Temara Cross was born and raised on the east side of Buffalo, New York. She is currently a senior/first-year graduate student at the University at Buffalo, majoring in African-American Studies and pursuing a BS/MPH in Public Health, concentrating in Community Health and Health Behavior. She is involved with organizations such as Say Yes Buffalo and Open Buffalo, actively working to achieve educational, socioeconomic, and racial equality. Since her grandmother’s passing of preventative diseases and observing mistrust felt toward the medical industry in her community, she knew she needed to serve others by working in the health field. Following medical school, her career goal is to gain experience as a family physician, then launch a health facility in her hometown. Ultimately, she aspires to mitigate African-American health disparities and minimize the mistrust felt by African-Americans toward the health industry. In her “free” time, she enjoys going to church, giving back to her community, singing with the gospel choir at her school, and playing basketball.
Host/Writer/Researcher - Jessica Kruger, PhD, MCHES
Guest - Temara Cross, MPH Student
Audio Editor - Omar Brown
Intro: Hello, and welcome to Buffalo HealthCast, a podcast by students, faculty, and staff of the University at Buffalo'a School of Public Health and Health Professions. We are your cohosts Tia Palermo, Jessica Kruger, and Schuyler Lawson. In this podcast we cover topics related to health equity here in Buffalo, around the US and globally. In this first semester of the podcast we’re taking a deeper look at racism and health. We’ll be talking to experts around the US, as well as individuals here on campus, and in the Buffalo community who are working to remove inequities, and improve population health and well being. You’ll hear from practitioners, researchers, students and faculty from other universities, who have made positive changes to improve health equity and inclusion.
Jessica Kruger: Welcome to the Buffalo HealthCast. I'm your host today, Jessica Kruger, and I'm joined by one of our amazing three plus two students in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, Temara Cross. Temara, will you tell us about yourself?
Temara Cross: Sure. So hi, everyone. My name is Temara as she said, I'm currently in my first year of the CHHP program. I'm also pursuing a Bachelor's in African American Studies. I was born and raised in Buffalo, involved in several social action organizations in Buffalo, and in my "free time", I say with air quotes, I enjoy giving back to my community singing with the gospel choir at UB, going to church, and also playing basketball. So that's a little about me.
Jessica Kruger: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for joining us. I'm really interested in learning more about your internship that you're currently in with REACH Buffalo. Could you tell us about your role in that internship and a little bit more about REACH?
Temara Cross: Sure, yeah. So REACH Buffalo stands for Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, and this initiative is funded by the CDC. We're in year three now, and the primary goal is to reduce chronic disease in our target population, our priority population, which is our residents along of Ferry Street, which is East Ferry and West Ferry, and also we try to focus on five zip codes which is 14208, 14209, 14211, 14213 and, 14215. So that's our primary goal and we make sure that whatever programs that we implement, we make sure that we have community voice. So we have community wellness champions, and then just several people on the team just working together, but my specific role is a REACH program Intern/Assistant. So I'm helping out on various projects, not just one focus area. We have different focus areas, by the way. One is Community Clinical Linkages, another one is Nutrition, and another one's Tobacco. So, we focus on all of them. And we also received a supplemental grant this year because of COVID, of course, but our main goal is to promote and educate the community about the flu vaccine and just making sure the community knows that they had the opportunity to take it, and yeah so, that's what I'm doing.
Jessica Kruger: Sounds like a really exciting project and group to be part of. Could you give us an example of maybe something specifically that you've worked on with the program?
Temara Cross: Sure, I'll talk about how I hit the ground running. So I started in August of this year, and soon as I got my laptop, they were like, alright so Black Breastfeeding Week is coming up in two weeks. So we want to start some programming, but obviously we had restrictions because of COVID, so we did stuff virtually. We broadcasted Chocolate Milk, which is a documentary about black women who breastfeed. We did that, we had a discussion/forum about partners, how they feel when they're supporting mothers who breastfeed. We just had discussions about black mothers who breastfeed and how they felt about that. All virtual.
Jessica Kruger: Wow, sounds like a huge undertaking that you definitely rose to the challenge for. In your internship, what are the most valuable things that you feel like you've learned so far?
Temara Cross: That's a great question. I would say the most valuable thing I've learned in practice, I would say, is really actually appreciating community voice, because we might have X amount of years in a community, we might live there, we might know someone who lives there. We might have been in the field for so long, but if you aren't living and going through certain things, you really don't know how other people perceive what you might think is the best for them, so I've just really learned to appreciate community voice and really use that as community assessment. Really taking that - not just checking off a box like, okay, we listened to the community, but we're still going to do XYZ. No, really taking that into consideration. That was something that I found really valuable and really helpful because again, they don't even have to be taking their time out to help us mitigate chronic diseases in that area, but they're still contributing and we appreciate them for it.
Jessica Kruger: That's a really important part of public health that sometimes often, like you said, as a checkmark, right? But we really, really need to think about who we're serving and how we serve them. I heard a quote; “Not about us without us.” Right? And that has really stuck with me and how you work with the community, and work with the community, not just for a community.
Temara Cross: Exactly.
Jessica Kruger: So thanks so much for telling us about your internship. But I want to know more about you. In particular, you have a really interesting background in some of the areas that you have studied. So you're a major in African American Studies, and you minor in Anthropology. Can you tell us a little bit about why you have chosen those, and how they flow into your work in public health?
Temara Cross: Of course. I'll start right back to 16 year old me, junior year of high school. I knew I was going to be a teacher of some sort. Didn't know what, but I was just going along at Hutch Tech. That's where I went to high school, here in Buffalo. We had majors in high school, like certain concentrations. I was in biochemistry, and I was like, I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm going to do something and it's going to be teaching, and November comes around and I find out my grandmother's really really sick. She had kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. So I'm like, what is going on? Before she was able to speak with us anymore, I was asking her, "Why didn't you take action sooner Grandma? Why weren't you talking with the doctors, really doing what you had to do?" She was, obviously, but she really stressed the fact that she was tired of seeing other doctors, all different doctors, all the time, because she had different different organ systems, which require different doctors. So she was tired of seeing different doctors, and then she had to keep explaining her story to different doctors. So there's that. And then not seeing doctors who looked like her. And that was really the big thing that stuck with me. The distrust that we see in the medical industry, that was just really my first hand, wow, this really exists. So after she passed away, I was like, is this really reoccurrent like in my community? Is it just her? So as I'm observing, asking my community members, asking my neighbors, asking my family, my immediate family; how do you guys feel about going to the doctor? And they're like, we don't go there unless we absolutely have to. We don't go, we're not we're not speaking to "these people", but again, that's when I realized the best way I could serve my community, because I'm always very community-oriented. But the best way I could, was to serve in the health industry, in the medical field. So I decided that I would pursue medicine eventually, and then launch a health facility on the east side of Buffalo.
So with that, to kind of reel it all in, I'm majoring an African American Studies, just to gain more a historical and better understanding of why, because we're not learning that, and that's another thing - we're not learning that in our general education courses. We know it's briefly talked about, but we're not learning about Tuskegee as much as we should be, we're not learning about Samuel Cartwright - all these people who have used black bodies for the advancement of medicine. We're not talking about that as much as we should be. So that's why I decided to major in African American Studies, and then with Anthropology, I just wanted to pick something up to learn more about why people do what they do, as far as culture. I've had the opportunity to go to a more diverse high school, so I was exposed to different cultures, but not really understanding why people do what they do - how cultures are formed and things like that. So that's why I decided to just minor in Anthropology, get the best of my money's worth.
Jessica Kruger: That's such a moving story that how you took a very traumatic event in your life and turning it into something positive. I'm right there with you. I also have a minor in anthropology for my undergrad and I think it's pivotal to begin to understand the perspectives of others and how that's created and you bring up a really good point about the culture, the historical relevance of events that we really need to integrate into our curriculum. And think about, we can't move forward, if we don't understand the injustices that have occurred in the past. Do you have any advice of how we can begin to make some of those changes?
Temara Cross: I'm not going to speak too much, can't spill all the tea, but I'll say Black Council is in the works of really redeveloping and redesigning the undergraduate curriculum, just to kind of expose people - to have a course where not only, of course, but also make sure this is a design where it's throughout all courses, but really understanding how to be antiracist because I know from personal experience, a lot of my friends from Williamsville, Orchard Park, they have never had to have those experiences and they have never had to have those conversations. So coming to UB, we as Black Council and also personally, we believe that UB should be held accountable to provide courses like that and be able to put that into correct themselves required for students. Not, "Oh, I'm going to check this box for diversity because I took a class in diversity." And it's not like that. You don't have to experience it, but you have to have training of some sort, and you really need to be exposed to how to be antiracist because being complacent is just as bad as being racist.
Jessica Kruger: Wow, that's, that's a really important point that you're making. It's not just one class that changes you - it's being open to continually learning, being open to hearing diverse voices and viewpoints, and being uncomfortable. Some of this can be very uncomfortable to learn about, especially, we know that in the history books that you're taught through school, it's from a very white lens. And so how can we begin to change that? And I think you've come up with some really great ideas. So tell us more about the the Black Student Council.
Temara Cross: Right, I actually saw that you looked for it on UBLinked, and we're not on UBLinked yet. I don't know what we're doing, but the UB Black Council is a coalition, I would say, not a coalition, but it's comprised of all the black organizations at UB, so we have Black Student Union, Caribbean Student Association, African Student Association, UB Gospel Choir representative of that organization. So many of us, but we came together. It all started back in 2019 February, where there was a town hall meeting, we were really upset about the budget cuts to organizations that really aim to ensure black student success. So Educational Opportunity Program, C-Step, and there was a town hall and we had a rally, and we were like, you know what, since all of us think alike, why don't we just come together? Because we have all these different black organizations, but we all feel the same way. So we came together and wrote a couple proposals, wrote a couple demands,and we just hit the ground running from there. And as people graduate, as people and move on and start adulting, we have to pass the torch and stuff. So our main goal right now is sustainability of the Council, and making sure that we continue to increase the momentum and push the administration at UB - just making sure that we keep that going. Despite having online classes in these unprecedented times, it's really hard for us to come together, but when we do, we're trying to make sure we really hit the ground running and hold UB accountable for ensuring black student success. A few of the things I'll just mention.
So one of the things we are really looking forward to making sure UB addresses is increasing the minority admission or acceptance rate. And one thing that resonated with me when I read that demand was how - so I serve on the Say Yes council/committee at UB. We just ensure the students at UB who received a Say Yes scholarship or are a Say Yes student, so they don't have to get the scholarship, but they graduated from a Buffalo Charter or public school. So our goal is just to make sure that they have the resources they need at UB, and one thing I learned was that the admissions at UB goes to certain high schools. They don't go to all the high schools in Buffalo. And looking back, this is why sometimes, I just wish I knew all these things when I was in high school, but you learn as you grow, and as you get older. But they only go to Hutch Tech - the high performing high schools - City Honors, Da Vinci... And it just goes to show you, the students in the other high schools aren't even given the opportunity of exploring what's out there, of not just the other local colleges. This is university and for them not to do that alone, is really systematic. It's a systematic and it's really something we wanted to address because the population of black students at UB is so small, the proportion is so small. So we want to just hold UB accountable, such that they really strategically seek out other students of color to have the opportunity to obtain a degree there.
We're also looking at increasing black faculty. We know that while black faculty are recruited and they come along, a lot of times they leave because of the climate of the institution. So that's one thing that we feel like they should address. Again, another thing I'll mention is the curriculum development; really making sure that it's not just one class that addresses racism and discrimination, but it’s implemented throughout all fields, especially STEM fields. One of our members, she shared a really touching story about how she came in and her advisors really were discouraging her from taking African American Studies courses because you don't have space for that, and I'll attest to that because I came in as biomedical sciences, and it was a really rigid curriculum. I couldn't take what I wanted to take, so those are just a few of the things that we want to address. We're finding out as we go along that a lot of people think the same way we do, so there's power in numbers, as we know, democracy. So we're just working together, working, finding the connections where we can, but we always need support. So if there's any students up there, any organizations that want to get involved, black students - you can hit us up on Instagram, Twitter, @UB Black Council. I'm just promoting here. UBBlackCouncil@gmail.com you can hit us up and find out ways you can get involved. We're just trying to really hold UB accountable especially given the climate now. And I always say this and I'll continue to say it; it's unfortunate that it took the death of a man for the country to realize how oppressed black people have been for over 400 years, but it's time. With that, I'll stop, I'll get off my soapbox but that's what we're doing.
Jessica Kruger: Well, it sounds like you're using a lot of your public health skills to organize and break down some of these systems. It's really powerful to hear how much you're doing as a student. You want to kind of tell us a little bit about how your work with the Black Student Council relates to your overall public health lens or how you kind of view things?
Temara Cross: Oh yes, I'll just say, every week going through, even in undergrad, every week I'm just finding how public health is my life. I won't speak for anyone else but like how public health is every day is something. I think it was last week, we learned about negotiation in one of our leadership courses in the in the CHHP (Community Health and Health Behavior) program and I was like, this is really applicable to my life, it’s not just public health. And they gave us examples of how negotiation is used in public health - negotiating with a state about funding for vaccines, stuff like that. And I'm like, well, you know, we have to negotiate on a daily basis. So it's not just from a public health lens, and I'll say my internship with REACH, I'm literally taking what I learned in the class. I know this is the purpose, but it's like I'm scooping what I learned in the class and putting it right in the internship and it's vice versa. I'm taking what I learned the internship and really applying it with the coursework and I'm so grateful. I'll shout out to Heather Orom; she was the one that emailed me and was like, this is for you. So, I thank her for that.
But yeah, it's really just so applicable and I'll just go back to the Black Council on the negotiation. That's just one primary example, really negotiating such that administration - I'm grateful for what UB adminstration has done thus far, for some things I'll say. That's a long way to go. But again, it has to be negotiation, it has to be communication, consistent discussions and yes, so that's just one thing that I've learned primarily in my program that I was able to like directly apply, but there's so so much, so much.
Jessica Kruger: It's so great to hear, it sounds like you're really taking what you learned and applying it exactly as you know an internship is planned and I love how you can really translate this into multiple areas of your life, not just your internship or your professional career, but also how you're taking some problems that are very apparent of the university and using those skills and knowledge to make some of that change. So bravo to you!
Temara Cross: Thank you.
Jessica Kruger: Tell me what's next.
Temara Cross: Oh, man. You know what's crazy is I have all these post-it notes on my wall. And I said, I am never put any post-it notes, that's so disorganized, but every idea that pops in my head, I just put it on my wall, and eventually I want to go to med school. And I was like, do I take a gap year? What do I do? Because this semester alone was really, how can I study for the MCAT, with all this going on?
But I was thinking, okay, maybe I'll take my break, considering we have an extended break, take my break to study for the MCAT. So I guess, next, aside from actually finishing my master's program, I'll be starting to look at med schools. And I don't want to leave Buffalo, but I'm a homebody but exploring other options, I'll say. So that's what I'll be doing. I'm just chugging along with my social action organizations - Open Buffalo, Buffalo Transit Riders United, and obviously being a student too. But yeah, really, just chugging along but also taking days to myself. Like I said, I'll be eating a lot tomorrow with Thanksgiving. I'll be eating so much, but yeah, making sure my cup is full. I'll say that. That's my primary next step is making sure that my cup is full. So I can do what I want to do and give back to others.
Jessica Kruger: And self care is so important in our field. Well, I can't wait to see all that you accomplish in your program. So thank you so much for being a guest on Buffalo HealthCast today. I'm sure all of our listeners have learned so much about REACH, but also some opportunities in which we can make change and support students and making change.
Temara Cross: Of course, of course. And if you guys have any questions, feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Facebook, I post memes mainly, keeps me sane.
Jessica Kruger: We'll put the contact information in our show notes. Thanks so much for tuning in.
Temara Cross: Of course.
Outro: This has been another episode of Buffalo HealthCast, tune in next time to hear more about health equity in Buffalo, the US, and around the globe.