Maya Angelou Research Center on Minority Health Opens

Led by the desire of Dr. Maya Angelou to effect change in closing the health gap between minorities and the rest of the population, the School of Medicine creates the Maya Angelou Research Center on Minority Health.

Angelou—renowned poet, civil rights activist and professor at Wake Forest University—helps set the center’s goals, which include research studying health disparities, enhancing the diversity of the health profession’s workforce and providing opportunities to engage community members in discussions about health issues. One of the center’s unique elements is its work in three racial and ethnic populations: American Indian, Hispanic and African-American.

Ronny Bell, PhD and co-director of the Angelou Center, said the connection with Angelou, a professor of American studies at Wake, is key.

“She’s been a powerful voice for civil rights for so many years, and so connecting her message of civil rights and social justice to what we’re doing from a health perspective is very, very important.”

Helping Those in Greatest Need

Now known as the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, the center’s more focused goal today is on transformational research, taking existing knowledge and applying it in communities with the greatest need, said Bell, who in addition to his role with the Angelou Center is a professor of public health sciences. The name of the center was changed to better reflect its role beyond research and in reaching communities “where there is the greatest need.”

Bettina Beech, PhD, co-director of the Angelou Center with Bell and a professor of social sciences and health policy, cited the importance of the center in helping people see that disparities still exist today.

“This is about as many people having the best health and access to health care and health care resources as possible,” she said.

The Angelou Center’s mission, Bell said, is different compared to other centers nationally.

“We decided in 2010 to focus on diabetes and obesity because of the tremendous burden these conditions place in many minority communities,” he said. “A lot of health disparities/health equity centers have a very broad-based agenda, and we feel like our focus in these areas makes us a unique center.”

In 2012, the Angelou Center won a $5 million National Institutes of Health grant and was designated a Health Disparities Center of Excellence. The money will be used to address disparities in diabetes prevention and treatment among minority populations.