Tell us more about your background and experience:
I was born in the U.S. but grew up in the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica). I would describe myself as an “island boy” who is never quite content unless I have mountains behind me and a beach in front of me. So, I’m not quite sure how I ended up in the Midwest for graduate school. At any rate, I received my PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I was enrolled in the clinical/community psychology program. In retrospect, I consider myself extremely fortunate as my program emphasized researching and intervening in human problems at multiple levels of analysis (e.g., individual, organizational, community, etc.). It is a perspective that has enriched every aspect of my work, whether I’m providing psychological services to youth involved with Child Protective Services, helping a program director think through how her program should work and how to measure impact, or fostering cross-agency collaborations in systems of care. I have learned to attend to the embeddedness of individuals in settings, institutions, and communities and the ways in which that embeddedness impacts health for better or for worse.
What does your work focus on and why is this work important for global health?
In a word: embeddedness. What I mean by embeddedness is the reality that our lives are shaped by the social, economic, and political landscapes we find ourselves in and that it is difficult to understand human phenomena and ameliorate human problems without accounting for this reality. In terms of the specific aims of my research, I am interested in illuminating social determinants of health disparities impacting ethnic minority populations, the assumption being that these populations’ relative embeddedness in society confers certain disadvantages, which in turn compromise physical and psychological well-being. My past work in this area has focused on understanding how social marginalization in the form of discrimination and poverty negatively impact psychological wellbeing over time. I am also interested in the converse—how embeddedness promotes well-being. In this regard, my work has focused on examining the role of settings called “counterspaces” (spaces that foster resilience such as churches, youth programs, and peer networks) in promoting the psychological well-being of individuals occupying marginalized social locations.
What countries do you work in?
I work in the U.S. with a focus on ethnic minority populations who experience difficulty accessing adequate mental health and social services. However, I continue to entertain the possibility of returning to the Caribbean to help build capacity in mental health systems to provide more accessible and higher quality care to individuals with psychiatric illnesses. There is still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness in Caribbean contexts.
Tell us more about your role at DGHI:
I will be a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell to examine the interplay of physical and psychological health, concentrating on clergy and patients with hepatitis C as example populations to learn from.
What do you hope to accomplish here?
I am seeking to expand my understanding of the cognitive, behavioral, and structural underpinnings of health as well as the role of spirituality and spiritual institutions (as possible counterspaces) in promoting mental health. I hope these learning experiences will prepare me as a scientist to develop innovative, community-situated interventions that promote health and increase access to quality mental health care.
Why are you interested in global health?
As a community psychologist, I place a high value on social justice, equal access to health care and culture. These values are shared by global health researchers, making DGHI a logical place for me to study physical and mental health and intervention research.
To start a conversation with me, ask me:
What is your fantasy job, you know, the one you have in mind in case this whole academic thing doesn’t work out?
Tell us something interesting people don’t know about you.
I did not graduate from high school—not officially, anyway. I attended high school in Jamaica and my year group was considered the most misbehaved in the history of the school. As our punishment, we were not given a graduation ceremony nor did we receive diplomas. It was so difficult obtaining proof that I had completed high school (in order to get into college) that I ultimately got a GED.
Where is your office located?
I spend half my time in Trent Hall (room 216) and the other half in the Noell Building at the American Tobacco Complex where the Duke Clergy Health Initiative is housed.