Engaged Scholars: Darrell Gray, Joshua Joseph and Timiya Nolan

Drs. Darrell Gray, Timiya Nolan, and Joshua Joseph stand in front of the Community Care Coach.

Engaged Scholars: Darrell Gray, Joshua Joseph and Timiya Nolan

February 2021

Engaged Scholars is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State faculty who have made an impact in our communities through their community-engaged research and teaching. Photo: Teaming up for community care kit distribution in Franklin County, Ohio (May 2020 - from L: Dr. Gray, Dr. Nolan, Dr. Joseph).

Darrell M. Gray, II, MD, MPH, FACG
Associate Professor
Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
College of Medicine

Timiya S. Nolan, PhD, APRN-CNP
Assistant Professor
College of Nursing

Joshua J. Joseph, MD, MPH, FAHA
Assistant Professor
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
College of Medicine

Our community-engaged scholarship explores novel strategies, interventions and partnerships to address health disparities among populations made vulnerable by systemic inequity. One such population is African Americans. African Americans have a disproportionate burden of chronic diseases including, but not limited to, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, as compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, there is limited evidence on community-engaged strategies that significantly reduce such disparities. We recently published a systematic review of community-engaged and community-based participatory (CBPR) research aimed at improving cardiovascular health among African Americans, according to the American Heart Association Life's Simple 7 (LS7) framework, and we found only two studies that evaluated all seven LS7 metrics, no studies had a high proportion of African American males, and there is insufficient data to recommend a specific community-engaged or CBPR intervention to improve attainment of LS7 metrics among African Americans.

This presented an opportunity for us, as health care providers and researchers, our partner, the National African American Male Wellness Agency, and community members to make meaningful change in the health of African American men and create evidence for replication. Out of our partnership, Black Impact 100 was born.

Why is it important to engage the community in your research and teaching?

As health equity when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health possible is our goal, it is absolutely critical to center the voices and lived experiences of the community, through meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships, in addressing barriers to their health and wellness. We're honored to do that through research, clinical care and advocacy. And to share the importance of community engagement with our next generation of leaders through teaching and mentoring.

What led you to the path of engaged scholarship? How did you get started?

The stories. Stories from our family members, peers, patients, and those whom we encounter in the community of disparities and injustices in health and health care led us down this path. Within these stories you recognize that each statistic is a person with their own story. We are determined to translate these stories to strategies and ultimately systems that cultivate health equity. This starts with listening. It's how we got started. We were present and visible in the community. We entered community spaces, not with our own agenda, but instead with the intent of listening and developing relationships. We listened to community members and community partners engaging with them in identifying and prioritizing problems and co-designing methods to explore and address them.

How has your scholarship benefited from engaging with community partners?

Our goal is to reduce health disparities and create healthier communities. It would be neither possible nor meaningful to those whom we are aiming to serve without community partners. The Black Impact 100 project mentioned earlier was made possible via 1) community partners including, but not limited to, The African American Male Wellness Agency, American Heart Association, Columbus Recreations and Parks Department, American Cancer Society, Columbus Public Health, Franklin County Public Health, Cardinal Health, the Healthcare Collaborative of Greater Columbus and OhioHealth and 2) funding from a Connect and Collaborate Grant, a program supporting innovative and scholarly engagement programs that leverage academic excellence of The Ohio State University in mutually beneficial ways with external partners. Our academic-community-government partnerships have created avenues to not only learn from our partners, but also to re-imagine and employ culturally-humble methods for clinical trials. We are so proud that our work breaking down stereotypes of hard to reach populations, giving us the opportunity to co-author manuscripts and write for funding to support further work in this space.

What has been a highlight of your community engagement experience?

We've been fortunate to have many highlights from our community engagement experiences. During Black Impact, we witnessed African American men 1) establish relationships with primary care providers who previously never engaged with the health care system outside of emergencies, 2) share vulnerability with other men of similar lived experience in overcoming barriers to health and wellness, and 3) dramatically change nutrition, exercise and lifestyle habits with measurable and sustained positive outcomes such as quitting smoking, abstaining from alcohol, and improving their biometrics to the point where their primary care providers could discontinue medications for diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia. Perhaps the most profound highlights were the development of deep and lasting relationships between the men and our team. Such relationships, we are told, were the impetus of the men staying the course toward lifestyle changes.

What advice would you give to faculty and students who are interested in engaging the community in their scholarship?

Center community voices and needs. Work on your community partners/members priorities first. Be nimble to the fact that your priorities may not align with those of your community partner(s) and be vigilant in finding the area(s) of mutual reciprocity. Engage your community partner(s) in the co-design of your project and scholarship. Be ready and prepared to present in the community and not just when it helps with your interests.

Sample Engaged Scholarship

Joseph JJ, Glover A, Olayiwola JN, Rastetter M, Allen J, Knight K, Roberts M, Mazzola J, Gregory J, Kluwe B, Gray DM 2nd. Mask Up: Academic-Community-Government partnerships to advance public health during COVID-19. Population Health Management. 2021 Jan 8. doi: 10.1089/pop.2020.0305.

Elgazzar R, Nolan TS, Joseph JJ, Aboagye-Mensah EB, Azap RA, Gray DM 2nd. Community-engaged and community-based participatory research to promote American Heart Association Life's Simple 7 among African American men: A systematic review. PLoS One. 2020 September 1; 15(9): e0238374. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238374

Aboagye-Mensah EB, Azap RA, Odei JB, Gray DM, Nolan TS, Elgazzar R, White D, Gregory J, Joseph JJ. The association of ideal cardiovascular health with self-reported health, diabetes, and adiposity in African American males. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2020 June 26; 19:101151. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2020.101151