you know, smart, cautious. Learn from our past practices and then to be innovative.
I mean, do to recognize that there has to be new approaches to things. I think folks of my generation have to make spaces for sunsetting some activities in organizations that may have been effective for a season.
But, you know, there's a new opportunity as a new opportunity here. And I think we need to make room and spaces for the next level of leadership. But I also will caution the next level leadership to not discount the wisdom of the elders. Right. And so one of the things that that diminishes our strength, is when we have conversations like pushing the old folks, old guard out the way and, you know, this is our time. Right. I think we by doing such, you diminish the opportunity to glean wisdom from folks that have been on the battlefield and can maybe give some wise counsel on how to deal because the enemy is wise, and the enemy does not separate generation the enemy.
The enemy passes down the wisdom of how to maintain power and control down to the next generation. And that's why there's been so much success tick to keep this generational dominance. And so those are the things that the final things kind of I would like to share with folks and then just inviting people to engage to log on to our Web site, BuffaloHealthEquity.org. And then when you see activities and things going on around campus, around community, around health that could be around justice, get engaged, you know.
Don't wait for somebody else to do this. This is your season, your responsibility. And if you're your personal good conscious and there's so much happening right now, it's a great opportunity for you to get engaged and to begin to shape the society in a way which we want to be. And it's only going to happen if we get engaged.
Schuyler Lawson: Thank you for those thoughtful parting remarks, and so thanks again for taking the time to be interviewed on our podcast. We hope to have you on again to discuss future projects, for example. You know, no one wants the vaccine becomes available. You know how things are gonna go with the task force in the coalition. We're helping out with distribution in the information campaigns. We definitely want to follow up on that.
And now you add a question, is there a way for that? Our listeners can learn more about the task force and the coalition?
Reverend George Nicholas: BuffaloHealthEquity.org, Health equity data, all the information. And if you want to send us any questions or anything like that, we will, we have a way to respond.
Schuyler Lawson: And for our listeners, are there any volunteer opportunities?
Reverend George Nicholas: I think so. I'm not sure right now, I know that we have some students doing some academic stuff, some you know, I think one thing, too, is, is checking with people like Dr. Heather or Dr. Grimsley, Dr. Taylor and Dr. Murphy and Dr. Leslie or your professors and Heather Abraham over at the law school.
Reach out to them and say, hey, you know what you know, ask, are there some things that I can do, too, in terms of supporting your connection to the task force?
And we're always open. We're looking for, you know, ideas, you know. I mean, well, you know, it's what I want. We want to be a place to support and convene new ideas. So, I mean, there is base maybe some things that I had a conversation with oh, oh, oh, young lady, they want to do some internship work. And I said to work, so that's great. So she said, well, what will we do? I said, I want you to tell me what you want to do.
You know, you come up use out. I mean, I'm interested in your creative ideas, but I don't want you. I don't we don't need you. I just come run copies for us. Right. I want to I want to mine the intellect.
Of young and young people in mind, their ideas. Do you mean as opposed to just giving up some task.
Right. Right. Because I think that's where the power is.
And so I would just encourage people we will welcome ideas and thoughts. And, you know, let's see what can we come up with.
Schuyler Lawson: OK. And again, listeners, that is our BuffaloHealthEquity.org, correct?
Reverend George Nicholas: Yes. BuffaloHealthEquity.org.
And also we got another Web site of a project we're working on called Pride in Place, Buffalo, Pride in Place, Buffalo. And it's a collaboration with Lisk and AARP where we're actually going to be doing some creative things that just about celebrating and loving our folks in our communities.
It's going to be real artsy and just really is really just trying to lift get out, what's been a big deal with this trauma, right? And we got to learn how to celebrate ourselves, celebrate what's happening in our community that's good. Celebrate the artists, the people you know, we're working with folks with like from the Wakanda Alliance.
And then, you know, there's some folks that are just doing some so great things on the ground and we need to support them and we need to resource them.
And so you can and if you go to Buffalo Health Equity, talk there, I think there's a link to it but otherwise it’s called pride in place, Buffalo, Pride in place, Buffalo. And you'll see some exciting things and there'll be some things we're looking for artist. We're looking for all kinds of folks in there. So that would be a place to kind of link into something.
Schuyler Lawson: OK. Thank you very much. And again, I'm Schuyler Lawson. Thank you. Thank you all for listening to another episode of Buffalo Health Cast. Take care now.
February 25, 2021
Reverend George Nicholas is an active member of the Concerned Clergy and co-convener of the African-American Health Equity Task Force.