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VOL. 126 | NO. 121 | Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Consortium Promotes Minority Health Equity

By Aisling Maki

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The Consortium for Health Education, Economic Empowerment and Research is wrapping up a three-day regional conference held at Memphis’ Cook Convention Center, 255 N. Main St., focused on promoting health equity among minority communities.

Housed at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, CHEER is an initiative aimed at health-equity research.

“We’re trying to increase health equity in Memphis and Shelby County, beginning with ZIP code 38126 (South Memphis),” said CHEER director Dr. Shelley White-Means. “We’re addressing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity as our first set of conditions.”

Led by UTHSC, the consortium is a partnership of seven organizations working to develop, share and implement research aimed at impacting minority health and reducing health inequities. With CHEER at the helm, it also includes LeMoyne-Owen College; Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare; the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department; Memphis Housing Authority; First Baptist Church Lauderdale; and Mustard Seed Inc., a faith-based organization focused on community outreach in South Memphis.

“We have a community engagement core, and we use this strategy called community-based participatory research, which means we go into the community and collaborate with them to understand how they define their health concerns and how they define their solutions,” White-Means said. “As a research center we have access to Tennessee health data, and we can generate stats and maps. But that’s not sufficient; just reporting what exists and not understanding the underlying reasons isn’t sufficient.”

The conference, which began Monday, June 20, and wraps up Wednesday, June 22, was designed to bring together local, state, regional and national health practitioners and officials, members of community- and faith-based organizations, academic experts from colleges and universities, and community residents.

The conference theme, “Empowering Communities to Create a Healthy Village,” emphasizes CHEER’s mission of developing community collaborations that promote healthy lifestyles for disadvantaged people.

The CHEER conference goals are to examine the overall health and well-being of minority communities, address economic empowerment as a driver in creating healthier citizens and ignite new partnerships focused on health in the Delta region.

The conference also aims to showcase successful community intervention efforts that have improved minority health and provide attendees with tools for implementing community-based participatory research in their respective areas.

Many conference speakers have come from across the region and the country. One speaker, Dr. Abedayo Adejumo, traveled from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria to deliver a presentation on the pyscho-demographic determinants in the perception of general health.

Other conference speakers include Dr. Brian Smedley, vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute, a division of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington; Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist, media consultant, author and co-author with Bill Cosby of “Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors”; and Bishop William Young, pastor of The Healing Center in Memphis and founder of the annual Suicide and the Black Church Conference.

Panels featured experts from notable academic institutions such as Meharry Medical College, Johns Hopkins University and UTHSC.

In addition, Dr. Leon Caldwell was honored for his progress in community-based participatory research in Memphis and other cities. In Memphis, Caldwell facilitated the Think Tank for African-American Progress, founded the Center for the Advancement of Youth Development housed at Rhodes College, and served as lead evaluator of the Just Care Family Network, a counseling system for youth with emotional or behavioral challenges.

The fair runs through Wednesday. Visit www.uthsc.edu/cheer for more information.

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