Myrlie Evers-Williams lends name to UMMC institute bolstering health equality
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A famed civil rights figure contributed her name and her passion for the underserved to UMMC with the recent dedication of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities.
One day after the anniversary of Medgar Evers’ death, his widow helped dedicate the re-focused institute during a June 13 ceremony at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center.
The launch represents a new partnership between the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Jackson State University College of Liberal Arts, and signifies the renaming of the Mississippi Institute for the Improvement of Geographical Minority Health, created to close the gap between those who receive proper medical care and those who don’t.
The revamped organization will concentrate on three main areas of concern in Mississippi: child health disparities, minority men’s health and research training – issues that resonate with Evers-Williams, who spoke to a gathering of an estimated 130 people.
“I am so honored to lend my name to this wonderful, motivational group of programs we have here that will move Mississippi from the bottom of the list to the top,” Evers-Williams said.
“If Mississippi is going to be a strong state in every way, we have to be healthy, too.”
Among those who spoke at the dedication were U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson; state Sen. John Horhn; Dr. James Keeton, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine; Dr. Lawrence Potter Jr., dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Jackson State University; Dr. Claude Brunson, UMMC senior advisor to the vice chancellor for external affairs; and Dr. Bettina Beech, executive director of the institute and UMMC associate vice chancellor for population health.
Beech noted that the institute’s three areas of emphasis were also chosen based on their capacity to dovetail with existing programs at UMMC and JSU.
“For instance, UMMC has the only children’s hospital in the state and deals with vulnerable children,” said Beech, referring to the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children.
“Jackson State will be a valuable partner in exploring the social determinants of health (education, income, employment, and geographic factors) that the health-care system was not traditionally designed to address.
“The area of minority men’s health has been overlooked in this country, for the most part. Our partnership with JSU will enable groups of faculty and students to make a real impact in these areas of research.”
The institute will also collaborate with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, where Beech formerly served as co-director.
Dr. Myrlie Evers-Williams, foreground, unveils the sign marking the institute named in her honor during the dedication.
Housed in the Medical Mall, the institute also plans to team up with Alcorn State University – the alma mater of Medgar and Myrlie Evers – and the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute in Jackson, created to continue the legacy of Medgar Evers, the civil rights pioneer who was assassinated June 12, 1963 in Jackson.
“When I came back to Mississippi a year ago, I had no intention to stay,” Evers-Williams said. “I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to embrace the state. Anything is possible.”
Naming the institute after Evers-Williams is a “historic milestone” in the growing relationship between the university and the Evers family, Beech said.
Evers-Williams, who delivered the commencement address at Ole Miss in May 2013, told the graduates, “I believe in you, in Mississippi, in America. May we find peaceful dialogue to deal with issues – not walk away from each other.”
A Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Alcorn State, Evers-Williams will be involved in the organization named for her, Brunson said.
“The institute focuses on improving the lives of Mississippians, especially those with limited access to health care.
“It has tested strategies that maintain people’s health and gets those out to the community to make a difference. That has been the life’s work of Myrlie Evers-Williams, and we are thrilled to name the institute in her honor.
“Her international prominence will enable us to collaborate with other folks that we may not have had access to otherwise.”
A former NAACP leader, Evers-Williams thanked UMMC also for adding to the institute the name of her second husband, Walter Williams, a civil rights activist who succumbed to cancer after he delayed seeing a doctor – a major reason for her interest in men’s health.
It was a cautionary tale for other men who are reluctant to ignore their symptoms, she said.
“Men, wake up. Take care of yourselves and let us take care of you.”