News and Events

The Department of Medicine Inclusion Council Celebrates Black History Month - Paula Allen-Meares, PhD (click on article for full pdf)

Grant Award from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): COVID Built Environment Initiative for a COVID Cancer and Health Literacy Initiative

Beginning in January 2023 our office is working with the IDPH Comprehensive Cancer Control on a project to train community health workers throughout the state of Illinois on the topics of health literacy and cultural competence. Each participant is invited to attend an initial training webinar, followed up with a second webinar that focuses on implementation of the strategies introduced. Our team consists of Dr. Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar, Dr. Olga Garcia-Bedoya, Dr. Alana Biggers, and Dr. Carolyn Dickens.

Subaward from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for the Chicago CHW H.E.R.O. Project

In August 2022, the Office of Health Literacy secured a subaward for the The Chicago CHW H.E.R.O. Project. The UIC Office of Health Literacy is working with Angela Ellison, Director of UIC OCEAN-HP and other partners to provide training for community health workers. The faculty members who will provide the training for community health care workers in Cook County include Dr. Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and Dr. Carolyn Dickens, both experts in cultural humility and health literacy respectively.

Grant Award from the National Institute of Health (NIH): U54 Chicago Center on Health Equity Research (CHER)

In July 2021, Dr. Allen-Meares began serving as Co-Investigator on the Investigator Development Core of the U54 CHER grant. She is part of the IDC for this project that has worked on the development of a robust Lunch and Learn series to educate our early stage investigators. The most recent presenter was Dr. Preeti Malani, Deputy Editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) who conducted a session on scientific communication. The purpose of the center is to investigate how social structures and determinants contribute to the health of marginalized groups, and to work toward the elimination of structural violence through collaborative community partnerships, innovative research, and development and growth of researchers, including mentoring of Early Stage Investigators.

Grant Award from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health/Office of Minority Health: Advancing Health to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19

In July 2021, our office, in collaboration with with the City of Rockford HHS and CURA Strategies, a healthcare communications agency, received a two year federal grant worth $3.6M from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health/Office of Minority Health titled, “Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19.” Dr. Allen-Meares serves as Co-PI. Members of our team who conduct the training for healthcare professionals and community outreach workers in Rockford include: Dr. Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar, Professor and Chair for the Department of Occupational Therapy from the College of Applied Health. Dr. Olga Garcia-Bedoya, a physician at UI health. Dr. Manorama Khare, a research professor on the Rockford campus who is tasked with evaluation for the project.

Grant Award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – The National
Initiative to Address COVID-19 Health Disparities Among Populations at High Risk and Underserved, Including Racial and Ethnic Minority Populations and Rural Communities.

In 2021, our office received a two year sub-award to collaborate with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH). The Executive Director for the UIC Office of Health Literacy Dr. Paula Allen-Meares will lead a team that is tasked with providing health literacy and cultural humility training for the CCDPH staff and community- based organizations who are partnering with CCDPH for this initiative.

The lead unit for this initiative at UIC is the School of Public Health led by Dean Wayne Giles. The UIC Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships (OCEAN-HP), under the direction of Angela Ellison, will also partner with on this initiative.

A grant of $25M was awarded by the CDC to help the Cook County Department of Public Health achieve the overall goal to strengthen the infrastructure and capacity of the CCDPH to implement a coordinated and holistic approach with partners that builds on culturally, linguistically, and locally tailored strategies to provide the best practices to reduce COVID-19 risk in populations disproportionately affected by COVID while ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 related resources to advance health equity.

The National Initiative to Address COVID-19 Health Disparities Among Populations at High Risk and Underserved, Including Racial and Ethnic Minorities plans to implement activities with partners across all four strategies identified by the CDC:
1. Expand existing or develop new mitigation and presentation resources and services to reduce COVID-19 related disparities among populations at higher risk and underserved.
2. Increase or improve data collection and reporting for populations experiencing a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 infection, severe illness, and death to guide the COVID-19 pandemic response.
3. Build, leverage, and expand infrastructure support for COVID-19 prevention and control among populations that are at higher risk and underserved.
4. Mobilize partners and collaborators to advance health equity and address social determinants of health as they relate to COVID-19 health disparities.

Grant Award from the Office of Health and Human Services – Advancing Health Literacy
to Enable Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19

Limited health literacy affects people of all ages, races, incomes, and education levels, but the impact of limited health literacy disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic and minority groups. In times of COVID-19, connecting with hard-to-reach populations and increasing health literacy, can help adults better understand COVID-19 public health recommendations and encourage them to take the vaccine. This is essential to reducing the spread of COVID-19, which has had a more profound effect on minority and socially vulnerable populations who may be hesitant or mistrusting of the safety of the vaccine due to documented systemic racism and discrimination in health care.

In 2021, our office received a two year sub-award to work on the Rockford Citywide Health Literacy Initiative with the Rockford office of Health and Human Services led by Director Anqunette Parham and CURA Strategies Heathcare Communication Agency. As PI for this project, Dr. Paula Allen-Meares has assembled a team of faculty members who are contributing to various facets of the initiative including to provide health literacy and cultural humility training to healthcare providers and community outreach organizations in the Rockford area. In addition, Dr. Allen-Meares engaged a colleague from the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford to oversee the evaluation of the project.

The Rockford Citywide Health Literacy Initiative aims to evaluate and address health literacy, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and general mistrust of the healthcare system among African American/Black and Hispanic/Latinx adults that live in the identified zip codes (61101, 61102 and 61104) through the context of social determinants of health. The Initiative will address these issues by engaging directly with local health care providers, community organizations/leaders, and community residents and empowering them to share credible, effective resources and adopt appropriate practices that will help increase COVID-19 vaccine adoption and improve communications between health care providers and patients.

Public Health Emerita Professor on Epistemic Justice for Health Literacy During a Public Health Crisis

December 15, 2021

Michele Kelley, Associate Professor Emerita of Community Health Sciences, UIC School of Public Health, contributed to a just released National Academies “Perspectives” publication titled: Lessons from COVID-19 on Executing Communications and Engagement at the Community Level During a Health Crisis.  She noted in the live discussion on which this report was based that it is short-sighted to claim that communities are “hard-to-reach”.  The larger issues are that many segments of society are left out of community health planning, including program development and health communications. Their young people are not represented at our universities and in the health and community planning professions. Community engagement is often a “one-off”, short term task, with little authentic, culturally responsive approaches that offer meaningful roles and interchanges with affected communities. This includes recognizing and utilizing community assets and concerns, and providing concrete support for community efforts as well.

We not only have to consider community health literacy about a given health crisis, but also consider our own knowledge, with its limitations, in co-developing health communications with communities of interest. Dr. Kelley suggests that the concept of epistemic justice is useful for promoting health equity through valuing local and indigenous knowledge. This means examination of how health knowledge is produced and utilized in health promotion and health communication. It is bi-directional knowledge creation with communities from the start, not just academic knowledge that is “culturally tailored” and imposed top down.


Overton, D., S. A. Ramkeesoon, K. Kirkpatrick, A. Byron, and E.S. Pak (Eds.). 2021. Lessons from the COVID-19 Crisis on Executing Communications and Engagement at the Community Level During a Health Crisis. Washington, DC: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Bhakuni, H., & Abimbola, S. (2021). Epistemic injustice in academic global health. The Lancet Global Health.

Dr. Michele Kelley – Call to Action

Michele Kelley, ScD, MSW, MA, Office of Health Literacy affiliate and recently retired from the School of Public Health, published a paper with colleagues from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) on femicide. She says: “Femicide is a global public health issue, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19. In our paper, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, we call for action at multiple levels to mitigate violence against women in all of its forms.” Dr. Kelley is collaborating with SAHM colleagues to deliver an online workshop for its multidisciplinary membership at the 2021 virtual annual meeting in March on preventing violence against girls and women, from a global health perspective.

The publication and journal are available through the UIC Library.

Kanbur, N., Barral, R., Efevbera, Y., Kelley, M. A., Svetaz, M. V., Miller, E., Bhave, S., Coyne-Beasley, T., & Raymond-Flesch, M. (2021). Call to Action Against Femicide: Illuminating a Shadow Pandemic as a Global Public Health Emergency. The Journal of Adolescent Health; official publication of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, S1054-139X(20)30691-1. Advance online publication.

Dr. Michele Kelley is a co-author on a recently published book chapter:

Svetaz, MV; Coyne-Beasley, T; Maria Trent, M.; Roy Wade, R; Ryan, M; Kelley, M.; Chulani, V. (2020). The Traumatic Impact of Discrimination and Racism on Young People and How to Talk About It. Chapter 42 in Ginsburg KR, McClain ZBR, eds. Reaching Teens: Strength-Based, Trauma-Sensitive, Resilience-Building Communication Strategies Rooted in Positive Youth Development. 2nd ed. American Academy of Pediatrics. Itasca, IL.

Dr. Michele Kelley has also published an article recently:

Estrella, M. L., Kelley, M. A., Durazo-Arvizu, R. A., Gallo, L. C., Chambers, E. C., Perreira, K. M., … & Lash, J. P. (2020). Volunteerism and Cardiovascular Health: The HCHS/SOL Sociocultural Ancillary Study. Health Behavior and Policy Review, 7(2), 120-135.

Cultural Relevance in Health Care Professions: Addressing the Health Care Needs of Diverse Populations

A free interactive seminar for on promoting strategy and skill building in cultural competence and cultural humility for graduate students and professionals was facilitated by Dr. Paula Allen-Meares and taught by Dr. Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and Dr. Olga Garcia-Bedoya on March 3, 2020.

Dia Del Nino Health Walk and Family Festival

In May 2019, our office participated in the Dia Del Nino Health Walk and Family Festival at the National Museum of Mexican Art. The Festival is a family event dedicated to keeping children happy and healthy. The festival has its roots in an annual celebration that was created in Mexico in 1925 as a day to honor children. The day long event attracts over 2,000 children along with their parents and features games, hands-on art activities, health education, and live performances. The 2020 event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are hoping to participate in the next festival.

In light of recent events of mass violence and hate crimes, we are reposting this resource for those who serve adolescents and young adults. This is a position paper from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine Diversity Committee, titled: Racism and Its Harmful Effects on Non-dominant Racial–Ethnic Youth and Youth-Serving Providers: A Call to Action for Organizational Change.

Michele Kelley, an associate professor in the School of Public Health, and Office of Health Literacy affiliated faculty, was a co-author. It was originally posted on our website on 10/09/18.
We hope you find it useful.
The link to the article.

Dr. Paula Allen-Meares’ Recent Publications:

Hong, J.S., Merrin, G.J., Gonzalez-Prendes, A.A., Allen-Meares, P., & Espelage, D.L. (2020). Correlates of school bullying victimization among black/white biracial adolescents: Are the similar to their monoracial black and white peers? Psychology in the Schools.

Gupta, I., Di Eugenio, B., Salunke, D., Boyd, A., Allen-Meares, P., Dickens, C., & Garcia, O. (2020). Heart Failure Education of African American and Hispanic/Latino Patients: Data Collection and Analysis. In Proceedings of the First Workshop on Natural Language Processing for Medical Conversations (pp. 41-46).

Sage, J.K., Ramirez-Valles, J.,Watson, K., Allen-Meares, P., Matthews, P., Odoms-Young, A., Martinez, E., Daviglus, M. & Winn, R.A. (2020). Fostering health equity research: Development and implementation of the Center for Health Equity Research (CHER) Chicago. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, 4(1), 53-60.

Allen-Meares, P., Estrella, M., Davis-Lowry, B., & Mansuri, S (2020). Health literacy barriers in the health care system: Barriers and opportunities for the profession. Health & Social Work, 45(1), 62-64.

Hong, J.S., Ryou, B., Wei, H.S., Allen-Meares, P., & Espelage, D.L.(2019). Identifying protective factors that potentially buffer the association between peer victimization and weapon-carrying among U.S. adolescents. School Psychology International, 40(4), 381-402.

Hong, J.S., Voisin, D.R., Kim J.W., Allen-Meares, P., & Espelage, D.L. (2019). Pathways from peer victimization to sexual risk-taking behavior among African American adolescents in Chicago’s Southside. Psychology of Violence, 9(1), 88-97.