Chapter 20: The Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research

Chapter 20: The Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research



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Dr. Jones explains his work with the Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research (CHEER). He talks about meeting Dr. Height in 1992. He then discusses approaching Congress in 1997 for funds to start a research center --the Center for Research on Minority Health (CFRMH). Dr. Jones approached Dr. Height about renaming the center in her honor and explains the criticisms Dr. Height has of MD Anderson, leading her to decline. He then talks about how he resumed this discussion with relevant parties after DR. Height's death, including making a "passionate plea" to family members at Dr. Height's funeral. Dr. Jones explains the process whereby the family first agreed, but then withdrew the name after a few years. He notes that, at this time, the Height Center is "no longer functional." Dr. Jones notes that MD Anderson is more interested in the discovery of new knowledge rather than its delivery to patients.



Publication Date



The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center - Beyond the Institution; The Administrator; The Educator; Giving Recognition; Obstacles, Challenges; Beyond the Institution; Critical Perspectives on MD Anderson; Obstacles, Challenges; Understanding the Institution; Women and Minorities at Work


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Would you tell me now about the Dorothy Height Institute, which seems to be a pretty major and neat activity.

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

Well, it was an outgrowth of the Center for Research on Minority Health. I got to meet Dr. Height in 1991, '92. Her niece, Pam Jackson, worked for me in helping to develop the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer. She was my primary assistant in helping to develop that program. And as we were planning the '93 Biennial Symposium on Minorities, Medically Underserved and Cancer, we had honored from the first biennial in 1987 Dr. LaSalle Leffall with an award in cancer control and prevention and given it out to a number of individuals in his name. I was over at Pam's house one evening, and I noticed in her living room this woman with the hat, trademark hat, and I kept looking. And I turned to Pam and I said, "That's not who I think it is." And she said, "Yeah, that's my aunt." And I go, "So Dorothy Height is your aunt?" And she says, "Yes." And that was one of the few trips, in fact, she had made, because she didn't travel a lot from, I think, '95 on. She didn't travel a lot because of her health conditions. But Pam said, "You know, there's no award in her name." And I said, "Really? Do you mind if I ask her about putting an award in her name to have at the biennial?" And she agreed. In '97, I approached Congress about creating this Center to address minority health in a different way and [unclear]. In '99, they funded it, and for ten years, almost ten years, over ten years, the Center for Research on Minority Health was the umbrella that we did most of these projects under. And then right before her death, 2009, 2010, I approached her. In fact, we had just-it must have been 2008, yeah, because it was at the Biennial Symposium or when we were meeting to select the next Dorothy I. Height winner, and I approached her about renaming the Center in her name. (laughs) And I kept talking to her, and she had her eyes closed, just closed. And I kept talking, and finally Miss Toni [phonetic], who was her staff person, been with her for decades, I turned to Miss Toni and I said, "Miss Toni, is Dr. Height asleep?" And as soon as I said that, Dr. Height said, "Dr. Jones, I heard every word you said and it's [unclear]." I said, "Oh." I said to Miss Toni, "Do you think she's willing to do that?" Miss Toni says to me, she says, "Dr. Jones, you should know by now that Dr. Height does not know how to say no to you, but the answer is no, because given all the trouble you had and the lack of support you've had with regards to your current Center, do you think she's going to allow her name to be used in that manner?" I said, "Okay, fine." After her death, I talked to Pam and I said, "˜You know, Pam, I know they're in the process of naming a post office in D.C. after her, but I don't see anything else happening. And I know that she had issues with Anderson, but as you know, I'm looking at this joint venture with U of H. And she was a social worker, and the program that I'm linking with is a social work program. And wouldn't it be a nice tribute to have her associated with such an entity?" She says, "Well, Lovell, you're going to have to talk to the family and convince them." So at her funeral, the entire family was there, and so when they met with Dr. Height at her [unclear] traditionally, they would have a meeting the next morning and they would all get up. So they arranged for me to talk to them, and so I did a passionate plea to them. And they said, "Well, Dr. Jones, we're going to trust your decision, but you're going to have to get Alexis to agree," because Alexis Herman, who was the former Secretary of Commerce, was kind of like her adopted daughter and was over the trust. So Alexis put me in contact with the lawyer, and I talked to the lawyer, and so we began to work out an agreement. To make a long story short, it got signed. The Center was named. They wanted a complete change, so we changed it to the Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research, DHCHEER. But, unfortunately, the lack of support that took place for CRMH came to bear. So when I elected to retire, the family, the family lawyer, sent a note to U of H and to MD Anderson and said, "We're withdrawing our name." So that's where it's at.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So the name has been withdrawn. Wow. Has there been any reaction from those institutions?

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

No. U of H, well, what they said in the letter, and they sent me a copy of it, and they said, "The reason we gave you the name was because of Dr. Jones and his relationship with Dr. Height. Since you've severed your relationship with Dr. Jones completely, and have had no relations with Dr. Height's niece as you promised to, then we see no other course but to ask for the relinquishing of the name." So U of H did write a letter back and said Dr. Jones was this bad person and [unclear]. (laughs) They've known me for twenty years, and I was like, "Oh, no." (laughs) And the lawyer called me up, he said, "That's even more reason why." (laughs) "We would like for them to say, "˜Well, you know, we had a parting of ways and direction, and this is our direction,' but to try and castigate you just reinforced our reasons for-." And I apologized. I sent a note to the entire family. I said, "I apologize." I said, "Dorothy was right and I should have listened. I was so intent on doing something to really honor her, to give her this." But, you know, she was the type of person that said, "I could care less whether I got credit or not, just as long as things change." So I should have kept that in mind. So the Height Center is, as far as I know, no longer-or even the Center I had is no longer functional. So that's where it's at.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What will be the impact of that?

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

I don't know. I really don't know. I know that the institution at the time that I was here created another Center to address minority health that's still up and running. But I don't know-you know, I know that it's doing things, but I don't know whether it will have long-term impact other than publishing papers and getting the name in the paper and that sort of thing. And that's good, but that's not what the Center that I directed was about, whether we got credit or not. As Dr. Height said, it was to make long and permanent changes that ultimately changed the gap. So I don't know. I have my doubts, given the [unclear] direction in terms of discovery, and discovery is going to change things. Front page-I wrote to Jim Allison [phonetic] before he came here, to welcome him and Pat, and I've been thinking about writing to him again after he had his front page article in the Houston Chronicle, because the Allison that I know is-and who left here because of his conflict with leadership before, knew that one major breakthrough is not going to change the course in terms of broad health unless you develop it in a way that is equitably delivered across the populations. And in all of the write-up, I didn't see any delivery component.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow. And what was Dr. Allison's discovery?

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

In terms of a particular drug that helped activate T-cells in the immune system in terms of targeting cancer. So I was joking with somebody, I said, Laetrile, many years ago, which came out of the [unclear] Smith Building, was touted as this magic pill that would address all cancers. Well, it's actually very good for [unclear] leukemia but not good for a lot of other things. And then we had-oh, what was the last one that came about, in terms of Laetrile? There was another breakthrough that came. Oh, for-I can't think. It just went in and out of my mind. It's good for certain leukemias, but it was also touted as the major breakthrough and then-but that's where we are.

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Chapter 20: The Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research