Assistant Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic
Why is being an advocate so important to you?
My interest lies in truly making an impact for communities that have been marginalized and are yearning for social justice. During my upbringing within the African American church, I saw so many members of my congregation—many people I looked up to—slipping away from uncontrolled diseases. Not all were family, but they felt like family. I wanted to find out why they were dying so early from conditions that could have been prevented. In medical school I was naturally drawn to the study of cardiovascular health disparities among people who are medically underserved. My work today is about understanding why these disparities exist and equipping communities, like church congregations, to tackle these disparities head on.
What health-care related issue(s) have you advocated for over the past year?
I lead a community research program called Fostering African American Improvement in Total Health (FAITH!). The program partners with African American churches to study cardiovascular disease prevention. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this program was ideally positioned to pivot to address COVID-19 health promotion as well. In addition, I'm very excited to be part of a new research center called The Center for Chronic Disease Reduction and Equity Promotion Across Minnesota (C2DREAM) that will be studying the effects of racism on heart health.
What advice would you offer to others who are interested in advocacy?
Don't underestimate the importance of building relationships with people in the communities you want to work with before launching an advocacy or research project. When I first came to Mayo Clinic and was working to make connections with African American church communities, I experienced some unexpected challenges. Pastors and church members were receptive to my proposed research, but they were often resistant or hesitant to work with me. This was an "aha" moment for me. I realized I needed to step back from the research and focus on building relationships and trust.