Q&A: Rev. George Nicholas… Planning ‘Igniting Hope 2019: Building A Culture of Health & Ending African American Health Disparities’
Pastor Nicholas was featured in “Building a community with better health for all” , produced in 2018 by the University at Buffalo for the African American Health Disparities Task Force
By Peter Ciotta

The African American Health Disparities Task Force has announced “Igniting Hope 2019: “Building A Culture of Health & Ending African American Health Disparities” will take place Fri., Aug. 17 and Sat., Aug. 18, 2019 at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at 955 Main St. , Buffalo. The Conference will again be  free and open to all community members. (Online Registration is requested. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.)

According to Rev. George Nicholas, MDiv, Senior Pastor, Lincoln Memorial United Methodist; and AAHDTF Convener, the 2019 Conference will feature leading African American public health experts who have experience in initiating and engaging communities to effect a change in minority health disparities including Moro Salifu, MD, MPH, MBA, FACP, Director of the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center; John Ruffin, PhD, Founding Director, National Institute on Minority and Health Disparities; and Lisa A. Nicholas, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California Los Angeles Ronald Reagan Medical Center.

I spoke further to Pastor Nicholas about the objectives of the 2019 Conference

Q. Given this will be the second Igniting Hope Buffalo Conference; what are the key objectives of this follow up event?

Pastor George Nicholas: Last year our main goal was to begin to get the community to understand: 1) There are some significant health disparities based on race specifically for African Americans in this region; 2) To put into the public conversation that the root causes of these disparities are the social determinants of health. So, beginning to state the facts that these disparities exist and 3) they are because of the social determinants of health. 4) To get information and input from the community residents, the people who attended the Conference and to see their reaction to the data, but also to give recommendations about how to address some of these root causes. 5) We also wanted to make the community aware that there is a broad-based coalition of citizens that include activist clergy; the University at Buffalo; AARP, ECMC, Hope Buffalo, Millennium Collaborative Care; NeuWater & Associates, LLC ; Population Health Collaborative and Roswell Park, and that we are around the table having conversations about how to address these issues. And then finally, we wanted to state publicly our desire to establish an Office of African American Health Disparities Center to work on research, policy and programmatic advocacy around these issues.

Q. What is the focus for the 2019 Conference?
Pastor George Nicholas: This year we will briefly re-state the conditions, and also talk about some direct actions we have taken as a Task Force, including working with Hope Buffalo on obtaining a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant which is a five year, $5 million grant from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct health assessment and community engagement work down the Ferry corridor. This will give us an opportunity to work down one end of the city to the other with a focus on smoking cessation, community linkages and access to nutrition and healthy food.

Also, the mini conference we had around 2019 Black History month that focused on education and the abusive practice of municipalities of fining black and brown people which directly impacts the constituency that we are working with. And out of that conference has come the establishment of a working group to deal with the fines and fees issue here in this region including being in conversation and advocating alongside NY State Senator Tim Kennedy on a bill to give people an opportunity to pay on installments and not get their licenses suspended. We are also pushing harder because we want to eliminate the excessive ticketing that is targeting black and brown communities. Again, we have built a coalition with the Fees and Fines Justice Center out of New York City, and are working on developing a local chapter to address these issues.

In addition, our conversation with the University has intensified regarding looking toward establishing an interdisciplinary center within the academic apparatus of the University that would focus on health disparities because we know that social determinants of health are the drivers. So, engaging the schools of Law, Business and Education is critical.

This year’s conference is going to focus on some of the outcomes we’ve had, and then also focus on the development of the Center for African American Health Disparities that will be community-based. We will partner with the University on an interdisciplinary center, but there also has to be a community-based Center that will deal with research, advocacy and policy. So, we’re excited about this and hope to be making a major announcement about the Center for African American Health Disparities at our Conference this year.

Q. Tell us about the three distinguished speakers who area headlining this year’s conference…

Pastor George Nicholas: Our speakers last year were outstanding – Dr. Consuelo Wilkins, Executive Director, Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance and Dr. Stephen Thomas from the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity. This year, our lineup is equally impressive. Dr. John Ruffin is really the driving force at the National Institute of Health and the creator of the Office of Minority Health Disparities as the founding director. He is retired, but he also works around the country with communities who want to tackle this issue around health disparities. He is really enthusiastic about engaging and working with us here in Buffalo because of the work we have done thus far. And so, he will be talking with us about how we can access resources around the country to finance the work that we want to do, and also share his learnings over the years of seeing community groups and university institutions, and how they have worked, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked around these issues. So, he’s just a wealth of knowledge. His talk will be very helpful.

Then, in Dr. Moro Salufu, who is out of Brooklyn, we have an expert who is actually running something that we are trying to develop. The Brooklyn Borough president has provided the resources for the development of a health disparities office in their community, and he’s also part of the faculty at SUNY Downstate and so that integration of community engagement and university, and the development of a kind of office that we are going to do here to address the root causes around the social determinants of health. So, he will again talk experientially about what he’s been able to do and also help guide us in our own development.

And then finally, my sister Dr. Lisa Nicholas who is on the faculty at UCLA and who is an expert on women’s health, especially as relates to women being at risk. She’s also very engaged in community work around health disparities and the social determinants of health, but also is very interested in the development of more black physicians. We need more black physicians. Data shows the issues around cultural competency are significant and the lack of cultural competency is another contributing factor to poor health outcomes for black people. Now, we’re not saying that only black doctors can serve the black community…we’re not saying that at all. But, what we are saying is we do need more black doctors to serve the black community.

I’ve been around a few years, and while this is not quantifiable and rather just my observation, but I’ve never seen a conference in the city of Buffalo with three major black doctors, health care professionals at the level that they are coming together in one conference to speak specifically about health issues in the City of Buffalo black community. Now, there might have been conferences someone somewhere might point to, but I would argue that there has never been a conference featuring this level of black expertise and black excellence to speak directly to issues impacting the black community.

Just seeing the 2019 conference flyer is inspirational and I think it will inspire people in this community … and to know that there is a lot of expertise having conversation nationally about this issue. But we also have a reservoir of talent here – black and white – that we are assembling to address these issues.

All three speakers, when we described the vision that we have, were excited about being engaged not only in this event, but also wanting to maintain that engagement post conference to help assist and guide us in this process because they resonate with our vision.

Q. Why should a community member come to this conference?
Pastor George Nicholas: No. 1, to get information, to know the facts. But secondly to find out how they can use their skills and gifts to engage in a movement that is serious about trying to eliminate race-based health disparities.

Anyone who thinks that it’s not a good thing to be living in a community where black people are suffering inexcusable poor health outcomes, and whether that be hypertension, diabetes, or poor maternal health outcomes for black women, should attend this conference.

And while we’re glad that these things are becoming out in the front, we’ve been talking about these issues for years. We didn’t need the latest county health report to direct us, we’ve been saying these things for awhile now, so hopefully, we can get the entire community engaged in a holistic and root- cause based activities, as opposed to doing some things that address symptoms, but the data shows we really haven’t moved the needle. We also want to encourage people who have been doing this work, and to continue to find ways that we can support them. We’re really trying to build a movement. We’re not trying to displace folks who have been working on this field for a while, but we’re really trying to move the needle and create health equity in our community. We know it really requires a broad-based coalition of people that will use their resources in the fields of not only medicine, but in the fields of economics, education, criminal justice, housing, environmental, and many more.

Peter Ciotta is Communications Director, Millennium Collaborative Care



Igniting Hope Conference 2019: Building a Culture of Health and Ending African American Health Disparities
Friday, August 16, 2019 and Saturday, August 17, 2019
The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
955 Main St.
Buffalo, NY 14203

Friday August 16th
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Introductory Session and Networking Meet and Greet
Keynote Speaker: Moro Salifu MD MPH MBA, Professor and Chair of Medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Director of the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center. Dr. Moro will be exploring
• “Evidence for the Cause, Effect, and Mitigation of Social Determinants of Health in People of Color”

Saturday August 17th
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Engaging Speakers, Information to Action Workshops, Round Table Discussions, Solution Based Dialogue
Breakfast and lunch served

The Saturday conference will feature two nationally recognized speakers:
John Ruffin PhD, Founding Director National Institute on Minority Heath and Health Disparities
• “The Best Thinking to Mitigating Health Disparities: Operationalizing Meaningful Collaborations, Structures and Strategies”

Lisa Nicholas MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California Los Angeles Ronald Reagan Medical Center
• “Women’s Health and Gender Equity”

Through guided breakout sessions informed by the social determinants of health, our aim is to explore the underlying root causes of health disparities by examining, discussing, and initiating action related to education, insurance gaps, access to healthcare (including prenatal care and care for the elderly), poverty and nutrition.

The African American Health Disparities Task Force is a grass roots initiative that has brought together community and academic individuals who want to address and improve the health disparities in the African American population in Buffalo.

Members of the task force from the University at Buffalo include faculty from Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Management, Education, Law, Architecture and Planning, Clinical Translational Science Institute, and Public Health and Health Professions.

Members of the task force from the community include representatives from the faith community led by Pastor George Nicholas and Pastor Kinzer Pointer, staff from Millennium Collaborative Care, Population Health Collaborative of WNY, and ECMC, Roswell Park Institute, primary care, key stakeholders, law enforcement, and labor unions.


About The African American Health Disparities Task Force – 5-23-19

November 29, 2018 – African American Health Disparities Task Force Updates Community on ‘Igniting Hope Buffalo’ Next Steps: ‘Building the Buffalo Center of African American Health Disparities’ https://tinyurl.com/yapq6g7y


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