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The University of Kentucky has been selected as the nationwide coordination center for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative. Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D., will lead the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Racial Equity Initiative as principal investigator. The project is supported by a $3.4 million, five-year NIDA grant.

The UK Racial Equity Initiative Coordinating Center will be a national resource for researchers receiving funding to address health disparities related to substance abuse. The center will provide training for scientists across the U.S. consistent with best practices for conducting research with racial and ethnic minority populations and with the NIDA mission. The coordinating center will also promote synergy and linkages among projects funded by NIDA, coordinate collaborations and house shared resources for funded projects.

“There is lasting generational trauma and mistrust of research due to the ways research entities, for centuries, mishandled studies among marginalized communities and it creates unique challenges when conducting community-engaged research,” said Stevens-Watkins. “Studies show drug overdose deaths among racially and ethnically marginalized populations have increased at alarming rates in recent years, so building relationships between scientists and members of communities and effectively addressing the most pressing needs is of great importance and urgency.”

The UK center will draw upon the expertise of a team of researchers at UK, Northeastern University and Morehouse School of Medicine who have focused their careers on improving health outcomes for marginalized populations by filling gaps in research.

In our experience, we have seen the greatest impact when studies are designed to be culturally relevant and community based. This can change historically unequal power dynamics, as well as improve the relevance of the research and enhance recruitment, among other benefits. It is also important that, as researchers, we not forget our multiple privileged identities and how these affect our ability to develop meaningful relationships with those who do not benefit from our privileges.”


Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D.

The UK Racial Equity Initiative Coordinating Center will help ensure projects funded by NIDA elevate voices of People of Color and Indigenous Americans by using the Racial Healing of Communities of Color framework, which acknowledges the generational and present-day trauma from racism affecting the relationship between scientists and marginalized communities. Collectivism is the grounding component of the framework with resilience and social justice in the center.

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As principal investigator, Stevens-Watkins will bring experience gained from prior projects focused on improving health outcomes for Black Americans and other marginalized communities, for which she has, over the last decade, secured more than $11 million in grant and contract awards as a principal investigator. Stevens-Watkins, in her role as UK associate vice president for research, diversity and inclusion, also has experience leading the UNITE (UNited In True Equity) Research Priority Area at UK. It is a $10 million investment over five years focused on growing equity research at UK and the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and students.  

The network of scholars comprising the center will use their established expertise to provide assistance and consultations in four overarching areas, including: networking and training; community engagement; data collection and analysis; and communication and dissemination. The personnel include:

Principal Investigator

Danelle Stevens-Watkins, Ph.D., UK associate vice president for Research, Diversity and Inclusion

Dean, UK College of Education

Professor, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

Networking and Training

  • Lead: Candice Hargons, Ph.D., associate professor, UK College of Education Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology

  • William Stoops, Ph.D., professor, UK College of Medicine Department of Behavioral Science, Psychiatry and Psychology

  • Carrie Oser, Ph.D., DiSilvestro endowed professor, UK College of Arts and Sciences Department of Sociology

Community Engagement

  • Lead: Rhonda Holliday, Ph.D., professor, Morehouse School of Medicine, Preventative Health & Community Medicine

  • Rakale Quarells, Ph.D., associate professor, Morehouse School of Medicine, Preventative Health & Community Medicine


Data Collection and Analysis

  • Lead: Reuben Adatorwovor, Ph.D., assistant professor, UK College of Public Health Department of Biostatistics

  • Rachel Vickers-Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor, UK College of Public Health Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health 

Communication and Dissemination

  • Lead: Diane Francis, Ph.D., associate professor, Northeastern University College of Arts, Media and Design and Bouvé College of Health Sciences

  • Juan Canedo, Ph.D., assistant professor, UK College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine

  • Hannah Knudsen, Ph.D., professor, UK College of Medicine Department of Behavioral Science


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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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