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
Hello and welcome to Buffalo HealthCast a podcast by students, faculty and staff of the University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions. We are your co-hosts Tia Palermo, Jessica Kruger, and Schuyler Lawson, and 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 to improve population health and wellbeing. 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 0:47
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Buffalo HealthCast. I'm your host, Schuyler Lawson, a first year PhD candidate in Community Health and Health Behavior. With us today is Reverend George Nicholas, a 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 1:10
Well, it's certainly an honor and a great opportunity to be with you today.
Schuyler Lawson 1:15
Great. So first off, can you, for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Reverend George Nicholas 1:21
Yeah, I'm from Buffalo. This is my my home. I grew up here. Then went to Ohio State University for undergraduate and then came back to the area. I have a graduate degree from the University of Buffalo, and had been working doing various jobs and doing things. I've owned companies. I was a CEO of Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health 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 was pastoring Rochester for about 12 years. And then the Lord called me back to Buffalo and I've been back here since about 2012.
Schuyler Lawson 2:12
Yeah, a lot of history in Buffalo.
Reverend George Nicholas 2:14
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, this is 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. I mean, we're so vulnerable. I mean, we used to have the Geneva B. Scruggs Community Health Center, which was a community health center that served this community. We had the St. Augustine Center, which was 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. Friends of the Elderly. There were a number of programs that were run by black people, and that addressed the needs of black people. And over time, these things have not been supported by the existing political establishment and they've gone away. 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. And then finally, and I know we're gonna 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 the area, the notion of black kids not graduating from high school wasn't even a conversation. You graduated 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, there's probably less black students from Buffalo there now than there was 15-20 years ago. And so we got to turn this thing around Schuyler. We are not going in the right direction. And so we will talk about that a little bit later too if you want to. Leadership.
Schuyler Lawson 4:52
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 long lasting changes. Which is a great segue into the African American Health Equity Task Force, which appears to be a force for good, in respect to the issues that you mentioned.
Reverend George Nicholas 5:16
Yeah, so we've been working really hard, it started off with a conversation with just a few of us. This woman named Mary Walls, at the time working, I think, 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 challenged 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, right? 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, "Well, y'all just eat too much fried foods," and all this other stuff. Well, that's part of the equation. But when you look at what 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, 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 air and water quality in the neighborhood, the quality of your housing stock, these are the things 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 out 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 cases. And then we'll say, "Well, why don't you just change your economic status?" Well, 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 not transportation, and you don't have means for that transportation, then that creates a problem for you. And so, these are the things that drive what we call the social determinants of health. And so our work, our mission with the African American Health Equity Task Force, we started off calling ourselves the African American Health Disparities Task Force, but we wanted to shift our thinking to a more aspirational - we want to talk about, where do we want to be, right? And where we want to be is health equity. And so we're unapologetically concerned with the health conditions of black people. This is not a minority thing, and not to take hits or slides, but there are a unique set of circumstances that are attached to the enslavement of African people, really in this hemisphere, starting in 1519. When you look at the Slave Trade by the Spaniards, and the Dutch, and the French in South and Central America, and then escalating into around 1619, migrating up north to what they called North America. But it was a land that was inhabited by the Indigenous people. And then, so this whole notion of the enslavement of African people in this region has, from beginning begun the process of the social determinants of health, right? Because the lived environment, economic opportunities, housing, right? And from that moment, African people living in America were at a disadvantage. And that continued throughout generations. So you have enslavement from 1619-1865. 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, and then the inability to accumulate wealth through the sharecropping system, and just the debt that begun to just weigh upon freed African people living in America. From generation to generation passed on, and then even as we began to migrate into the north, and beginning to fill some of these jobs in during the industrialization. But then, as these jobs became unionized, and then 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 had migrated from the south and moved up to the north. And so then, 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 $18. And so the medium, I believe, and you guys are students, so go look up this data, but it's about African Americans who have about $18,000 of wealth, versus over $100,000 by whites, and I'm not talking about income - I'm talking about wealth, and why is that? Well, post Second World War, and the beginning of when soldiers began to be able to purchase homes, as a result of the GI Bill. They were pushed into communities, segregated communities, and then red lines were drawn. And soldiers couldn't even use their GI 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 what is your biggest asset, is your property, right? And then one of the factors that they put into, in terms of valuation of your property, is the demographics, let me say, 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, right? Then you have what I call ghetto taxes - if you have your car insurance, it's 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 wealth out of black communities. And then finally, the interaction with the criminal justice system. Whereas, black people are disproportionately arrested and convicted for crimes, higher bales, longer sentencing. And so what happens when a young black person gets in trouble with the law? Well, it's grandma 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, right? Second mortgages taken on that house that they finally paid off, to pay legal fees and things like that. And so this whole cycle, is just again, sucking the wealth out of the community, which creates and feeds into these disparities. So 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 and giving people balloons and coffee mugs, and thinking that that's going to change outcomes.
Schuyler Lawson 15:39
And in light of this, to the other daunting challenges that you listed, what is the African American Health Equity Task Force's factor in alleviating or even solving the problems caused by this multi generational structural damage that's been wrought upon?
Reverend George Nicholas 15:57
It's truth telling, right? You can't address problems that you don't recognize are problems. So we want to change the narrative about why these conditions exist. Right? And to focus more on systemic changes, and looking at systemic causes, so that our solutions will impact the systemic causes. 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, I use this analogy all the time, is there's always this big push to get kids backpacks, and we would give kids brand new backpacks. But yet, there's no data that says the reason why black children are underperforming in an urban schools is because they don't have a backpack. And so the the remedy has nothing to do with the problem, because 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, if the air and water quality in their community, 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? See, we've shifted, I think, and I'm so proud, brother, that you're working on your PhD, right? But the thought process that we're just - think about this man. That we're putting a lot of energy, and it's necessary because of what the current reality is, to get kids, our children just to pass. And what we really should be pushing is scholarship and academic excellence. What do you have to get - a 70 or 65 to pass, let's say, 70? If you get a 70, that means that 30% of the information that was provided for you, you didn't get. 30%! That's right! So our work is to look at systemic issues, raise 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 were saying, use those resources and let investors in to create a problem solving as it relates to the issues in the African American community.
Schuyler Lawson 19:33
Thank you for your response. It definitely helps our listeners understand the breadth of what the African American Health Equity Task Force does. I do have a particular question. What have been some of the approaches that the Task Force has taken with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Reverend George Nicholas 19:51
Well, there we have a good news story, Schuyler. And it shows - it's actually proved positive to our hypothesis of the importance of community collaboratives and supporting Black leadership. Let me frame this for you. So we put out a report in 2015, about the conditions of the African American health conditions, which showed that -and people can have access to these reports on BuffaloHealthEquity.org, 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 of Buffalo - we found that in terms of, just looking at chronic disease, that an African American who lives in one of those communities has a 300% more likelihood to have a chronic disease than a white person who lives outside the community. It translates to about 10 to 12, lost years of life. So we were equipped with the data, and so when COVID-19 emerged, we knew that 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, when 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 and doctors in the medical area, but there's a high concentration of people from our communities that are employed at those other level of jobs. And so they would be coming into these environments where COVID was present, and then going back into their communities, sometimes using public transportation, sometimes catching a ride with their uncle and them, right. So 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 healthcare field, with leaders from our community, Dr. Vasquez, and others. And we said to them said, listen, what's your plan? We know this is coming, we laid out the possible vulnerabilities of our community. And at that moment, they really hadn't began to think about those things in those terms. So what we said to them was, listen, we're gonna come back to you with a plan, a plan of how we're gonna address this issue. And we need you to resource it. We need you to support it. Right? Because these are our dollars as well. And so after some going back and forth, and what have you, we were able to use some of the Medicaid reimbursement monies through the district, through Millennium Collaborative Care, through Erie County, being able to stand up what we call the COVID-19 Response Team. And what we did, Schuyler, we've got 15 churches on the East and West Side, and we developed these COVID response call centers. We got a list for the board of elections and other resources, and we had our targeted area and we hired a lot of younger people - a lot of them were home from college, what have you, got them an iPhone, got them a laptop, got them a list. Dr. Vasquez and his team through GBUAHN had developed this tremendous IT system that allowed for our responders to actually make appointments for people right there, from their call center or what have you. So we literally called almost everybody in our community. What we learned too, there's still a percentage of people in our community that don't have a cell phone or landline. So we engaged 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." And so why were we reaching out to them? Well, we want to find out one, if they had any symptoms? Two, have they had any access to tests? Three, do they have a primary care physician? Four, do they have some food insecurities? Five, how are they doing mentally? So we ask these five questions pretty much and these people were trained. And we were able to not only ask those questions, but to give some kind of response to attaching people to help. So if you're having some of these symptoms or what have you, Hey, get to your get to your primary care. Oh, you don't have a primary care? Well, we'll do our network. We got GBUAHN, we got Jericho Road - we can plug you into a primary care physician. Oh, you need transportation? We'll come pick you up. You need food? We engage with Alex over at the African Heritage Food Co-op, who does a tremendous job. So we said to Alex, here's a chunk of money, get what you need, and then let's set up a delivery system. And so, when people needed food, we were able to get that to them. We worked with BestSelf, if there are 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 the community, we were able to stand up the testing site at the Leroy Coles Library. We said to those who had access to testing, we need tests in our community health centers. Because the people at the Community Health Center, the people at Jericho Road, the people at GBUAHN, Dr. Ilozue at Rapha 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. So when we started the project in March/April, and the first data started coming in. Now 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% 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. So 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. And 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 right? So you make these systems do what they are designed to do, what their mission is. And then other healthcare providers and institutions, insurers and others, Kaleida, and others and say listen, we need you to invest your resources and help us get this thing done. But, also critically following the leadership of healthcare professionals that were already operating within those communities. Guys like Dr. Vazquez, guys like Dr. Glick, right? Women like Dr. Ilozue, and Dr. Ansari, who are already there on the frontlines, so they have to be resourced and be equipped, so that they can do what they need to do. And the results are undeniable. Data speaks for itself.
Schuyler Lawson 30:19
Yeah, I mean, compared to nationwide data, it's an anomaly. The work that you described is just amazing - the coordination and just the scale of it, to achieve that type of outcome compared to national statistics, where blacks make up a significant portion of the - a significant and disproportionate compared to their population, a portion of the COVID-19 deaths. That's commendable.
Reverend George Nicholas 30:47
And shout-out to Reverend Kinzer Pointer, who's provided great leadership on this, and others within our team, Dr. Willie Underwood, Rita Robertson, Kelly Walford, we have just 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 African American Health Equity Task Force, and then the University having its community research institute under CTSI, under Dr. Murphy who, and this is another really great outcome, is that standing up that Institute and the system 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 - the School of Education, the School of Law, the School of Management, the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work - they're 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 creating these health inequities. Dr. Tim Murphy has been fantastic, who's 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, a grant from, what they call a Cory grant, where we're going to be actually looking at how the impact of mental health has on these communities post-COVID. And from what I understand, it's one of the first kind of community/university kind of 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 33:31
I'm excited about it too. It's great to hear that all this progress was made at the community level, at different types of institutional levels, dealing with the Erie County Department of Public Health, and also too, getting UB on board which is located within the community, so might as well have a stake and be involved.
Reverend George Nicholas 33:51
Universities have a responsibility 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? So that message has been heard and university and institutions have been very responsive. And we're very hopeful in the future and about the future about the work we were going to do together.
Schuyler Lawson 34:24
That's great. So I have another question. 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 34:39
So, Reverend Pointer and myself and a few others were kind of the ones right after the death of Eric Garner, and we organize clergy, about 90 clergy, in the area to begin to start having conversations about those issues and what's happening here in Buffalo. And we began to start talking about, thinking about how we can provide leadership around health, economic development, criminal justice, and education. And so I kind of grabbed the health piece, and we've been working ever since on those on those issues. The Concerned Clergy represent - there about five or six different ministerial groups in the black community. And so they all kind of came together under this banner of Concerned Clergy. And we're working on these kinds of 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. And so we've been functioning pretty well, It's difficult, because historically, again, there hasn't been this kind of unity amongst black clergy. But 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, but the Concerned Clergy has been functioning, and certainly Reverend Pointer has been a leader in that group. But we've been really spending a lot of our energies around health issues. Bishop Badger has been swinging a lot of energy around education, so we're trying to span out our influence in these spaces.
Schuyler Lawson 37:21
Thanks for providing that background. Another question: So as the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York played any roles in addressing the issues surrounding the pandemic?
Reverend George Nicholas 37:39
Well, yeah, so I wear a lot of hats. So when I'm operating in these spaces, the Concerned Clergy, I'm representing them, you know what I mean? We report back, and we have conversations about things. I know I can always depend upon these guys and ladies for support. And so the efforts around the pandemic have really been channeled through our work, through the Buffalo Center for Health Equity and the African American Health Equity Task Force. So the Concerned Clergy are part of that work. And then when other churches and other groups try to do things, we will support them and resource them, and it sort of works that way. One of the things though, what we did this week, was begin to start educating the community around the pending vaccine. And we had a conversation on, I believe it was Wednesday, with Dr. Alan Lesse, who is an epidemiologist at the University and really an expert on these issues of infectious disease, and so this issue with the vaccine because of our history. We know that the data has shown only about 43-44% of black people who have been polled so far, have said that they would be willing to take the vaccine, and I understand those low numbers. There's a historical context, there's a rationale behind...Dr. Michael Eric Dyson would say that black people are not skeptical of science. We're skeptical of scientists. And so we have to get over, I shouldn't say this, 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. And forgive me, I don't have - can't recall her name, right now. And so when the vaccine emerges, the decision that we make on whether or not we're going to take it have to be based on facts and knowledge, right? And we need to hear from - I know that Morehouse is going to play a role in investigation and disseminating and information into community about the vaccine. So we need to hear from black doctors about this, you know, and locally, hearing from me from Dr. Vasquez, and Dr. Underwood and people like that in community, who I trust. And if they say, Hey, this will be something that will be beneficial to our people and to our community, I will follow that leadership. But we have to be very - this is a very delicate situation, and we cannot be dismissive of people. When they express their reservation and concern about that, about the vaccine, and we should listen to their concerns and answer any and all questions with the hope that if the vaccine is going to be beneficial for our people, that everyone in our community does take it. And that, but we also have to be involved in the process of distribution. And 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. So we have to continue to advocate and be at the table and say, "Okay, 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 44:00
Those are very important issues, qnd 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, like you said, an information campaign to build trust and address the roots of, the historic roots of the mistrust towards doctors.
Reverend George Nicholas 44:25
One of the things that, one of the outcomes of our project is we've developed just piles of data now. I mean, we've made, I think, over 100,000 contacts with people, and so each one of them has 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. So we strongly believe that research will give you data, data will inform policy, and then policy will bring resources. And so we have to make sure that we are very aggressive in all four of those phases. Because really what's happened, Schuyler, over the years, is our people have been measured and surveyed and queried, and then 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 those. So it's one thing to survey people, find out y'all got a lot of diabetes, but then, Okay, this next step is not here, the programmatic things we're going to put in place to address those conditions, that has not happened at the level that we need it 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. One of my goals is to have 'research' no longer be a bad word in our community. Because we, you know, and I understand. So I've not done that yet. But now, we understand 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 be a bridge to getting resources to change the condition of our people. And that can only happen when Black leadership's involved. And we 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, not just black people in leadership is not black leadership. There's a difference you see there, right? And so we have to have black folks who are in positions of influence and leadership to be unapologetic advocates for the conditions of their people, and not get tied up in the semantics of whether you should say to fund the police or not, that's the absolutely wrong conversation to have. And it's unhelpful, it's unhelpful critique for people in leadership to critique that phrase, without looking at it, but without putting your energy around the issues of why people are saying that. And so 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 at the root. There's a generation - your generation - I have four sons and one daughter, and your generation is very clear of the directness, and so I'm grateful to see that kind of the shift. Things like the unwillingness to play semantical games and to appease white institutions, but 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 conditions of our own people. And that is a critical, critical piece that I think we have to see in terms of shifting in our approach in our community.
Schuyler Lawson 49:25
Very well put. And that actually leads to - I have a final question. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our listeners? Any kind of, you know - you said a lot, and I'm putting you on the spot, but anything else before we conclude our interview with you?
Reverend George Nicholas 49:42
I guess, 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 - and I like to to say, put it this way, to take the power of racism, or to diminish the power of racism in our culture. Well, as a theologian, I would be hopeful that we could eliminate racism, but also as a sociologist, (because I have a degree in sociology) 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, I think is something that we could do, which is a realistic goal. And 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. And 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. So we have to be smart, cautious, learn from our past practices, and then to be innovative. I mean, to recognize that there has to be new approaches to things. I think folks in my generation have to make spaces for sunsetting some activities in organizations that may have been effective for a season. But 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 of leadership to not discount the wisdom of the elders. And so one of the things that diminishes our strength is when we have conversations of pushing the old folks/old guard out of the way, and you know, "this is our time," right? And 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 generationally, the enemy passes down the wisdom of how to maintain power and control down to the next generation. And that's why there's been so much success to keep this generational dominance. And so those are the things - the final things I'd like to share with folks and then just inviting people to log on to our website, BuffaloHealthEquity.org. And then when you see activities and things going on around campus, around community, around health equity, around justice, get engaged. Don't wait for somebody else to do this. This is your season, your responsibility. And if you're a person of good conscience, 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 and the way in which we want to be. And it's only going to happen if we get engaged.
Schuyler Lawson 54:35
Thank you for those thoughtful parting remarks. And thanks again for taking the time to be interviewed on our podcast. We hope to have you on again to discuss future projects. For example, once the vaccine becomes available, how things are going to go with the Task Force and the Coalition with helping out with distribution and the information campaigns. We definitely want to follow up on that. I had a question. Is there a way that our listeners can learn more about the Task Force?
Reverend George Nicholas 55:09
BuffaloHealthEquity.org. We have all the information and if you want to send us any questions, or anything like that, we have a way to respond.
Schuyler Lawson 55:23
And for our listeners, are there any volunteer opportunities?
Reverend George Nicholas 55:27
Yeah, I think so. I'm not sure right now, again, BuffaloHealthEquity.org. I know that we have some students doing some academic stuff. I think one thing too is checking with people like Dr. Heather Orom, Dr. Grimsley, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Murphy, and Dr. Lesse. If any of them are your professors, and Heather Abraham, over at the Law School, reach out to them and say, is there something that I can do, in terms of support your connection to the Task Force? And we're always open, we're looking for ideas. We want to be a place to support and convene new ideas. So, I mean, there may be some things that - I had a conversation with a young lady that wants to do some internship work. And I said to her, that's great. So she said, "Well, what are we gonna do?" I said, "Now I want you to tell me what you want to do." You know, I'm interested in your creative minds. We don't need anybody just come run copies for us. I want to mine the intellect of young people, and mine their ideas. Do you know what I mean? As opposed to just giving them some task, right? Because I think that's where the power is. And so I would just encourage people, we would welcome ideas and thoughts, and let's see what we come up with.
Schuyler Lawson 57:16
And again, listeners, that is BuffaloHealthEquity.org.
Reverend George Nicholas 57:18
BuffaloHealthEquity.org. And also, we got another website of a project we're working on, called Pride in Place Buffalo. Pride in Place Buffalo. And it's a collaboration with LISC and AARP, where we're actually going to be doing some creative things, just about celebrating and loving our folks in our communities. It's gonna be real artsy, and just trying to - we've been dealing 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 - we're working with folks from the Wakanda Alliance, and 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 BuffaloHealthEquity.org, I think there's a link, but there's other ones called Pride in Place Buffalo. Pride in Place Buffalo. And you'll see some exciting things, and there'll be some things we're looking for: artists, we're looking for all kinds of folks in that, so that would be a place to kind of link into something.
Schuyler Lawson 57:18
Okay. Thank you very much. And, again, I'm Schuyler Lawson, and thank you all for listening to another episode of Buffalo HealthCast. Take care and be well.
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.