The National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer


The National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer



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


Houston, Texas

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Lovell Jones, PhD

Well, I’ve started to take the World Health view of health disparities or health equity—and I think “health equity” is probably a better term, because it’s moving towards the positive as opposed to highlighting a negative—that health equity is not just the absence of disease. It’s more it has to do with the person’s well-being, both physically, mentally, and spiritual. I think that’s what we should be striving for.

I think because we pigeonhole it and people talk about, “Well, we need to address the issue of access, and if we solve access, then that will solve the problem,” it hasn’t solved it. I haven’t seen it solve the problem. Or that if we solve the issue of triple-negative in African Americans in terms of biological problems, that we’ll solve the issue. You know, I don’t see that happening. Or if we solve it in the physical environment in terms of housing and education, maybe, and maybe those will do a little bit better, but I think we have to do it in all arenas in all [unclear] that we’d look at it in a broad sense as opposed to a very narrow sense.

When I started the National—or helped start, actually, the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer, it came out of in 1985, the National Cancer Institute released a report on the state of health, primarily cancer, in African Americans and other minorities, which was a follow-up from the Heckler Report on the health of minorities, primarily African American, to some extent Hispanics and others—and as Howard Cole said yesterday, he hated being “other”—that there was a need to attract attention to this issue and to move forward with it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

I’m sorry. I missed the name when you said when you had helped start a particular organization. I missed the name.

Lovell Jones, PhD

The National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer. I was asked—what happened was in 1987 was the launching of the Biennial Symposium on Minorities and Cancer, and it was the first time ACS, NCI, and Komen all had supported a meeting together, the leadership, they’d all come together. And it was a meeting that people said couldn’t happen, because I said I was going to have a meeting for all Americans. They said, “You’re going to have it for physicians.”

“No. All Americans, because that’s where the problem is.”

That rippled to Lou Sullivan, who had the ear of a number of individuals in senior-level government, including Barbara Bush and George Bush, and got NCI to hold regional meetings around the country. And he asked his fraternity brothers, who he selected—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

That works.

Lovell Jones, PhD

—who all had graduated from Morehouse or had some relationship with Morehouse, to lead the efforts. Most of them were academicians, with the exception of the person here in Houston, Dezra White, and Dezra had the wherewithal to seek me out. He says, “I don’t have an institution. I’m an everyday practicing physician. I don’t do these sorts of things, but I was asked to do it, and would you help me? Would you become my co-chair in terms of helping do this meeting, since you did the biennial?”

And I said, “Yes.”

And he said, “I have a friend, Pamela Jackson, who I would like to work with us.” And what I didn’t realize at the time was that Pam was Dorothy Height’s niece.

So we held the meeting, we held the meetings around the country, and then we all went to meet with Al Rabson, who was the interim director of the National Cancer Institute, and we gave him a summation of what took place and what we wanted to move forward with, and Al basically said, “Thank you for the report, and we’ll take it under advisement,” and so forth and so on.

And I’ll never forget, Clyde Philips [phonetic], physician neurologist in Chicago, got up and said, “That’s unacceptable. I can’t go back to Chicago, to South Chicago, and tell the people you are taking the report under advisement. That’s not going to cut it.” And he said, “We need to do something more, and I’m not leaving your office, and I hope my friends here will not leave your office, until we come up with a plan of action.”

And that took Al by surprise, but to his credit, he listened, and we were able to design and get funds, route it through the Drew/Meharry/Morehouse Cancer Consortium, which was a consortium that was created to address the issue of cancer in black Americans. There had only been one other Cancer Center at the time, and that was Howard University Cancer Center in Washington. But there was no other funded Cancer Center in America to look at the issue of cancer in blacks that had been so highlighted in, first, the Heckler Report and then the report that was produced by Claudia Baquet as a fellow when she was at NCI.

So that is what led to the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer that led to all the other leadership initiatives that led to the Special Populations Branch that was created at NCI, that now has led to the Center for Health Disparities Research that is at NCI. But I was joking with some—well, actually, we were talking at this meeting, and I was saying to a young African American physician there, I said, “But interesting, nobody knows that history. And today there’s no National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer. There’s no remnant of it.”

The National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer