Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity
Inspired by the woman for whom it is named, the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest School of Medicine is dedicated to the goal of achieving health equity. The Center’s mission focuses on Research, Community Outreach and Faculty and Student Development:
- Conducting translational research to impact population health
- Developing sustainable and mutually beneficial community partnerships
- Delivering educational initiatives to diversify the clinical, biomedical, and public health workforce
The Center, according to its director, Ronny Bell, is appropriately named for Maya Angelou, who has served as the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University since 1981.
“She is an international figure highly regarded in areas of human rights,” said Bell. “When we think about health equity, we think of it in terms of social justice.”
Angelou is a prominent author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist. Her best-known book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, describes her time spent growing up in the era of segregation. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s as Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Last November, Angelou was named one of 15 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.
One year before the Center opened, the National Healthcare Disparities Report revealed that minorities tend to receive lower-quality health care than whites even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. With a primary focus on African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians, the expertise developed at the Angelou Center positions it as a key national resource to reduce the gap in health disparities.
“We’ve been able to disseminate health information to people who would not otherwise get that information,” said Bell, who is professor of Epidemiology and Prevention at the Medical Center in addition to his leadership role with the Angelou Center. “We try to reach a lot of different population groups.”
The Center is co-directed by Dr. Bettina Beech, Professor of Social Sciences and Health Policy. The Center’s Research Program is directed by Dr. Alain Bertoni, Associate Professor of Internal Medical and Epidemiology and Prevention. The Community Outreach Program is directed by Dr. David Mount, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine. The Faculty and Student Development Program is co-directed by Dr. Jorge Calles, Professor of Internal Medicine (Endocrinology) and Dr. Brenda Latham-Sadler, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine.
Angelou Center projects and programs include:
Hispanic Health Media Project
In partnership with Que Pasa Media, the Hispanic Health Media Project works to increase the health literacy of the Latino population in 4 target areas:
- Adult health
- Child health
“La Clínica del Pueblo” (The People’s Clinic), a weekly radio program and corresponding newspaper column, was developed to address these 4 target areas. The show has rapidly gained in popularity in the North Carolina Latino community, with an average of 10 calls during each hour-long weekly radio show.
Popular program topics have included alcohol abuse, cancer in women, cold and flu, cardiovascular disease, smoking and tobacco risk, HIV/AIDS, depression, and family planning. Medical Center faculty members have participated as guest experts for some segments.
Voices of African American Health
A photojournalism project involving 24 African Americans from Forsyth County and surrounding areas provided participants with the opportunity to tell their own stories of living with chronic illness as patients or caregivers. In collaboration with Delta Fine Arts, the project provided resources for participants to document1month of their lives in living with illness or taking care of others who suffer from disease.
The project serves to educate the community at large about the problem of racial and ethnic health disparities. The exhibit has traveled around the region as an educational opportunity to share the participants’ stories. The photos have appeared in medical centers, art galleries and educational settings.
Lumbee Indian Youth Study
In partnership with the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the Angelou Center is participating in a research study of Lumbee Indian youth and their cultural behaviors. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
The 2-year project, called "Lumbee Rite of Passage" is studying the effects of Lumbee cultural influences on Lumbee Indian youth regarding suicide, self-esteem, depression and other mental health issues.
"Suicide among American Indian youth is a very serious problem and has only recently gained attention," said Bell, who is the lead investigator for the study and an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe.
Faculty and Student Development Program
The program aims to increase awareness of health career opportunities among minority students at all levels of schooling.
“There’s a great need to enhance the number of minority students in medical and health professions,” said Bell.
The program also works to foster career development of minority faculty at the School of Medicine and increase the number of minority faculty at senior levels and in leadership positions.
Information about additional Angelou Center programs is available on the Center’s website.