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AHCJ Conference highlights Racial Disparity and Equity

Dr. Otis Brawley






From the podium as notable speakers to moderating panels, African-Americans were at the forefront of Health Journalism 2019 held May 2-5 at the Hilton Baltimore Conference Center.

Presented by the Association for Health Care Journalists and Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, the 2019 convening of journalists and stakeholders reigns as a record-setter for the organization with 800 registered attendees.

The annual conference serves as a comprehensive gathering for industry professionals to access cutting edge trends ranging from opioid epidemics, gun violence in public health, autism and mental health, pharmacology, women’s health, cancer and more.


The conference included multiple panel discussions, training workshops, field trips, exhibits and a plethora of information available to aid journalists in their role of providing accurate health care news to a global audience.

Corporate and medical sponsors surpassed the dozens along with endowing foundations, including The Leona M. Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which funded fellows including Florida Courier writer Penny Dickerson who was awarded an ethnic media fellowship.


Johns Hopkins University (JHU) served as the conference host, which kicked off on May 2 with an official welcome session featuring Dr. Otis Brawley.

A renowned cancer screening and prevention expert, Brawley joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in January where he leads broad interdisciplinary research of cancer health disparities at JHU’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Brawley works to close racial, economic, and social disparities in the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer in the United States and worldwide.

“We have to get back to prevention,” stated Brawley, who previously served as chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society.

“When I talk about disparities, I’m talking about Massachusetts vs. Mississippi – less about White vs. Black than expansion of Medicaid vs. non-expansion.”


The former professor of oncology and hematology at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University in Atlanta led a captive audience through expert commentary and trending statistics:

It is estimated that 607,000 Americans will die of cancer this year.

If all Americans had the cancer death rate of college-educated Americans, the number would be 455,000.

Nearly one-fourth of cancer deaths (152,000) would not occur if all Americans had the access and utilization of preventive and therapeutic interventions enjoyed by the college educated.

“There are more trends in cancer than there are in fashion. Every couple of years, we have a new trend, a lot of them overhyped.” said Brawley. “As we get excited about the potential for new cancer treatments, we must also remember to balance realistic expectations and limitations.”


Dr. Darrell J. Gaskin, a JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health professor, led all-Black panel of experts in a discussion on health disparities and African-American women who remain a persistent problem even after years of research and numerous programs created to close the health gap.

“At the Center for Health Disparities, our focus is on not just on talking about the fact that there are disparities by race, ethnicity, and geography, but looking at ways to minimize those disparities,” said Gaskin.


Joining Gaskins was Linda Goler Blount, M.P.H., president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative; and Tanjala S. Purnell, Ph.D., M.P.H. an associate professor of surgery, epidemiology, and health behavior and society at JHU.

“Health disparities are not just a medical problem, not just a public health problem. They affect all of us and it will take all of our knowledge and expertise to address them,” Purnell said.

The panel was moderated by AHCJ board member Marlene K. Harris-Taylor, a reporter and producer at a Cleveland TV station.


Yannick Rice Lamb moderated a session titled “Diverse Sources.’


“Journalists are failing at diversity — in the sources and experts it calls upon to help the public (both) understand and digest the news of the day,” stated Alexandria Neason, staff writer and senior doctoral fellow at the Columbia Journalism Review.

That quote introduced a workshop session on “Diverse Sources” designed to provide reporters strategies and tips on how to find diverse expert sources in science and health care with the ultimate goal of changing the health narrative to reflect more diverse voices in health news. The latter is deemed good journalism.


Yanick Rice Lamb, chair/associate professor, Cathy Hughes School of Communications, Howard University and publisher of the FierceforBlackWomen.com moderated the session, which included Pulitzer Prize team awardee (Newsday) and multiple fellowship recipient Katti Gray.

“There’s a greater urgency for us to think outside the box. From a place that is both pedestrian and philosophical, we are not diversifying our sources,” stated Gray. “It becomes a way of ‘othering’ people… treating them like they are so weird, like you don’t quite know the question to frame or where to go. Just ask somebody!”

The latter is likely simplistic ease for a journalist of Gray’s stature, who is also programs and instruction director for New York University Urban Journalism Workshop. Gray seized a teachable moment by offering a nugget from her own professional mode.

“I tend to report from the ground up, so rather than going to the physicians first, I might go to a grassroots organization and say, ‘I’d like to find some recently released/formerly incarcerated folks.’ I want to know if they have a re-entry plan,” explained Gray. “That was part of what the Affordable Care Act provided for people who are coming out of prison. So, that’s where I start.”

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