Black History Month: Part II, Making History

February 24, 2022

In a three-part series, the staff at SIG share the contributions of Black researchers, scientists, and health care workers both historically and contemporarily (“making history”) and acknowledge ongoing issues in research.

As noted in Part 1, staff at the Social Intervention Group (SIG) are commemorating Black History Month and the tremendous achievements of Black researchers, scientists, and health care workers both historically and contemporarily (“making history”) related to SIG’s research areas. Also, importantly, the staff want to acknowledge ongoing problematic issues in research that need to be addressed (Part III).

SIG will share these contributions through three separate articles to commemorate Black History Month: 

  1. Historic contributions
  2. Contemporary contributions
  3. Problematic issues in research.  

In this section, Part II, we asked our researchers and staff to share some of the scientists in our research areas making history that they admire and wish to highlight. Several SIG researchers contributed to the selection of individuals below including Drs. Nabila El-Bassel (director of SIG), Elwin Wu (co-director), Louisa Gilbert (co-director), Dawn Goddard-Eckrich (associate director), Anindita Dasgupta (research scientist), and Melissa Cervantes (MSW student), and Eleni Vlachos (director of marketing).

Contemporary Black researchers making history

The following incredible researchers shared by the above SIG staff are listed in no particular order. Each link contains the source of information for the quotes.

  • Gail E. Wyatt, PhD:  In addition to being a Multiple PI on SIG’s EBAN, a couples/group HIV/STI preventive intervention to reduce sexually risky behaviors, “Wyatt was the first African American woman in the state of California to receive a license to practice psychology and first African American woman to be named a Full Professor of the UCLA School of Medicine.” 
  • Gina Wingood, ScD, MPH: “Dr. Wingood dedicated her life to developing gender- and culturally-appropriate HIV prevention interventions for African American women. She has received international acclaim for her research on social determinants of health, and was previously featured in Science as a highly-funded African American NIH grant recipient.”
  • Lisa Bowleg, PhD: “Dr. Bowleg’s mixed methods research focuses on: (1) the effects of social-structural context, masculinity, and resilience on Black men’s sexual HIV risk and protective behaviors; and (2) intersectionality, stress, and resilience among Black LGB people. She is also a leading scholar of the application of intersectionality to social and behavioral science research.”
  • Ricky Bluthenthal, PhD: “[Dr. Bluthenthal’s] research has established the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs, tested novel interventions and strategies to reduce HIV risk and improve HIV testing among injection drug users and men who have sex with men, documented how community conditions contribute to health disparities, and examined health policy implementation.”
  • Sidney H. Hankerson, MD: “[Dr. Hankerson’s] research focuses on reducing racial/ethnic disparities in mental health treatment. He is a nationally recognized expert at faith-based mental health services research.”
  • Jermaine Jones, PhD: “As a result of my laboratory research among people who use drugs, I developed an interest in community-based drug use harm reduction. As an associate professor, my current laboratory research focuses on pharmacogenetics, while my work outside of the lab focuses on overdose harm reduction.”
  • Courtney D. Cogburn, PhD: “Associate Professor Courtney D. Cogburn employs a transdisciplinary research strategy to improve the characterization and measurement of racism and in examining the role of racism in the production of racial inequities in health.” Dr. Cogburn is also the lead creator of the impactful virtual reality film 1000 Cut Journey, which “highlights the social realities of racism, for understanding racism is the essential first step in promoting effective, collective social action and achieving racial justice.”
  • Kimberlé Crenshaw, LL.M, JD,:  “In 1989, before she was a professor at Columbia, Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality,’ as a way to help explain the oppression of African American women. To dive deeper, Crenshaw explains: ‘Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LGBTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.’”
  • Tawandra Rowell Cunsolo:  A former HISTP scholar, Dr. Rowell-Cunsolo’s research “broadly examines the intersection of the criminal justice system and health outcomes. More specifically, her research examines ways in which incarceration affects the health of vulnerable communities, especially in the areas of HIV risk behaviors and substance use.”
  • Karen Johnson, PhD: Dr. Johnson was the Project Director of E-WORTH pre-implementation through implementation. Dr. Johnson’s research interests “focus on improving the lives of sheltered and undomiciled homeless women in rural and urban settings. Specifically, she examines how co-morbid risks, such as justice involvement, sexual risk behaviors, mental health and substance abuse, combine synergistically to contribute to homelessness among impoverished women.”
  • Loretta Ross: Dr. Ross is the founder of the reproductive justice movement. “Black feminist activist, educator, and scholar Loretta J. Ross has paved the way for reproductive justice activism.”
  • Jamila Stockman, PhD, MPH: Dr. Stockman, a former HISTP scholar and on the Alumi Board, “has dedicated her research career towards improving the lives of women with experiences of intimate partner and sexual violence. An epidemiologist by training, her research focuses on the intersecting epidemics of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, HIV acquisition and transmission, and substance abuse among marginalized populations.”   
  • Lynn M.Murphy Michalopoulos, PhD, a former HISTP scholar, continues to consult with SIG on important research around health equity. While at SIG she conducted a quantitative study with truck drivers from the DRC, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia, among other significant work.  
  • Uché Blackstock, MD. “Dr. Blackstock founded Advancing Health Equity in 2019 with the goal of partnering with healthcare organizations to dismantle racism in healthcare and to close the gap in racial health inequities.” Dr. Blackstock and her work was recently featured in Essence Magazine
  • Yvonne Thornton, MD: Dr. Thorton “...became the first African-American woman in the United States to be board-certified in high-risk obstetrics, and as one of the first in the United States to use chorionic villus sampling for prenatal genetic testing, she was among a group of practitioners whose work persuaded the FDA to approve the procedure.”

The HIV Intervention Science Training Program (HISTP) began over a decade ago at SIG. The mission of this NIMH-funded multidisciplinary training program is to “develop and facilitate the growth of scientists from underrepresented groups conducting HIV-related dissemination and implementation research.” To support new tenure-track faculty, HISTP conducts tailored training sessions and institutes, provides mock grant reviews, mentorships, and more. 

Currently, the HISTP program includes ten scholars from universities across the country working on a range of HIV-related research projects. Training for this cohort of scholars is focused on integrating technology into research, and scholars participated in a hackathon with Games for Change.  Several HISTP scholars also shared their knowledge and expertise in a 2021 event entitled For Us, by Us: A Conversation about Racism, Discrimination and Bias in Higher Education

For Black History Month, we want to share the incredible work of current HISTP scholars, presented here in alphabetical order. Please do click through and discover the unique research they are conducting as these scientists make history. 

  • Aimalohi A. Ahonkhai, MD, MPH is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. VUMC recently highlighted her work here describing her as “a problem-solver who spends time talking to press about the latest COVID-19 news and safety guidelines. She’s renowned for expertise in mHealth and AIDS research and is committed to reducing disparities in care.” Dr. Ahonkhai’s work designing a storytelling game – which began during a “game jam” her her submission won at HISTP –  to help African girls was featured in Global Health Now.   
  • Keosha Bond, EdD, MPH, CHES is an Assistant Medical Professor at the Department of Community Health and Social Medicine at the City University of New York School of Medicine. Dr. Bond is a Behavioral Scientist and Sexual Health Educator “who has centered her work on the complex intersections of race, sexuality, social justice, and health disparities among individuals of marginalized genders.”  She also directs the Love Project Lab, a “research group dedicated to the social and sexual wellness of marginalized communities.”   
  • Donaldson Conserve, PhD, MS is an Associate Professor in the Department of Prevention and Community Health in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. His research “focuses on implementing and disseminating evidence-based HIV prevention, care, and treatment interventions for scale-up and population impact.” Dr. Conserve also founded the Black Male Professors & Researchers Collective (BMPRC) Initiative, a “hub to connect Black male doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, professors, and researchers.”
  • Jaih Craddock, PhD, MSW is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, where her research “centers on using computational social science and qualitative methods to address sexual health and HIV disparities in complex adaptive systems (networks). Her scholarship utilizes innovative social network methods and artificial intelligence technologies to examine how social network dynamics and social media communication impacts decision making around sexual health-related behaviors…particularly among Black young adults.”
  • Caroline Kingori, PhD, MPH, CHES is the Interim Associate Dean of Research, and Associate Professor, within the Department of Social and Public Health College of Health Sciences and Professions at Ohio University. Dr. Kingori’s research interests are “driven by the need to address reproductive and sexual health issues, particularly the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the international, national and local contexts.”  Dr. Kingori also hosts a podcast called Public Health Musings, where she interviews scholars across the country "on public health related topics to inspire us to action."
  • Peter Memiah DrPH, MSc is an Associate Professor of Medicine, within the Epidemiology and Public Health Division of Epidemiology and Prevention at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His research goal is “to ameliorate health inequalities in the USA, Sub-­Saharan Africa (SSA) and the Caribbean (Haiti and Guyana) through health outcomes research, health sector policy development, public health programming and direct patient care.” 
  • E. Wairimu Mwangi, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Trinity Washington University, DC. Her research focuses on “structural factors that influence HIV and related outcomes in Africa and the US.” Dr. Mwangi also worked as a consultant for the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. where her work focused on the “interactions between agricultural contexts, food insecurity and women’s vulnerability to HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.”
  • Megan Vaness Threats, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her research “centers on leveraging informatics to achieve health justice with racial/ethnic minoritized lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities."
  • Ryan Wade, PhD, MSW is an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research "examines social determinants of health and health disparity among LGBTQ people of color." He focuses "predominantly on psychological health outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety, self-esteem), and secondarily on sexual health and well-being among this population."
  • Melonie Walcott, DrPH, MPH is a Staff Scientist at the Laboratory of Infectious Disease Prevention, Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute, New York Blood Center. Her research interests include “behavioral risk factors for HIV transmission, preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP), medication adherence and structural interventions especially among underserved communities.” Dr. Walcott was just awarded a Diversity Supplement: Engaging BMSM in HIV care during a pandemic: the role of patient-provider interaction and perceived racism in healthcare.

Get involved: Follow HISTP scholars or share the opportunity to apply

This list is not exhaustive. Are there any researchers -- related to SIG's area of research -- that we missed and should include? Please do write Eleni. Stay tuned for parts II and III, on contemporary Black researchers and advocates, and problematic areas in research.

Read Part I: Historic Contributions of Black-Led Organizations, Advocates, and Researchers

Read Part II: Addressing Problematic Issues in Research

About SIG

SIG was founded 30 years ago to address the AIDS pandemic. Both AIDS and HIV continue to be the focus of most of SIG’s research projects and efforts, which also include often concurrent issues of intimate partner and gender-based violence, substance use disorder, and racial and health disparities. The underrepresented populations SIG serves include people who inject drugs or suffer from substance misuse, sexual and gender minorities, justice-involved populations, people who are refugees or undergoing forced migration, and people who trade sex for money. 

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