Third Annual Black Health Matters Conference Explores Racial Disparities and ‘Community Empowerment’

Harvard’s Black Health Matters Conference hosted its third annual conference this weekend with a series of keynote speakers, panels, and workshops discussing racial disparities in public health outcomes for black Americans.

A team of undergraduates plans and organizes the conference each year at Harvard.

Two undergraduate students founded the organization three years ago after they felt frustrated by lower health outcomes in marginalized communities, according to conference co-director Yoseph D. Boku ’21.

Boku said the purpose of the conference is both to shed light on social determinants of health and to discuss possible interventions with students and faculty at Harvard.

Boku said the theme guiding this year’s conference was “community empowerment,” or encouraging individual participation in the public health decision-making process.

“If you could make community members agents of social change, and if you make every community member responsible for improving not only their own health, but also their neighbor’s health, then you can drastically decrease social determinants,” Boku said.

Keynote speakers, panelists, and workshops met in the Northwest Building to examine social determinants of health that are particularly relevant to black Americans. Discussions on the first day of the conference included covered topics like black maternal mortality, racial barriers to accessing medications, black mental health care, and spirituality.

Harvard School of Public Health Professor Nancy J. Krieger ’80 spoke about the importance of considering history and context in empirical research when analyzing racial and health inequity.

“Again, the point of such research is not to — quote unquote — prove that racism is bad. It is to understand and prevent its adverse health impacts and spark imagination and action to bring about health equity,” she said.

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