NIH to fund seven Research Centers in Minority Institutions

News Release

NIH to fund seven Research Centers in Minority Institutions

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health, will fund seven new awards to support the Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) Specialized Centers program. RCMI is designed to support institutional research capacity and foster the career development of new and early career investigators conducting minority health and health disparities research. The centers will share approximately $122 million over five years, pending available funds. 


Picture taken by  Dorret .

Picture taken by Dorret.


In the wake of BLACKLIVESMATTER, I am frustrated that the conversations I see on TV and hear at the buffet table stay at the surface.  With all the shouting – “WELL, DON’T ALL LIVES MATTER –  I am left asking anyone who will listen- Do you really want to know?  Are you ready to sit down and have a real conversation?  Do you know?

There is a big difference between a dialogue and a debate. Debating is what I mostly see on TV and experience with Facebook and at the buffet table. I am in the “dialogue” profession. I am not suggesting that everyone needs to see a therapist. I do believe though that all of society would benefit from learning dialogue skills.  Our increasingly technology driven lives are leading us away from many opportunities to practice dialogue and conversation. If you can’t talk about ordinary things like how your day was at work, how are we to talk about tough things like racism?

I am offering these ideas.

  • First, let’s learn to have a dialogue
  • Second, let’s learn to listen. Let’s practice it often and model it for our children.
  • Third, let’s start to create a shared vision for what we want to see!  Let’s talk about what we want to see be different and describe this in terms of what should be – not, what would be absent.

It is not enough to say, “you will not be disrespectful” or that “we want justice.”  We must also be a positive presence in the community and know everyone by name and what things they do well or care about.  We will have daily interactions that start with, “Hey there, how was school and what made your day?”   When we stop and ask, “How are you?” we actually talk for 5 minutes. We will make eye contact with each other and smile.  

Advocacy is important. For any movement to be successful, it needs to have the agitated and the extreme voices.  But to heal and create trust, we must have dialogue. We need people getting together and making something real and tangible occur- homes built, jobs created, children placed with caring adults, plants planted and streets repaired.  It’s even better when we can do these things and talk about it, too.

Policies have to change.  People’s hearts have to be touched.  We have to have a culture shift.  Let us ask, what would it look like to get up and go to school in a community that knows your name, where you lived and cared about what you did every day, and celebrated your accomplishments.  What would it feel like to be in class and have your teacher call on you and ask, “What was good about your night last night?”  And, what if that teacher and every student in that class listened?

A true revolution is needed; one that includes all voices. All stakeholders need to have a meaningful role in establishing our vision, creating our mission, and assessing our collective goals.  


The Puzzle of Motivation and Beyond...

I really love TED talks.  I could watch them all day, but there are too many, so I often ask my friends to recommend ones they have found to be insightful. (Please share any you like or think I should check out.)  Most recently, I have returned to The Puzzle of Motivation, by Dan Pink, as one of the talks that I find both professionally and personally inspiring and synergistic .  No one today, in the year of 2016 can escape the enduring presence and increasing awareness of the racial tension in our country.  I have a lot of thoughts about this topic, but I would like to first offer a notion from Dan Pink that businesses stop and heed what research tells us. I think we have a road map for addressing the resurging anger and reality that “we can’t all just get along” and our societies inertia in the face of a need.

In summary, Dan Pink says that the business world has been using an outdated model of motivation. They have ignored science and have sought to use carrots and sticks to motivate their employees.  The science says that carrots and sticks work well when asking people to solve simple but not complex problems.  His talk goes on to lay out and give examples of what does work and how we know it works. 

The part I want to focus on today is this first part, are we trying to solve a complex problem with a strategy only proven to work with a simple task? Why do we, as a society, seem unable to tackle the tough questions of eradicating racism, reducing gun violence, and ending the preschool to prison pipeline? I must first suggest that we recognize that these issues are not simple.

We are in need of changing people’s hearts, minds, and behaviors. So what will motivate us? The solution, as Dan Pink says, is not to do more of what doesn’t work.  It does not work to tell people to be nice. It is not even enough to participate in a protest march, pass a law, or change a policy.  I think the first thing we have to do is realize that we are dealing with a complex issue.  Our motivation for change has to come from a deep and more enduring place. We have to stop looking for that one thing that will solve this puzzle. Perhaps it will take many different approaches. We can’t continue to debate the issues.  We must find ways to listen. We can’t ignore these issues and hope that “if I am not acting in a racist way or teaching racism” then I have “done my part.”  If you are silent- you are not part of the solution.   We can’t be satisfied that firing that one person “in charge” will make it all OK.  The systemic problems that allowed that person to be in charge must also be addressed. 

It is easy to be overwhelmed by these complex social issues.  We need INNOVATION - We need to look outside of the box - we need to ask the hard questions and let science, research and history show us the way toward the things that do or may work.  With the right incentives, I think we can be motivated to create a sustained solution.

We can learn from the many circumstances in which people do emerge from poverty. We can study and appreciate the countries and communities that have overcome generations of violence and discrimination.  We can practice radical and counterintuitive strategies for creating trust, hope and wellbeing.

Let’s use strategies that align with fixing complex problems. Let’s expand our scope and with courage and face these complex issues with hope, innovation, and collaboration.

Elder Care: The New Frontier

My mother spent 10 years taking care of her one remaining parent, while intermittently traveling back and forth visiting her grandchildren.  My mother is an incredible person - sensitive to the needs of others and steady in a crisis.  After watching her mother’s very slow decline, she announced that she will make steps to move closer to us - her three children so that we will not have to travel too far to look after her when she starts to slow down.

First, let me say that I did not take this announcement very graciously. I wish she had wanted to be closer because she loved spending time with us or that she missed seeing her grandchildren and wanted to see them grow up. She is practical. I will take it.

My grandmother lived with Alzheimer’s Disease. She eventually received disability benefits that included a visiting nurse, help to clean her home, residential senior services and lastly hospice.  My mother navigated the paperwork to maintain and select the best plan and services for her mother, while also having to accept and grieve that these services would not help her get better.  She then shouldered the burden of convincing everyone that they were making the next best move.

The other day I was talking with my neighbor, who was similarly trying to get her 90 year old mother into a place that would better help her live out the rest of her life. For the third time now, her mother had refused to move after a delay between getting her consent and waiting for a space to open.  Many of us struggle to help our loved ones - elderly parents, children with mental health challenges, spouses with substance abuse or chronic health conditions (diabetes).  Our emotional burdens are often compounded by the inhuman barriers we encounter.

While our country actively shuts down mental health hospitals and develops more community based supports; our health care systems in general have failed to help people when they are in the most need.  The responsiveness to a stated need is impeded by administrative, policy, or insurance coverage minutia.  A true person-centered, humane response that provider’s, in fact, want to provide are reduced by the system pressures to account for resources spent and justify the provision of care.   

When do you get help for a person who suddenly says they want help? When do you want to get your mother into a nursing home when they say they are ready to move? The answer is immediately - you can’t wait a day let alonea week for an opening. 

So, where do we start?

I believe we need to have a full picture of what we want to see be possible and develop a range of those options. Residential housing, affordable but skilled nursing care, personable navigation support, home care assistants paid a livable wage and media campaigns that help us make it part of our societal norms to talk about how we will live with dignity as a senior citizen. Let’s create communities with the idea of accommodating a range of people, families and children with easy access to health care, entertainment, and wellness activities. Develop programs that bring preschoolers and senior citizens together in one space. Make portable homes that can sit in a families yard affordable, so families can provide a separate but safe living space for an aging parent. 

We need legislation to properly certify this continuum of care; and transparency so when our loved ones get the help needed we can also account for how our dollars were spent and assure that prevention and early intervention efforts aren’t at risk when new legislators are elected.  We have an opportunity to create economic development, meet a tremendous need, and provide humane, person centered care all at the same time. 

Let's Play Ball

I enjoy baseball, especially going to baseball games. I want to be part of the crowd and energy.  Anyone who has ever attended a sporting event knows that being able to see the game or play - makes or breaks your experience. Having a pole obstruct your view is no fun.  

There is an image circulating on Social Media of three kids at a baseball game.  The image is meant to help illustrate the difference between equality and equity or Justice.  The brilliance of imagery comes from the many words-thoughts-ideas that can be conveyed through a single picture or image. I would like to offer a reflection on this particular image with the hopes of stimulating some dialogue.  

First, not everyone will see the picture and all the details it represents the same way.  This is really the spice of life - to appreciate the diversity of views and experiences we can all have.  Imagery helps us have a “dialogue.” What my eye focuses on might be different than yours.  There is not a “better” or “right way to look at the picture. Let’s start by asking a neutral question - What do you see when you look at the image?  We might then ask, what is different and what is the same?   

When I look at the image, I notice the game in the background. Baseball!  I like baseball. I notice that in one picture two kids can’t really see the game and in the other image - all three are watching the game. I see boxes that the kids are standing on in one picture, and in the other there are boxes but not everyone is standing on a box.  

Many of my workshop participants, first notice the boxes and how they are stacked.  In one picture each kid has one box, in the other one kid is without a box altogether. My participants feel that something unfair has transpired.     

Without judging, any or all observations are correct.  My first reflection is that we do need to share what we see.  Our interpretation of what we see will be influenced by our experiences, the context where an image is presented, and the questions or people we encounter.   

I am often asked when people see this particular image – how should we respond? People get upset that one of the kids box is taken away.  They want to know how to respond when people focus on the “unfairness” as it relates to equity versus equality. I think we have to pause, and ask - What is the focus of the image?  Or in life, what do we all really want?  

In my view, we want to see the game.  On a life level, we want to have access, to participate in life, have meaningful work and self-determination.  When we focus on words like equity and equality, we often get stuck.  This image can help us have a different conversation, perhaps to not get stuck in determining what is Fair, and instead get to a deeper truth. What do we all really want in life? And then, how can we get there?  In this case the answer was solved - share your box so we can all enjoy watching the game.  


Pass The Baton

If you are excited for the Olympics you might especially be looking forward to the relay races.  In years past, the commentary focused on the teams’ ability to Pass the Baton.  Our US team previously missed the goal because of a poor baton hand off. 

I was not on a competitive relay team, but I did run track and I vividly recall the slap of the baton as we practiced our hand offs. As a team, we spent a bit of time learning how to pass the baton.  There is an art to a smooth hand off, and that keeps the race going, allowing your team to obtain the lead spot. In my professional life, I have marveled at the difficulty I see among Advocates to symbolically pass the baton to a new generation of leaders.  

In my personal life, I think I have been able to better understand and appreciate the dynamics that go into this transition. My father and I often talk about the continued Civils Rights struggle.  He was active in many ways during the 60's, and I am moved by the knowledge that both he and my grandfathers were present at the church when Dr. King gave his last sermon in Memphis.  This city being the place where I grew up and the place where Dr. King was slain are foundational to my call to be a peacemaker.  

If you have not read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, then I encourage you to do so. Reading the entire book could take you some time.  It’s a good read, but I must warn you, it is painful and difficult to take everything in at once. I read it in pieces.  I encouraged my father to read it. After he finished, his first response was an apology to me as well as my generation for what he described as “falling asleep at the wheel.”   From his perspective, many laws are reversing the great work of the Civil Rights Act and voting rights. 

I have another view.  

The civil rights movement, as is any movement, is a continuous journey.  At the time of its inception, I believe that its leaders knew that something had to change.  They did not know to what extent things had to change, or what it would take.  However, they knew change had to begin. I believe change is a work in progress. Even today, we still can't comprehend what it would mean to be post-racial in the US, let alone across the globe. 

When I think about the multitude of "first" experiences my mother and father have had, I feel tired for them. I often think: how can you look back and pass the baton, when you are still in the struggle or just trying to catch your breath? 

Everywhere my parents go they are still the first.  Not only were they the first class of students to desegregate their respective colleges, but they also are still breaking new barriers.

So, professionally, I have been able to attain a greater appreciation for why it is hard to pass the baton when you are still running in the race.  I hope that my generation will learn to come up beside our leaders and demonstrate that we are with them, appreciative of them and supportive of their missions. Then, perhaps in time, we will learn to gently pass the baton.

Photo by noheadlights

Famous Brownies

As I whipped up a quick batch of brownies this morning, I recalled the few places I was once “known” for my brownies. It had been a while since I baked brownies. You see, I have a daughter who does not like chocolate!  

There was a time that I made brownies on a regular basis: staff meetings, dinner parties and for my grandmother. While I could honestly say, “I just follow the directions on the box.” Having a place where I was known for something other than my job title or sensibility, filled me with pride, gave me an identity and fulfilled a valuable role. Everyone on our team had positive contributions beyond job roles - flowers, a new song, an insightful article and a story that made the heart swell. Our team members had multiple identities, and thus many places to stand and be missed.

 Everyone - no matter what you do in life - needs to have things they are known for that gives them a since of place and belonging. I reflect on this as I have been reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. He shares with us his real life as an attorney for those forgotten in our prison systems. I have been moved and dismayed. Like Mr. Stevenson, I work to help bring the voice of the voiceless (people with mental illness and substance use disorders) to decision makers. His work makes me feel that there must be more that I can do. There is more that we can all do. We can share these stories. We can help change the story to the expectation that laws and justice are for all!

 If there is one thing I have come to appreciate, it is vigilance! We must be vigilant. We must teach our children, our neighbors and our friends the multiple histories of those who have come before us! I have a child in grade school where they focus on science, technology, engineering and math. I don’t want her to miss out on humanities, civics and history. Few people know much about why our laws, policies, systems of government and institutions were developed. We as humans are imperfect beings - we are too easily swayed.

 Think about the last time you ate more than one brownie when they were in your presence. That human tendency to be swayed is one reason why we have a constitution, laws and government. We have not always made good decisions. We have needed others with knowledge about human rights to lead us and help us choose humanity and seek justice for the common good of all, especially for the least among us.

 I am a black woman – If people in 1960 had been able to go with a majority rule, I would still be unable to date or marry someone from another ethnic background. I wouldn’t have a doctorate degree. I wouldn’t be writing this blog. If we went back further in time by just a few decades, I would be a slave. 

 Identity is critical. We have to have identities that help us be missed. If you are known as a problem - it is likely that your absence will be welcomed instead of missed. I hope that we intentionally think and actively find ways to lift up people for the gifts they bring - even if that gift is simply baking brownies from a box. That will allow that person- that human - to be missed and seen as a valued member of the community. Perhaps, then, we will be vigilant and fight harder, so that all people are heard and availed due process despite their economics, race, gender or spiritual practice.


Breaking Bread

I have just been reading about Joyce Maynard’s pie parties.  Her very personal story about her relationship with her mother, and how she lived through several difficult life transitions by baking has unearthed a treasured passion I have concealed.  Despite my denials, I love to cook or bake or more specifically break bread in the communion of family and friends. Joyce does not mention that she is a therapist or that she uses her pie parties to help others heal, rather I see this as an emerging  and resonate theme.  She came to throw these parties in remembrance of her mother.  She describes a natural progression of deep sharing that occurs after making the pies to  enjoying the pies with friends in a party format.  She notes that to truly learn to bake a good pie you must stand “at the elbow of someone who knows.”  

It is the sharing and faith aspects of her story that draw me out of my self and into her story.  My interest in community, family, healing, and the power of breaking bread together seems so eloquently crystallized in her story.  Maybe it is the “party” aspect that is so important.  Nevertheless, I am motivated to ask my grandmother to allow me to be at her elbow while she makes her sweet potatoe pies that I love and everyone in my family treasures.  I am not so much interested in just how to make them, because recipes do not differ much.  It’s the little nuanced touch of baking with care that makes them so wonderful and the history of how her pies have always brought the family together.

My passion for shared meals also comes from the many mornings I spent with my father  watching his “strawberry disasters,” quiche experiments, and attempts to perfect fried green tomatoes.  He played with biscuit dough, used the left over dough for cinnamon rolls; and he is most loved for his individualized attention when creating our huge waffle breakfasts.  When my father’s dad was still with us, we would convince him to come spend time with us with the promise of a big waffle breakfast, in particular a cracker like waffle just for him.  Meals, as we refer to them, were and are very important and special in my house.  Friends would drop whatever they were doing to come over if they heard my dad was grilling.  At these “meals,” we ate together, prayed together, talked and laughed together.  With more than five of us all crammed around one small table in the kitchen - family, friends, and cats included.  Although we now may gather in a different kitchen and perhaps it is my brother behind the waffle iron; it is the same communion.  We still laugh, pray, talk, and eat together.

I would not say that big things got talked about over the dinner table, instead a kind of touching base happened in a ritual of comfort.  More might be revealed in the opening prayer than any other time.  As we prayed together, first thanking God for what we were to receive, thanking for the hands that created the meal, and then asking for that which we needed- safe travel, peace, and blessings for the world.  
One of the things I have noticed, when you look at strong families or communities, is their comminttment to coming together.  Why not come together for a meal?  Be it a meal, music, art, family, faith - we needed to come together.  In the coming together, deeper things can be  addressed, celebrated and resolved.