Conference Focuses on Health Disparities in City of Buffalo

Published January 12, 2022

The Igniting Hope Conference continues to focus on the urgent challenges of long-standing health disparities in Buffalo’s African American community.

“This conference series is becoming an annual summit that brings together community and university stakeholders to understand health disparities and discuss viable solutions to this systemic problem in our community. ”
CTSI director, SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research
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Co-sponsored by the Buffalo Center for Health Equity, the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), and the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, Igniting Hope is supported by funding from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

‘Walk of Healing’ Precedes Video Lectures, Discussions

The 2021 conference featured an open-to-the-public “Walk of Healing,” followed by a virtual conference titled “Healing Historical Trauma from Racist Research, Policies and Practices.”

For organizers, the opportunity to include an in-person element offered a way to both tie in with the conference themes and bring members of the community together.

“The conference was about the physical, mental, and social conditions of the African American community,” said the Rev. George Nicholas, MDiv, convener of the African American Health Equity Task Force; chair of the Buffalo Center for Health Equity; and pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church.

“As we transitioned out of the worst parts of the pandemic, we thought it was important that we create space for the community to gather and begin to come together and talk about not only what we have just recently came out of, but of our historical journey here in America.”

“The walk symbolized that we could begin to gather people in the community again,” Nicholas said. “Also, there was a level of celebration to it. This was our fourth conference and we have made so much progress.”

Conference Featured Trio of Keynote Speakers

Timothy F. Murphy, MD

“This conference series is becoming an annual summit that brings together community and university stakeholders to understand health disparities and discuss viable solutions to this systemic problem in our community,” said Timothy F. Murphy, MD, CTSI director, SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The event featured three keynote speakers:

  • Heidi L. Gartland, chief government and community relations officer, University Hospitals, Cleveland, whose address was titled “The Anchor Mission: Tackling Economic and Racial Disparities to Create Equitable Health Outcomes”
  • Donald E. Grant, PsyD, executive director, Mindful Training Solutions, whose address was titled “Historical Trauma: A Contemporary Conundrum”
  • Thomas A. LaVeist, PhD, Dean and Weatherhead Presidential Chair in Health Equity, Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine, whose address was titled “My Journey to Discover Why Disparities Exist … and What to Do About It”

Murphy said LaVeist “has done pioneering work on the role of racism in health care” and that “innovative approaches in Cleveland have led to true investment in minority-owned businesses and Ms. Gartland is a leader in these initiatives.”

Grant, a Buffalo native, is an international speaker, film and TV consultant, and author, whose latest book is titled “Black Men, Intergenerational Colonialism and Behavioral Health: A Noose Across Nations.”

Breakout discussions followed each keynote speaker, and focused on topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the environment, fines and fees, nutrition, and historical trauma and healing.

Racism At Root of Most Health Disparities

Alan J. Lesse, MD

Additional speakers included:

  • Jonathan D. Daniels, MD, a pediatrician and associate director of admissions at the Jacobs School
  • Alan J. Lesse, MD, associate professor of medicine and senior associate dean for medical curriculum at the Jacobs School
  • Rita Hubbard Robinson, JD, CEO, Neuwater & Associates, and associate director, Community Health Equity Research Institute
  • A. Scott Weber, PhD, professor and UB Provost, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

During his remarks at the conference, Lesse talked about the need to design systems to reverse the effect of structural racism.

“I believe that the root of health disparities is racism and without racism, most of the factors that contribute to these disparities would disappear,” he said. “Housing, access to good schools, and equal opportunity and pay would dissolve most of the disparities.”

“That will require monumental efforts and a change in society, but in the meantime, the Jacobs School has a responsibility to teach our students about racism and the effect it has on people of color,” Lesse added.

“We also must teach the students about racism in medicine and that our noble profession has a very disturbing history to overcome. Those that do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”