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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

Thanks to a COVID-19 Supplemental Grant form the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Center for Adolescent Health and HeartSmiles are teaming up with Hip Hop Public Health to make sure Black families in Baltimore get vaccinated.

As part of the grant, CAH will also work with the JHSPH International Vaccine Access Center, Baltimore City Public Schools, and the Baltimore City Health Department to understand the rate of COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Baltimore’s Black families – which make up 63 percent of Baltimore’s population.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Hip Hop Public Health, HeartSmiles, the Hopkins Vaccine Center, and our other partners on this project,” said Center for Adolescent Health Director Dr. Tamar Mendelson. “We’re excited to train young people as health ambassadors and develop a multi-generational website that families can access for accurate and engaging information about the COVID vaccine.”

The partnership will use the Youth Health Ambassadors model developed by Hip Hop Public Health as an entry point to educating Black families on the COVID-19 and encouraging them to get vaccinated. It will include a website that will expand to be a health resource for Baltimore’s families.

The grant – which CAH was eligible for as a CDC Prevention Research Center – allows the Center, HeartSmiles, and Hip Hop Public Health to expand on work they were already doing together on Hip Hop Public Health’s “Community Immunity” campaign.

The centerpiece of the “Community Immunity” campaign is a series of animated Hip Hop videos featuring Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of RUN DMC and Hip Hop Public Health founder and President Dr. Olajide Williams.

As featured on PBS News Hour last month, Hip Hop Public Health began working with HeartSmiles’ founder and President Joni Holifield and members of the CAH’s Youth Advisory Board like Young Elder to localize the “Community Immunity” videos to Baltimore.

This will include Baltimore youth adding their own lyrics to the videos that center on their communities.

Young people from Baltimore can submitted their verses for a chance to be one of three $1,000 winners who have their lyrics included in the Baltimore specific videos.

Three Baltimore winners were announced Friday, May 21 by HeartSmiles and include  16-year-olds Chalres Leak aka Big 16  and Kalil Sykes aka Beats,  17-year-old Tayonna Jackson aka TayyBandz. Next month they’ll be taking to celebrity artists and producers to get feedback on their work to make it “radio ready."

“Hip Hop Public Health recognizes that young people are quite literally the future and carry the ability to inform and affect positive health behaviors through their creativity and their unique perspectives,” said Dr. Olajide Williams, Founder of Hip Hop Public Health, tenured Professor of Neurology at Columbia University, and Chief of Staff of the Department of Neurology at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Our Hip Hop Verse Challenge in collaboration with Rolling Out is an imaginative and effective way for us to harness the power of young people and their artistry to have a positive impact and outcome on communities everywhere.”

The hope is to replicate this localization model in other cities around the country.

In their role as Youth Health Ambassadors, members of CAH’s Youth Advisory Board led a virtual session at the CDC Prevention Research Center conference at the end of April.

As part of the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act, CAH Director Dr. Tamar Mendelson, former director Dr. Phillip Leaf, Youth Advisory Board Members Zion Pittman and Young Elder, and Community Advisory Board member Mónica Guerrero Vázquez- who is the executive director of Centro SOL - have been sworn in as members of Baltimore City's Trauma Informed Care Task Force.

The Elijah Cummings Healing City Act went into effect on March 10, 2020. The task force is comprised of 11 city agencies and 16 members from the community, all of whom are appointed by the Mayor. Of the 16 members, 9 are recommended by the Mayor and 7 are recommended by the Council President.

"I’m honored and excited to serve among such an amazing group of Baltimoreans who are dedicated to reducing trauma and promoting healing in our city," Mendelson said. "This is a one-of-a-kind citywide movement that will draw on the incredible talents, insights, and wisdom across Baltimore, including young people. I can’t wait to get to work!"

Watch the introductory Trauma Informed Care Task Force here.

The JHSPH Center for Adolescent Health's Director of Community Engagement Trina Brooks, MPH, has been appointed to the State of Maryland's Citizens Review Board for Children (CRBC) to represent Baltimore City Northwest.

The CRBC provides oversight to Maryland's child protection agency and trains volunteer citizen panels to aid in child protection efforts.

"It is personally and professionally important that our work creates impact for the one child, but also impacts systems in the decision-making done that impacts Baltimore’s population of youth and young adults. In addition to being part of the decisions that inform the family court system and supports under foster care, CRBC is a strong advocate for policy and practice change that better serves our most vulnerable children and youth," Brooks said. "I believe that the CRBC Mission, to conduct case reviews of children in out-of-home care, make timely individual case and systemic recommendations; and advocate for legislative and systematic child welfare improvements to promote safety and permanency is very complimentary to the Center’s mission, to promote health equity and well-being for youth through connection and collaboration with a diverse network of young people and community and academic partners on public health research, education, policy, and practice. These young people represent some of the most marginalized and vulnerable of Baltimore’s youth population. It’s extremely important that they are not forgotten and left unprovided for. The Center is a wellspring of information about healthy adolescent development. Opportunities such as this help us to share that knowledge and help to hold us accountable to our community by serving, supporting and learning how to best use our seat at the table. I hope to serve as an asset, advocate and ally in the collective work of protecting and serving adolescents impacted by trauma."

By Todd Allen Wilson

The JHSPH Center for Adolescent Health and the youth at HeartSmiles won the Urban Health Institute’s 2020 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award for their Granny Project effort to reduce food insecurity among youth in Baltimore.

Henrietta Lacks was a Black Baltimore native and Johns Hopkins patient. Without her consent or knowledge Johns Hopkins’ doctors and researchers collected and harvested her cells. While her cell line continues to produce life-saving medical advancements, her story is just one example of how public health and medical systems have historically taken advantage of and often abused African-American communities. The award is part of Johns Hopkins efforts to correct past mistakes and build a stronger Baltimore in partnership with the communities of the city.

With 25 percent of Baltimore youth facing food insecurity, HeartSmiles founder Joni Holifield met with CAH Director Tamar Mendelson, associate professor Kristin Mmari and Community Relations Director Katrina Brooks to find ways to involve the city’s young people in researching the extent of the problem and finding solutions.

“It’s really important that we don’t try to solve the problems facing young people without having young people be part of the discussion,” Mendelson said.

Members of the CAH Youth Advisory Board and the young people at HeartSmiles known as Heartbeats were trained and conducted qualitative research with their peers. They found that many young people facing food insecurity in Baltimore commit crimes including armed robbery and prostitution to eat.

The youth also developed the Granny Project that serves as a safe space for Baltimore young people to deal with food insecurity and connects them with community elders who give cooking lessons on how to prepare cheap, healthy family meals.

“Our job was to make it a safe home or safe place for people to talk to us about what their going through; talk to us about how they may not know what they’re going to eat that night,” said Heartbeat and Granny Project member Summer Rhoades.

Summer said working on the project changed her from an introvert to an active leader among her peers. She credits that to HeartSmiles.

“It showed me it doesn’t matter where you’re from, this program helps you get to where you want to be,” she said.

Holifield started HeartSmiles in the wake of the unrest following the death of Freddy Grey while in the custody of Baltimore police as she recognized the frustration and heartache in the young people from the community she grew up in.

While Mendelson, Brooks, Mmari and almost anyone who has worked with her sings her praises, Holifield insists receiving the award and the success of HeartSmiles goes to the “Heartbeats who are helping to move Baltimore forward.”

“I have a hard time taking the credit because I feel like I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Holifield said. “I know the young people in our charge right now are truly going to be the leaders of this world.”

The Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award also includes a $15,000 prize.

Dr. Renee M. Johnson has been appointed Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity, Incusion (DEI) for the JHSPH Mental Health Department.

"In her new role, Renee will lead our department’s diversity, equity and inclusion activities, including chairing our department committee for diversity, equity, and inclusion (which is yet to be officially named, but may follow the school’s IDARE initiative label (Inclusion, Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Equity)). In addition, she will serve on the School’s IDARE committee to help implement unified school-level strategies, joined by diversity leaders from other departments of the School. Importantly, in her role as a Vice Chair, she will help us hold the department accountable to IDARE principles in all activities and decision making," the Mental Health Department Chair Dr. Margaret Daniele Fallin said in announcing the appointment.

Dr. Johnson is the Training Core Lead in the Center for Adolescent Health, as well as working in the Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research, the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.