Buffalo HealthCast

Social Determinants of Health in Buffalo, with Reverend George Nicholas

February 25, 2021 University at Buffalo Public Health and Health Professions Season 1 Episode 1
Buffalo HealthCast
Social Determinants of Health in Buffalo, with Reverend George Nicholas
Show Notes Transcript

Reverend George Nicholas is the pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church in Buffalo, an active member of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of WNY, and co-convener of the African-American Health Equity Task Force. Listen and learn about public health community engagement from both of these organizations, as well as how public health and COVID-19 have interacted with our Buffalo community. 

Buffalo Center for Health Equity
Pride in Place Buffalo

Host/Writer/Researcher - Schuyler Lawson, PhD Candidate 
Guest - Reverend George Nicholas
Audio Editor - Omar Brown

Intro: Hello, and welcome to Buffalo HealthCast, a podcast by students, faculty, and staff of the University at Buffalo 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.
Schuyler Lawson: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Buffalo HealthCast, the University of Buffalo Premier Public Health podcast.  I am your host, Schuyler Lawson, a first-year PhD candidate in Community Health and Health Behavior. With us today is Reverend George Nicholas, co convener of the African-American Health Equity Task Force and a member of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed with us today.

Reverend George Nicholas: Well, it's certainly an honor and a great opportunity to be with you today.

Schuyler Lawson: All right, great. So first off, for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah, I'm from Buffalo. This is my home - grew up here and then went to Ohio State University for undergraduate, and then came back to the area, have a graduate degree from the University of Buffalo and had been working, doing various jobs, doing things.  I’ve owned companies, I was CEO of Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Care Center at the time, and then I decided to answer the call that the Lord put on my life many years ago, to go into ministry full time. And I did that. And it was pastoring Rochester for about 12 years. And then, the Lord called me back to Buffalo. I've been here since 2012.
Schuyler Lawson: A lot of history in Buffalo.

Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah.  It's home, and I've seen the ups and the downs and I think we have an opportunity to really do something transformative right now. And it's necessary because I've seen how Black Buffalo really hasn't progressed.  Some of the things that in terms of - we have less businesses now, we have less community based organizations. We're so vulnerable.  We used to have the Geneva Scruggs Community Health Center, which was a community health center that served this community, we had the St. Augustine Center, which is a tremendous community based organization on Fillmore Avenue. They're no longer there. The Langston Hughes Cultural Center, which was at 50 High Street was a tremendous cultural center. The Friends of the Elderly, and there were a number of programs and that were run by black people and that address the needs of black people.  And over time, these things have not been supported by the existing political establishment. And they've  gone away.  You certainly, on the business side, we had tons of of cleaners and restaurants and all kinds of things - Jefferson Avenue, Fillmore Avenue, parts of Genesee - they were bustling with black-owned and operated companies. Then finally and I know, when you get to these questions, but I think it's important to put things in a context.  I'm 57 and when we were coming up in their area, the notion of black kids not graduating from high school wasn't even a conversation.  You graduate from high school.  But now, we have folks struggling just to graduate from high school. And then even as they matriculate on to the campuses at the University of Buffalo, it is probably less black students from Buffalo there now than there was fifteen, twenty years ago. And so we have to we got to turn this thing around, Schuyler. We're not going in the right direction. And so we'll talk about that a little bit later, too, if you want to.
Schuyler Lawson: I agree with you. I agree with you. And like you said, even though the current situation appears to be bleak, you did say that there is an opportunity for transformation and hopefully lasting changes, whichis a great segue into the African-American Health Equity Task Force, which appears to be a force for good with respect to the issues that you mentioned.

Reverend George Nicholas: Yeah, so we've been working really hard since it started off with a conversation with just a few of us.  This woman, Mary Walls, was at the time, working for the Heart Association or the Red Cross, one of those places, and she wanted to engage some black clergy in conversation about colorectal cancer. There's a disproportionate amount of black people who suffer from that.  And so I challenge the group to think bigger and to look at the overall health of Black Buffalo.  The factors that were driving high colorectal cancers are the same factors that are driving diabetes and heart disease and asthma and all kinds of things, hypertension. And it's the social determinants of health.  There has to be a shift. Between thinking about and looking at black health and putting all the blame upon the behavior of people in the black community, that old adage.  You just eat too much fried foods, and all this other stuff.  Well, that's part of that. That's part of the equation. But when you look at the reputable organizations that deal with public health; the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, and every reputable organization that focuses on public health will tell you that the driving factor, the most influential factor out there that impacts the health of an individual are the social determinants of health. The lived environment, the economic status, educational attainment, interfacing with the criminal justice system, the the air and water quality in the neighborhood, the quality of your housing stock.  These are the things that that that drive health outcomes.  And if you live in a community where you have access to the things that you need to maintain good health, then your health outcomes will be significantly better. But if you're living in a community where you don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because there's no grocery stores that are within a close distance proximity to your community, it makes it difficult for you to purchase the things that you want to put in your refrigerators and on your dinner table that are healthy.  And if you're living in a situation where your economic status is such that you have limited income and limited resources, then the food choices that you make for you and your family are going to be influenced by your income, not necessarily about what's always healthy, because healthier food is more expensive in a lot of places.  And then we'll say, well, why don't you just change your economic status?   If the job opportunities are not available for you and your community or if the jobs are, there's a lot of jobs in Grand Island and places like that. But if there's that transportation and you don't have means for that transportation, then that creates a problem for you.  These are the things that drive these, what we call, the social determinants of health.  Our work, our mission with the African-American Health Equity Task Force, it started off calling ourselves the African-American Health Disparities Task Force.  But we wanted to shift our thinking to a more aspiration. We want to talk about where do we want to be. Right, and where we want to be is health equity. And so we we're unapologetic, concerned with the health conditions of black people. This is not a minority thing, and not to to take hits or slights.  But there are unique set of circumstances that are attached to the enslavement of the African people really in this hemisphere. Starting in 1519. When you look at the slave trade by the Spaniards and the Dutch and others, those in the French, in South and Central America, and then escalating in to around 1619, migrating up north to what they called North America. But it was a land that was inhabited by the indigenous people.  This whole notion of the enslavement of African people in this region has from beginning begun the process of the social determinants of health, because the lived environment, economic opportunities, housing rights.  From that moment, African people living in America were at a disadvantage. and that continued throughout generations.  So you have slave enslavement from 1619 to1865. But even longer than that, Schuyler, because with the enactment of black codes and African American men forced to work in steel mills and coal mines in Alabama, Tennessee and other parts of the South after being arrested for vagrancy. Then, the inability to accumulate wealth through to the sharecropping system and just the debt that was begun to just weigh upon freed African people living in America. From generation to generation passed on.  Even as we began to migrate into the north and beginning to fill these some of these jobs in during the industrialization, these jobs then became unionized. Into the migration of those from Western Europe, began to come in from Italy and Ireland and other places like that. And Poland, they took those jobs. They displaced folks who were who had migrated from the south and moved up to the north.  So this whole economic disenfranchisement of African people living in America has created such a wealth gap that even today in the year 2020, for every dollar of wealth a black person has in America, a white person has eighteen dollars.  The medium, I believe, you guys are students, so you will look up this data. But it's about African-Americans who have about eighteen thousand dollars of wealth versus over a hundred thousand by whites. And I talk about income. I'm talking about wealth.  Why is that?  Well, post Second World War, and the beginning of it, when soldiers began to be able to purchase homes as a result of the G.I. Bill, they were they were pushed into communities, segregated communities. Red lines were drawn and soldiers couldn't even use their G.I. Bill that they had earned on the battlefield, fighting for freedom for other people and forced to live in communities that just create an economic disparity. And then as banks over time, as banks value property, because your biggest asset is your property.  One of the factors that they put into in terms of valuation of your property is the demographics of that community. So black folks living in black communities, buying homes, investing in homes, but then getting less equity out of their properties than white people in white communities.  Then you have what I call "ghetto taxes." If you have your car, insurance is going to be higher if you live in a black community than if you live in a white community.  Life insurance; higher premiums, if you're black than if you're white. So all these things, they just suck the well out of black communities and then finally the interaction with the criminal justice system, where black people are disproportionately arrested and convicted for crimes.  Higher bails, longer sentencing.  What happens when a young black person gets in trouble with the law?  Well, it's grandmama and them that have to dip into the savings, the dollars that they began to generate wealth with or that they would want to pass down to their family members. Second mortgages taken on that house that they finally paid up to pay to pay legal fees and things like this.  This whole cycle is sucking the wealth out of the community, which creates and feeds into these disparities. This is the level of how we want to attach these issues of health inequities or health disparities as opposed to just doing what the traditional health fairs do, and giving people balloons and coffee mugs and thinking that that's going to change outcomes.
Schuyler Lawson: In light of this, the daunting challenges that you listed, what is the African-American Health Equity Task Force, some factor in alleviating or solving the problems caused by this multigenerational structural damage that's been brought upon the black communities?

Reverend George Nicholas: Well, it starts with truth telling. Right. It's you can't you can't address problems that you don't recognize are problems, so we want to change the narrative about why these conditions exist and to focus more on systemic changes, and looking more at systemic causes so that our solutions are will impact the systemic causes mean.  Let me put it this way.  One of the things that ,I'm not critical of it, I'm just trying to make an analysis, is that one of the things that happens every year is the beginning of the school year.  People who where we speak, and I use this analogy all the time, is there's always this big push to get kids backpacks through and to give kids bread brand-new backpacks. Yet there's no data, that says the reason why Black children are underperforming in an urban school is because they don't have a backpack.  So the remedy has nothing to do with the problem, because if the kid, if the child, is still going to a failing school in an at risk neighborhood, and if mother and father still don't have the kind of economic opportunities, the air and water quality in their community, and all these other factors, if that has not been impacted, then the fact that this child has a new backpack, really will have a limited, if any, impact upon their ability to achieve academic excellence.  Not talking about passing right, we shifted our thinking and I’m so proud, brother, that you work on your PhD, but the thought process that we're just, you know, think about this man. We're putting a lot of energy in, if necessary, because of what the current reality is to get kids/children just to pass.  And what we really should be pushing is scholarship and academic excellence.  You have to get a 70 or 65 to pass.  If you get a 70, that means that 30 percent of the information that was provided for you, you didn't get. 30 percent. That's a sizable chunk.  So, our work is to look at systemic issues, raising concerns, and then bring forth community collaborations to bring community-based solutions. And then engaging partners, institutional partners to invest their resources and to the solutions.  Whether it be financial resources, whether it be intellectual capacity, whether it be access to information, whatever these institutions have that could be available to them. We're saying, use those resources and invest this to create a problem solving as it relates to the issues in the African-American community.

Schuyler Lawson: Thank you for your response. It helps our listeners understand the breadth of what the African-American Health Equity Task Force does. I do have a particular question on what have been some of the approaches that the task force has taken with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Reverend George Nicholas: We have a good news story there, Schuyler. And it shows it's actually proof positive to our hypothesis of the importance of community collaboratives. And supporting black leadership. Let me let me frame this for you.  Since we have been doing so, we put out there our report in 2015 about the conditions of the African-American health conditions, which show that you can. People can have access to these reports at BuffaloHealthEquity.org, and in our initial report, just using state and county data and concentrating on five or six zip codes where the predominant number of African-Americans live on the east side, we found that that in terms of just looking at chronic disease, that an African-American who lives in one of those communities has a 300 percent more likelihood to have a chronic disease than a white person who lives outside of the area.

Schuyler Lawson: So we're talking about, very stark. 

Reverend George Nicholas: Right, right. And it translates to about 10 to 12 lost years of life. So we're at work, we were equipped with the data.  When COVID-19, emerged, we knew that as, because of the high rates of diabetes, asthma and heart disease, which are three comorbidities that make an individual more susceptible to COVID-19, that the African-American community would be hit the hardest.  Also, would you put on top of that?  We know that a lot of the essential workers who work in these health care spaces, health care aides, security people, people who work in dietary and environmental services, as well as the nursing in the medical area.  There is a high concentration of people from our communities that live with that, that are employed at those other level jobs.  They would be coming into these environments where Covid was present and then going back into their communities, sometimes using public transportation, sometimes catch it, arrive with the uncle and them.  We know that there was a real potential.  So we reached out, back in March, to the county executive and the health commissioner and some other leaders in the health care field with leaders from our community, Dr. Vasquez and others. And we said to them, listen, what's your plan? What's the plan? We know this is coming. We laid out the possible vulnerabilities of our community.  At that moment, they really hadn't thought about those things in those terms. So what we said to them was, listen, we're going to come back to you with a plan, a plan on how we're going to address this issue and we need you to resource it. We need you to support it, because these are our dollars as well. After some going back and forth and what have you, we were able to to use some of the Medicaid reimbursement moneys to the district, the Millennium Collaborative Care through Erie County, being able to to stand up what we call the COVID-19 response team.  And what we did, Schuyler, we've got fifteen churches on the eastern west side. And we developed these Covid response call centers, and we got lists from the Board of Elections and other sources. We had our targeted area and we hired a lot of younger people.  A lot of them were home from college. Got them an iPhone, got them a laptop, got them a list. Dr. Vasquez and his team through GBUAHN had developed this tremendous I.T. system that allowed for our responders to actually make appointments for people right from their call center, what have you. And so we literally called people in our community.  And then we learned to they were there's still a percentage of people in our community that don't have a cell phone or landline. So we engage the National Witness Project who are already doing some community engagement, community health work type stuff, and we said to them, ‘knock on these doors for us because we can't reach these people’.  We want to find out one - if they had any symptoms, two - did they have access to a test, three -  do they have a primary care physician, four - do they have some food or food insecurity, five - how are they doing mentally, so we ask these five questions pretty much.  We were able to not only ask those questions, but to give some kind of response to attaching people to help.  If you're having this some of these symptoms, get to your primary care.  You don't have a primary care?  Through our network, we've got GBUAHN and we've got Jericho Road.  We can plug you in to a primary care physician or if you need transportation, we'll get someone to come pick you up.  You need food, we engage with that.  Alex, over at the African Heritage Food Co-op. Tremendous job.  We said to Alex, here's a chunk of money, get what you need and then let's set up a delivery system. So when people needed food, we were able to get it to them.  We work with Best Help, if people needed some mental health stuff because people are dealing with a lot of stuff. Make that appointment for you. And then when we learned that there weren't enough testing sites within community, we were able to stand up the testing side at the Leroy Coles Library. We said to those who had access to testing, we need tests at our community health centers because the people at the Community Health Center, people at Jericho Road, the people at [inaudible] Medicine, those sites, they're already dealing with people in our community prior to Covid. So they need to have access to the resources in order to get them some help.  It wasn't easy, but we kind of put this plan together.  So here's the good news.  When we started the project in March, April, and the first data started coming in.  Nationally, African-Americans are dying in about two and a half to three times their population rate as it relates to Covid.  Erie County African-Americans make up 14.6% of the population in Erie County. The early data was showing that about 33 percent of the fatalities were from the African-American community, which was trending pretty much at the national level. But then, as we did our work, made our calls, connected people to resources, gave people access to PPE and others, and not only us, but there were other partners in the community. So what happened is we were able to stimulate and generate some energy that not only our project was having an impact, but it loosened other resources and other things within community where others were doing some really great work as well.  As the data began to come back, we saw it trending downward to the point where in June, only 16.7% of the fatalities, in Erie County were from the black community.  To make it even better, the latest data we got just this week, even in the midst of the second wave and the trending upward, that only 14.7% of the deaths are from the black community, which was right in alignment, statistically in alignment with the population.  We're one of the few cities in America that can make that claim.  Why is that?  Black leadership with a vision.  We're already working in community around these issues, connecting with resources and systems and institutions that have an obligation to serve the black community, if you're the county health department. Well, the last I heard, the black community was in Erie County, and so you so you make these systems do what they are designed to do, what their mission is.  Then other health care providers and institutions, insurers and others collided and say, listen, we need you to invest your resources and help us get this thing done. But also critically following the leadership of health care professionals that were already operating with in those communities. Guys like Dr. Vasquez. Guys like Dr. Glick. Women like Dr. Lusu, and Dr. Ansari, who are already there on the front lines, so they have to be resourced and equipped so that they can do what they need to do.  The results are undeniable. Data speaks for itself.

Schuyler Lawson:
Yeah. I mean, it's so good. Compared to nationwide data, that's I mean, it's an anomaly. You know, the work that you described is just amazing that the coordination and just the scale of it to achieve that type of outcome, compared to your national statistics where blacks pick up a significant portion of the significant and disproportionate compared to their population, a portion of the COVID-19 deaths, that’s commendable.

Reverend George Nicholas:
And shout out [inaudible] who provided great leadership on this and others with our team, Dr. Underwood, Rita Robinson, Kelly Wolfrey - they are just such a wonderful team of people who have worked tirelessly on the issues of health equity.  But what we can't do is, because really what our vision with our Buffalo Center for Health Equity, the health of the African-American Health Equity Task Force, and then the university having its community research institute under our CTSI under Dr. Murphy.  Another really great outcome is that, standing up that institute, and the system is embedded in the university that is focused and its mission is to look at health disparities and to research and then not only research, but to come up with remedies and engaging not only the medical school, but the other academic disciplines: School of Education, School of law, the School of Management, the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work.  They are all partners with us in this work, so that when we start coming up with solutions, then we're able to draw upon the expertise that operate within these schools to come up with innovative and creative responses to some of these issues that are that are creating these health inequities.  So, Dr. Tim Murphy has been fantastic, who is head of the CTSI.  Dr. Margaret Grimsley, Dr. Henry Taylor, Dr. Heather Orom - they've all just been great partners with us in this work to the point right now where we were able to get through the School of Nursing, where we’re able to get a grant, where we're going to be actually looking at the impact of mental health on these communities, post-Covid.  From what I understand is, the first kind of community/university collaborations to look at issues that are specifically designed to provide information, but also support for issues in our community.  So we're making some progress and we're really excited about it.

Schuyler Lawson: I'm excited about it, too. And it's great to hear that all this progress made at the community level and different types of institutional levels we're dealing with beyond every county Department of Public Health, and also to getting UB on board, which is located within the community. So we might as well have a stake and open the ability.

Reverend George Nicholas: I mean, universities have a responsibility/ability to do problem-solving.  What's the point of doing all this research and having all this knowledge if you don't take the research and knowledge to better humanity?  It's so that message has been heard, and the university, an institution, has been very responsive and we're very hopeful about the future, about the work we're going to do together. 

Schuyler Lawson:  I have another question.  What is what is the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York, and how do they relate to the issues of equity that you mentioned?

Reverend George Nicholas:  Reverend Pointer and myself, and a few others were the ones right after the the death of Eric Garner, and we organized clergy, about 90 clergy, in the area to begin having conversations about those issues and and what's happening here in Buffalo.  We began to start talking about how we can provide leadership around health, economic development, criminal justice and, school education, and the health piece and we've been working ever since on those on those issues.  The Concerned Clergy represent about five or six different ministerial groups in the black community.  They all came together under this banner of Concerned Clergy, and we're working on these social justice type issues. Doing our best to present a united front, even though we differ in some ways on issues, theologically and doctrinally, but there's agreement that we must come together to work for the betterment of the conditions of our people.  We've been functioning pretty well.  It's difficult because historically, there hasn't been this kind of unity amongst Black clergy.  We're not as divided as people think, but we're not as unified as we should be.  So we're a work in progress.  The Concerned Clergy has been functioning and certainly Reverend Pointer has been a leader in that group.  We've been really spending a lot of our energies around health issues.  A lot of energy around education.  We're trying to span out our influence in these spaces.

Schuyler Lawson:  Thanks for providing that background. I have another question.  Has the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York played any roles in addressing the issues surrounding the pandemic?

Reverend George Nicholas:
  I wear a lot of hats. Yes, when I'm operating in these spaces, (Concerned Clergy) I'm representing them.  Every report back, we have conversations about things.  I know I can always depend upon these guys and ladies for support.  The efforts around the pandemic have really been channeled through our work to the Buffalo Center for Health Equity and African-American Health Equity Task Force. Right.  The Concerned Clergy are part of that work.  When other churches and other groups try to do things, we will support them and resource them in that way.  One of the things that we did this week, we began to start educating the community around the pending vaccine.  We had a conversation, I believe it was Wednesday, with Dr. Alan Lessie, who is an epidemiologist at the university and really an expert on these issues of infectious disease.  The issue with the vaccine, because of our history, we know that the data shows only about 43-44 % of black people who have been polled so far, have said that they would be willing to to take the vaccine.   I understand those low numbers. There's a historical context. There's a rationale behind it.  Dr. Michael Eric Dyson would say that black people are not skeptical of science, we're skeptical of scientists. We have to enhance our understanding and knowledge around issues as it relates to research. We have to have more black folks involved in research. We have to engage in participatory research. And we have to engage more with institutions that have access to data and have conversations so that we'll operate with a greater knowledge base around this vaccine. So that's what we're trying to do. The fact is that the FDA and the CDC have put the Pfizer, Moderna, and all the companies that are developing the vaccine through a rigorous four step process that would certainly maximize the probability that when the vaccine comes into the public, that it will be safe.  And in fact, I believe one of the lead scientists in the development of the vaccine was an African-American woman.  So when the vaccine emerges, the decisions that we make and whether or not we're going to take it have to be based on facts and knowledge we need to hear from.  I know that Morehouse is going to play a role in the investigation and disseminating information into community about the vaccine, so we  need to hear from black doctors about this and locally, hearing for me, from Dr. Vasquez, and Dr. Underwood and people like that in community who I trust.  If they say, hey, this will be something that'll be beneficial to our people and to our community, I will follow that leadership.  This is a very delicate situation because we cannot be dismissive of people when they they express their reservation and concern about the vaccine.  We should listen to their concerns and answer any and all questions with the hope that that if the vaccine is going to be beneficial for our people, that everyone in our community does take it.  We also have to be involved in the process of distribution, so what good would the vaccine be if it's gone through all four phases of approval, but yet, it’s not available to people within our communities?  We have to continue to advocate and be at the table and say, OK, we're high risk, we are already struggling with a lot of issues, we got a lot of our people who are working as frontline workers in these health care facilities, so we want to make sure that people within our community have the information about the vaccine and also access to the vaccine when distribution begins.

Schuyler Lawson: Those are very important issues, and I imagine that the Task Force and the Clergy Coalition are going to play a big role in trying to have a plan for Buffalo's black communities as far as equitable distribution, and also to make certain information campaigns to build trust and address the historic roots of the mistrust towards our scientists we have.

Reverend George Nicholas: One of the outcomes of our project is we've developed just piles of data now.  We've made over a hundred thousand contacts with people and so on and so on. Each one of them is a data point. And so we're going to be able to, as one of the outcomes of our project, be able to really make some really strong programmatic and policy recommendations about how do we can better serve the African-American community based on the data that we're collecting.  We strongly believe that research will give you data, data will inform policy, and then policy will bring resources.  We have to make sure that we are very aggressive in those phases, because really what's happened, Schuyler, is our people have been measured and surveyed and queried and institutions have have gotten tremendous grant and funding opportunities to do that, but then once we compile the data and identify these issues, there never seems to be a follow up of policy recommendations to address that.  It’s one thing to survey people and say, ‘Y'all got a lot of diabetes.'  This next step is now, here are the programmatic things that we're going to put in place to address those those conditions, but that has not happened at the level that we needed to happen.  So that's one of the reasons why it's very important that we have this collaboration with the university and others around research.  Research is critical. And we have this. One of my goals is to have 'research' no longer be a bad word in our community, as we know and I understand.  We understand, though, that the importance of research, and importance of research being done right and making sure we don't take the data from the research to weaponize our people, but take the data to to be a bridge, to getting resources, to change the condition of our people.  And that can only happen when black leadership is involved.  That's got to be real about that, we need to insist that black leadership is involved and we have to make sure that black leadership is black leadership, meaning, black people in leadership is not black leadership. There's a difference between there.  We have to have black folks who are in positions of influence and leadership to be unapologetic advocates for the conditions of their people.  Not get tied up in the semantics of whether you should say, defund the police or not, that's the absolutely wrong conversation to have. And it's an unhelpful critique for people in leadership to critique that phrase without looking at, but without putting your energy around the issues or why people are saying that.  We have to understand the nuances of how can you be an advocate for black people.  The only way you can do that is to listen to black people, and to share their concerns in an unfiltered, unabridged way, so that we can really begin to start getting up to move.  There's a generation, your generation: I have four sons and one daughter and your generation is very clear of the directness, you know.  I am grateful to see the shift - things like the unwillingness to play semantical games and to appease white institutions, but to to say, listen, we have a right to be in this space and we have a right to advocate for our people, and we have a right to use the knowledge bases and the things that we've learned from these institutions to better the condition of our own people.  That is a critical, critical piece that I think we have to see it, in terms of shifting in our approach in our community.

Schuyler Lawson: Very well put. And that actually leads to my final question.  Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners?  I know you've said a lot and I'll put you on the spot, but anything else before we conclude our interview with you?

Reverend George Nicholas:  I guess a message, I'm sure a lot of students listen to this, the issue around race, I think this is our season to really engage in real, meaningful conversations about it.  And I'd like put it this way, to take the power of racism or to diminish the power of racism in our culture.  While, as a theologian, I would be hopeful that we could eliminate racism, but also as a sociologist, I have degrees in sociology as well, understanding that I think our best hope is to be able to diminish the power of racism and the power of white supremacy and the ideology of white supremacy and its influence on institutions.  To diminish that power that it has, is something which is a realistic goal.  I think it happens through people engaging in transparent and honest conversations about the history and the present practice of white supremacy and systemic racism, and to engage in conversations that would define allyship in the terms that centers the needs of black people in that allyship work and to be cautious in our conversations about intersectionality to the point where we I believe that we do that, but not at the expense of the needs of black people.  I think what has happened historically post-civil rights, I think that at times, our desire to do intersectional work and to do coalition work, has at times put the needs of black people secondary.  We have to be to be smart, cautious. Learn from our past practices and then to be innovative.  To recognize that there has to be new approaches to things.  I think folks of my generation have to make spaces for sunsetting some activities in organizations that may have been effective for a season.  There's a new opportunity here, and I think we need to make room and spaces for the next level of leadership. But I also will caution the next level leadership to not discount the wisdom of the elders.  One of the things that diminishes our strength, is when we have conversations like pushing the old folks, old guard out the way and, you know, this is our time.  I think by doing such, you diminish the opportunity to glean wisdom from folks that have been on the battlefield and can maybe give some wise counsel on how to deal because the enemy is wise, and the enemy does not separate generations.  The enemy passes down the wisdom of how to maintain power and control down to the next generation.  That's why there's been so much success to keep this generational dominance.  Those are the final things I would like to share with folks, and then just inviting people to engage.  To log on to our website, BuffaloHealthEquity.org.  Then when you see activities and things going on around campus, around community, around health that could be around justice, get engaged.  Don't wait for somebody else to do this. This is your season, your responsibility.  If your personal good conscious, and there's so much happening right now, it's a great opportunity for you to get engaged and to begin to shape the society in a way which we want to be. And it's only going to happen if we get engaged. 

Schuyler Lawson: Thank you for those thoughtful parting remarks, and thanks again for taking the time to to be interviewed on our podcast. We hope to have you on again to discuss future projects.  For example, once the vaccine becomes available, you know how things are gonna go with the Task Force and the Coalition. We're helping out with distribution in the information campaigns. We definitely want to follow up on that.  And now you add a question, is there a way for how our listeners can learn more about the Task Force and the Coalition?

Reverend George Nicholas:
BuffaloHealthEquity.org, Health equity data, all the information. And if you want to send us any questions or anything like that, we have a way to respond.

Schuyler Lawson: And for our listeners, are there any volunteer opportunities?

Reverend George Nicholas: I think so.  I'm not sure right now.  I know that we have some students doing some some academic stuff.  I think one thing, too, is checking with people like Dr. Heather or Dr. Grimsley, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Murphy, and Dr. Leslie, or your professors and Heather Abraham over at the Law School.  Reach out to them and ask, are there some things that I can do, too, in terms of supporting your connection to the Task Force?  We're always open. We're looking for ideas.  It's what I want. We want to be a place to support and convene new ideas.  I had a conversation with a young lady, they want to do some internship work. And I said to work, so that's great. So she said, well, what will we do? I said, I want you to tell me what you want to do.  I'm interested in your creative ideas, but I don't want you.  We don't need you to just come run copies for us.  I want to mine the intellect of young people, their ideas, as opposed to just giving up some task.  Because I think that's where the power is.  I would just encourage people.  We will welcome ideas and thoughts.   Let's see what can we come up with.

Schuyler Lawson: Okay.  And again, listeners, that is BuffaloHealthEquity.org, correct

Reverend George Nicholas: Yes. BuffaloHealthEquity.org.  Also we got another website of a project we're working on called Pride in Place, Buffalo.  And it's a collaboration with LISC and AARP where we're actually going to be doing some creative things that just about celebrating and loving our folks in our communities.  It's going to be real artsy and really just trying to lift.  What's been a big deal with this trauma, right?  And we got to learn how to celebrate ourselves, celebrate what's happening in our community that's good. Celebrate the artists, the people you know, we're working with folks with like from the Wakanda Alliance.  And then, there's some folks that are just doing some great things on the ground and we need to support them and we need to resource them.  If you go to Buffalo Health Equity, talk there, I think there's a link to it, but otherwise it’s called Pride in Place, Buffalo.   And you'll see some exciting things and there'll be some some things.  We're looking for artists, we're looking for all kinds of folks in there. So that would be a place to kind of link into something.

Schuyler Lawson: Okay. Thank you very much. And again, I'm Schuyler Lawson.  Thank you all for listening to another episode of Buffalo HealthCast. Take care and be well.

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.