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Urban Health Institute Blog

David Hates-Bautista
“Diversity without voice leads to bad science” — David Hates-Bautista

On March 19th, community and religious leaders, educators, health professionals, and students gathered at Sacred Heart for the Johns Hopkins Centro SOL’s 4th Annual Latinx Health Conference “Mind Your Health: Community-Centered Solutions to Mental Health Issues”.

Dr. Margarita Alegría

Keynote speakers Margarita Alegria and David Hayes-Bautista both shared their perspectives on mental health disparities in the Latinx community.  Dr. Alegria, Chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital discussed the role of feasible and sustainable community-based interventions.  Dr. Hayes-Bautista, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA’s School of Medicine spoke about the impact of demographic shifts in mental health outcomes. 

Attendees also had the chance to walk through a photo exhibit, Portraits of the Journey, by Tomas Ayuso, listen to spoken word, hear personal testimonies from latinx advocates and trauma survivors, and reflect with one another about the information and data shared from health experts and their own personal experiences in the fight to end disparities amongst latinx.

To learn more about the conference, please visit the website

Exhibit Portraits of the Journey by Tomas Ayuso

“By putting all this and much more on the table, I hope to trigger discussion about the Johns Hopkins Institutions, islands of first world excellence in a city that increasingly exhibits third world dysfunctions.” – Antero Pietila

Antero Pietila photo

On November 20, faculty, students, and community members from across Baltimore gathered in Sommer Hall to participate in a discussion with veteran journalist and renowned author Antero Pietila and a panel of community and university leaders about Mr. Pietila's new book, The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins: The Life and Legacy That Shaped an American City”. Which takes a close look at the life and hopes of Johns Hopkins the man and how the medical institutions created in his honor shaped and impacted the racial geography of Baltimore.

“My new book aims to explain Johns Hopkins and his legacy, the university, and the medical institutions and their place in a mutating city. In covering over 200 years in local history I want to provide readers with a frame work for understanding Baltimore and how it became what it is today”, said Mr. Pietila.

Group photo The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins

The conversation took a “put it all on the table” approach. Panelists not only shared their perspective about the relationship of Johns Hopkins institutions and Baltimore, but also talked about the life of the Baltimore business man, who, unlike many of his peers at the time, desired to see equality for all, especially within the health care system. Ronald R. Peterson, president emeritus of Johns Hopkins Health System echoed these sentiments, “Mr. Hopkins’ decision to support the development of a world class hospital that would indeed be accessible to all in need of health care services irrespective of color, religion, or ability to pay created hope for the hopeless”.

While many agreed Johns Hopkins request for a charity hospital to be built that catered to everyone highlighted the pioneer and abolitionist he was, it left readers and panelists discussing how the institution took a dramatic turn from this vision of equality.

“It isn’t enough to be proud that Johns Hopkins original intention was to serve the local population regardless of skin color. Nor is it enough to be proud of the fact that an orphan asylum for black children was part of the Hopkins bequest. Too much has happened since then that not only blemishes Hopkins record but routinely exposes it.", stated Professor Graham Mooney, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Department of the History of Medicine

Some of these blemishes that took place during Johns Hopkins Institutions' (JHI) darker moments in history were noted in Mr. Pietila’s book and throughout the discussion. Such as, JHI’s role in the forced displacement of residents (many of them being people of color), the segregation of black and white patients, the removal and testing of Henrietta Lacks immortal cells without consent, and Hopkins role in “robbing” graves and selling corpses to medical institutions along the East Coast for testing and research.

Rebecca Hoffberger photo

“You could’ve called Baltimore "Corpses R Us"!  It wasn’t that we were just having people steal corpses from graves for our own institutions, but they were the primary suppliers, according to Antero’s book, for Harvard, Yale, Boston, and Atlanta.”, shared Rebecca Hoffberger founder and director of the American Visionary Arts Museum

The discussion allowed for community and Hopkins members to reflect on past relationships, the progress that has been made today, and hopes for the future.

Rev. Debra Hickman photo

“I am happier today that you (Antero) are challenging us to look into your book as a mirror. A mirror to the past and also looking at ourselves at this present time.”, stated Rev. Debra Hickman, CEO of Sisters Together and Reaching, Inc.

When the question was raised about elitism within Johns Hopkins, Rev. Hickman went on to discuss how her personal involvement with Hopkins, with the Urban Health Institute's Community-University Coordinating Council, the Center for Health Equity, and the Patient-Family Advisory Council, has helped to shift her views of institution leadership from being elitist to a desire to hear directly from the community.

Graham Mooney photo

In addition to recognizing the current efforts being made today, recommendations were given for how JHI can push towards a stronger relationship in the future with its neighbors. Professor Graham Mooney, shared this, “Hopkins can behave towards its hometown by making choices, choices that put social justice at the center of its activities.”

Ronald Peterson photo

Mr. Peterson also had this to say, “If we are serious about making stronger bonds with the community the issue of trust must be re-addressed. We must recognize once and for all, responding as we do very well to the presence of disease, this is not enough […] we must continue to pursue meaningful measures through partnerships with other entities to address fundamental needs that can influence the health and well-being of our neighbors”.

When asked about hope for Baltimore, Mr. Pietila left us with this, “There is hope and there are challenges. The things that are happening now around Broadway and the things that are happening around Bayview, they give me hope because this is what the city needs, rotation that rejuvenates communities.”

To check out photos and videos from the event please visit our Facebook page and YouTube channel.

On October 6, 2018, the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute presented their annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award to CHECC-uP Cervical Cancer in Minority Women with HIV Project, a collaboration between Older Women Embracing Life (OWEL) and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, at the annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture hosted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical & Translational Research (ICTR).

With the help of Dr. Hae-Ra Han, the lead Principal Investigator on the project, CHECC-uP recruits’ women living with HIV, who are not receiving the needed health care to reduce the occurrence of, and offer early treatment for the same illness that took the life of Henrietta Lacks, cervical cancer. To date, over 900 women living with HIV have participated in the CHECC-uP study.

“We appreciate the fact that older women, who have pre-existing conditions, can be a part of research.”

Older Women Embracing Life (OWEL)

Upon accepting the award, Ms. Reese exclaimed “We are a largely volunteer organization and this award means so much to us!” The group plans to use the $15,000 award to increase healthcare access, engage and retain women in health care, and increase health literacy. The funds will also be used to reach more women living with HIV in the inner city who may be unaware of the need for cervical cancer screening and are in need of social supports.

To learn more about the CHECC-Up Project, watch the official Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award video on our YouTube channel.

About Older Women Embracing Life (OWEL)

Older Women Embracing Life, also known as OWEL (pronounced ohwWell), is a 501(c)3 organization established in 2005 with the help of the Johns Hopkins University AIDS Education and Training Center in response to their recognition that older women in Baltimore living with the challenge of HIV lacked the comfort and companionship that many support groups often provide. 

Imani West

Political and social leaders gather to reflect on social justice and activism from 1968 to 2018

In 1968 the Nation was at war, the economy was in crisis, racial and political tensions were high, civil unrest had erupted, and people around the country were mourning the death of two monumental leaders in history.

A crowd stands to sign along to the Negro National Anthem

Fifty years later faculty, students, researchers, and community members from across Baltimore gathered in Turner Auditorium for the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute’s (UHI) Social Determinants of Health Symposium, “1968-2018, Voices of Social Change: Empowered Communities for Health and Social Justice”, to remember the events of 1968, reflect on where we are now, and recommit to improving our communities. “We see this conversation as a dialogue between generations.  It is not just about looking backward it is also about looking forward, it is about honoring the past and those who walked before, and it is about learning from the past […] so we are not condemned to repeat it.”, explained UHI director Robert Blum.


The Year Was 1968…

Local and national leaders reflected on what life was like for them during that tumultuous time. Many just beginning their careers, some fighting against the war in Vietnam, others coping with the loss of two American heroes.

(L to R) Lester Spence, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, Congressman Elijah Cummings, and Taylor Branch on the “Reflecting on 1968 within the Context of 2018” panel discussion.
(L to R) Lester Spence, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, Congressman Elijah Cummings, and Taylor Branch on the “Reflecting on 1968 within the Context of 2018” panel discussion.

“They killed my hero”, said Congressman Cummings in reference to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “I believed in King but then my hero was gone, and he was gone through violence, so it was a very difficult time for me.”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend discussed the career of her father, the late Robert F. Kennedy, and how his death touched the country. “We all thought that train would be three and a half hours and in fact it was about an eight-hour train because spontaneously with no organization and no planning two million people came to stand by the train and to salute my father and they were white people and black people and working men and women” […] “Somebody said on that train what did my father do to be able to attract people from all across this country to come and stand and mourn him?” […] “Part of it is he had enormous physical and moral courage.”

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy left a lasting feeling of loss and devastation around the country but the work they left behind marked a symbolism of hope and equality for all, specifically economic equality.

(L to R) Marc Steiner and Robert Houston on the “Poor People’s Campaign and Resurrection City” panel discussion.
(L to R) Marc Steiner and Robert Houston on the “Poor People’s Campaign and Resurrection City” panel discussion.

Marc Steiner sat down with photographer Robert Houston to talk about the Poor People’s Campaign and Resurrection City. The two discussed what it was like coming together with a diverse group of people from all over, marching to Washington, and living in shanty tents for six weeks. “The Poor Peoples campaign was made up of African Americans from all across America, from six different directions across the country […] so rural folks from the south who were Black, Black folks from urban areas especially in the north, Mexican Americans from the west, Puerto Ricans from New York, Appalachian Whites and poor Whites from Chicago, Native Americans from all across the west.” Said Mr. Steiner. Spearheaded by Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and taken over by Ralph Abernathy after King’s death, the campaign advocated for poor people of all backgrounds in America and shed light on the economic struggles many were facing during that time. The historical moment lives on through pictures featured in publications and displayed along museum walls. These photos were captured by Mr. Houston.

“For me, this was a major experience of my life, a life-changing experience. I had never met so many different yet similar people in my life. I have never witnessed such unity, such caring.”, said Mr. Houston.

(L to R) Ralph Moore, Willa Bickham, and Brendan Walsh on the “Anti-War Movement and Role of the Church” panel discussion.
(L to R) Ralph Moore, Willa Bickham, and Brendan Walsh on the “Anti-War Movement and Role of the Church” panel discussion.

While the Nation was fighting an economic crisis, American troops were fighting in Vietnam. Ralph Moore, Willa Bickham, and Brendan Walsh discussed the anti-war movement and the role of the Catholic church. Providing context to the acts of Baltimore Four and the Catonsville Nine, sharing stories about peace activists and the Catholic worker, and explaining why war didn’t benefit anyone in 1968 and why it still isn’t benefitting us in 2018.

“War is not good for anybody’s health”, says Moore. “We are still feeling the effects of prior wars […] all of these have long-lasting impacts, not good impacts” with Mr. Walsh adding on “We have been at war for 222 years and the country has only been here for 242.”


Embracing the Diversity of Activism

Former Black Panther leaders, environmental crusaders, Catholic workers, political leaders, and artists shared how they advocate for their communities, demonstrating the diversity of activism throughout history.

Dew More Baltimore Youth Poetry Team
Dew More Baltimore Youth Poetry Team.

Dew More Baltimore Youth Poetry team introduced their concept of “artivism”, using spoken word to address and express issues they and their peers face in their communities.

“[with] Poetry, if you can grab someone’s attention then you can keep their attention and if you turn their pain into something pretty, you can have them actually get it, instead of yelling at someone until they actually change.”, said youth poet and activist Keyma Flight.

(L to R) Destiny Watford, Bishop Douglas Miles, Durre Smith, and Eddie Conway on the “Baltimore Political and Social Activism: 1968 and 2018” panel discussion.
(L to R) Destiny Watford, Bishop Douglas Miles, Durre Smith, and Eddie Conway on the “Baltimore Political and Social Activism: 1968 and 2018” panel discussion.

Activists of 1968 and activists of 2018 shared their perspectives on the political climate of Baltimore during the Baltimore Political and Social Activism: 1968 and 2018 Panel.  With the older generation citing the differences they see in 2018 than they did in 1968, including Bishop Douglas Miles, a Baltimore pastor and community advocate, who cited three major differences between 1968 and 2018. The quality and level of education in this country, the presence and role of the black church, and the lack of strong political leadership on the national, federal, and local levels.

Youth environmental activist Destiny Watford weighed in, “What 2015 showed me was just how deeply the webs of our injustices across the city, which are usually hidden by this invisible veil that hides the injustices we face all over, was lifted.” “I began to see (different) ways to organize and to think critically about how we can connect to the injustices that we are all facing together and doing it in a way that is really powerful.”

Ericka Huggins and Katrina-Bell McDonald on the “Women’s in Social and Political Activism” panel discussion.
Ericka Huggins and Katrina-Bell McDonald on the “Women’s in Social and Political Activism” panel discussion.

Katrina Bell-McDonald, associate professor of Sociology and co-director of the Center for Africana Studies, reunited with former Black Panther Leader and human rights advocate Ericka Huggins after thirty years to discuss the role of women in social and political activism since 1968.

“Women of the movements, all the way through, were the ones who held every single movement.”, said Huggins. “Right there on Martin’s arm was Coretta. […] She was the intellect of a lot. But do we know that? No, because we see her as a grieving widow, and so was I. […] It doesn’t take much to know women have been written out of the movements, so there is no role for us, we are the movement.”

Ms. Huggins also discussed the work of the Black Panther Party, the portrayal of the party in society, the contributions women made to the party, the importance of breaking down silos, and encouraged women to take care of themselves and bond with other women to help heal.

Congressman Cummings also shared a word of encouragement for the activists in the room to leave with. “I would encourage activists to make sure that every single child gets a good education and I really mean that. If you got an education, it makes a world a difference and we all have to fight for that.”


Where Are We Now?

While speakers remembered the historical events that happened between 1968 and 2018, such as the Baltimore riots in ‘68 and the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, many of them took the opportunity to reflect on the state of Baltimore and the country in 2018 and expressed concerns about how we are addressing issues such as poverty and racism.

Author and historian Taylor Branch on the “Reflecting on 1968 within the Context of 2018” panel discussion.
Author and historian Taylor Branch on the “Reflecting on 1968 within the Context of 2018” panel discussion.

“So, in my view we are still stuck 50 years later in a country that is blessed by the student activism and black-led movement that set all this in to motion but we are cursed by a politics that denies all of those blessings and that still shies away from all but the most superficial engagement with the race issue in the United States.” said historian and author Taylor Branch.

Hopes for the Future

In addition, many expressed ideas for how communities can move forward and shared action steps people should take to help change the political climate of today. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend commemorated the work of her father and encouraged others to follow his lead, “What we need I think out of our politics today is a love for one another, a respect for one another, and sense of dignity for each person rather than to condemn those with who we disagree.

Many credited young people as being the torch that will carry the flames of justice and advocacy and help shape the political decisions in years to come.

Baltimore School for the Arts Students singing songs of the civil rights movement
Baltimore School for the Arts Students singing songs of the civil rights movement.

“The new leadership that is coming up in our political world maybe will change that, that’s why I love this younger generation”, said Marc Steiner. “The younger generation is giving me more hope than I had in a long time, people in their teens and 20s and 30s.”

Former Baltimore Black Panther leader and founder of the Tubman House here in Baltimore, Eddie Conway echoed the same sentiments. “Nothing changes in societies throughout history without young people engaging. It’s always been young people, even when the black panther party started it was young people. […] Young people are the engines of change because they’re the ones that will inherit the future and if young people don’t engage they will end up in predicaments where they don’t have control.”

To view photos and video from the April 30th Social Determinants of Health Symposium please visit our Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Imani West, Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute

Urban Health in Contemporary America

Last Thursday, March 29, the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute (UHI) rolled out a new course, Urban Health in Contemporary America. In this course students will examine structures that impact the determinants of health within the context of urban environments.

The goal of the course is to equip students with the knowledge and tools to:

  • Describe the historical forces that led to the rise of cities in the U.S. and the social and economic factors shaping contemporary urban crises

  • Develop and apply a framework for conceptualizing urban health, its components, and their interrelationships

  • Assess the relative importance of the characteristics of contemporary U.S. cities in shaping the health of their populations

  • Articulate the structural factors that lead to advantaged and disadvantaged populations in major urban centers in the U.S.

  • Explain and discuss controversies in urban health from multiple perspectives

Dr. Robert Blum, the director of the UHI, along with a number of guest speakers, will be leading students the next seven weeks through a series of sessions, students will explore urban health through the lens of Baltimore by exploring historical factors, taking a tour of the city, examining the determinants that effect health in urban populations, and discussing and debating topics that impact the Baltimore community and other urban cities across America, such as poverty, racism, policing, and housing.

Students will also have the opportunity to attend out of class events such as the Urban Health Institute’s upcoming Social Determinants of Health Symposium on April 30.

Learn more about the new course by visiting the website

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