Black History Month 2024: What it means to us

To celebrate Black History Month, the EPH JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Committee invited EPH faculty, students, and staff to share thoughts about the importance of Black History Month and research to improve health equity for Black populations. We have compiled the answers below:

What does Black History Month mean to you?

“Black History Month serves as a formal reminder for the entire United States of the turmoil Black people faced when building the United States infrastructure. Black History Month is a reminder that the phrase "all men were created equal" did not apply to Black/African Americans, and those disadvantages persist through health, education, opportunities, etc.”

“I try not just to limit this to Black History Month, but also during the rest of the year: it's a time to reflect upon the contributions of Black and African Americans to American society and beyond. We can feel the impact of Black culture in music, art, books, and movies, which is seen and heard all over the world, and yet the appreciation only goes skin deep if we don't educate ourselves about the history of Black people.”

“For me, it is a time to be more intentional about learning more about Black history by seeking out books, movies, podcasts, and other forms of media produced by Black artists.”

How do you plan to recognize Black History Month?

“This year I'm expanding my knowledge base by making myself aware of how California has had a violent history of mistreating and abusing people of color in its state formation and after, despite all its progressive policies. These atrocities are often not discussed in classrooms and is something that should be talked about more.”

“I am planning to read two books that are written by Black authors as well as attend some events held on campus this month, such as Professor Matthew Morrison's Talk: Black Sound, Black Studies, and Black Music on Feb 7th.”

“I’ll recognize Black History Month by consistently working toward living an anti-racist lifestyle and calling out my own and others’ bias in my community, by supporting reparations at large and individually contributing to mutual aid in my area, by committing myself to self-reflection and self-interrogation (my discomfort is nothing compared to others’ lived experiences), by broadening my current affairs education such as cobalt mining in the DRC and modern-day slavery. This February, I am looking into what I will do when my current iPhone dies instead of buying another device that uses cobalt. I’m also trying to learn more about the United States use and expansion of prison labor and the disproportionately high number of Black and African American people who make up our prison population. These actions are not exhaustive and are not limited to February, the shortest month of the year, but are year-long, life-long endeavors.”

Tell us about the work you are doing to support population health in Black communities.

”Using the Jackson Heart Study, we (Cellas Hayes, Alexis Reeves, and Shawna Follis) are exploring how education serves as a moderator for social determinants of health association with cardiovascular disease incidence. The JHS is the largest single-site, community-based epidemiologic investigation of environmental and genetic factors associated with cardiovascular disease among African Americans ever undertaken. It is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).”

“Two of my dissertation papers focus on racial and ethnic disparities in cesarean birth -- in particular, the results we observe for Black individuals are alarming. The disparities we note for cesarean birth add to the already extensive list of maternal outcomes that are pronounced among Black mothers. It is very important to my work that we emphasize that (1) race is a social construct and (2) these elevated risks are not accounted for by individual-level characteristics (which perpetuate a blaming narrative), but instead are the by product (or in some instances, explicit goal) of racist histories, ideologies and practices, as well as a broken healthcare system. I think improving maternal health equitably for all includes documenting disparities and their potential causes. However, I'm sometimes conflicted that this work unintentionally reinforces said disparities by making them the center of the conversation (without highlighting the strengths and resilience of these communities). After my dissertation, I'm hoping to investigate interventions and means to directly reduce disparities among Black, American Indian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities.”

“One of my papers focuses on the effects of temperature on blood pressure in the Jackson Heart Study, a cohort study of African-Americans residing in Jackson, MS. I hope that this work will make a small impact on how heart health will be managed in areas where more Black and African-Americans reside.”

The Epidemiology & Population Health Department's Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (JEDI) Committee aims to JEDI, programs and research at the local (department and University) and global levels. We invite all EPH faculty, staff, and students to join our meetings to share ideas, ask questions, and voice concerns related to JEDI. Please reach out to Sweden Smith for meeting information.