Legacy of educator, activist lives on at health disparities research center

New name: Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research

MD Anderson News Release 06/26/12

Dorothy I. Height devoted her life to education, civil rights and women's rights. Her legacy and passion for improving the lives of Americans continues with the naming of the Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research (CHEER) - a collaboration between The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Houston.

"Little did I realize how my chance meeting with her while visiting her niece would lead to a two-decade relationship that ultimately resulted in CHEER being the first center to bear her name," said Lovell Jones, Ph.D., director of CHEER and co-founder of the Intercultural Cancer Council (ICC).

Height, who lived almost a century, received  the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame for her many accomplishments. During her 41-year tenure as president of the National Council of Negro Women, she established national programs and was recognized for developing positive changes in communities and lives. She continued her activities until her passing in April 2010.

"We're all extremely honored and excited that the center honors one of the true legends in social work," said Ira Colby, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Houston. "Dorothy I. Height was a pillar of strength who made life better for all people. We're confident that CHEER will carry out her legacy with excellence and dignity."

In honor of the Height legacy, Marilyn Hughes Gaston, M.D., former United States assistant surgeon general and director of the Bureau of Primary Health Care, will receive the Dorothy I. Height Lifetime Achievement Award. It will be presented Friday, June 29 during the 25th Anniversary of the Biennial Symposium on Minorities, the Medically Underserved and Health Equity - a joint venture between the ICC and CHEER.

The award, established by the ICC almost 20 years ago, honors people who exhibit the spirit and work of Height through their own initiatives.

"Dr. Height has been part of many pivotal events in American history, including the organization and coordination of the l963 March on Washington. Dr. Gaston is also pivotal as the first African-American woman to direct a public health service bureau and only the second African-American woman to achieve the position of assistant surgeon general and rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service," said Pamela Mosley Jackson, Height's niece. "Dr. Gaston, in her own right, exemplifies the work that Dr. Height dedicated her career to - including civil rights, human rights and more specifically, women's rights.  Dr. Height's work made it possible for successive generations of women to meet their professional and personal goals."  

Height was the first recipient of this award in 1993. "Gaston's efforts in improving the health of poor and minority families in the nation through delivering quality primary health care, educating and training clinicians, as well as administering local and federal programs, exemplifies the type of achievements this honor deserves," said Jones.

Friends and family of Height will gather at the Height and Hope (Helping Other People Endure) Awards Ceremony to honor Gaston. As a tribute to Height, women attending the celebration are asked to wear their favorite hat - or one that represents their culture and heritage. Height was widely revered as the "godmother" of the civil rights movement, and was known for always wearing a fashionable hat.

Jones, who recently was named by the UT System Board of Regents as a Distinguished Teaching Professor at MD Anderson, said the Height legacy will live on through the center as it works to combine research, education and training to address health care and health disparities.

"We're proud of Lovell Jones' accomplishments and his relentless pursuit to improve health care for our community," said Ernest Hawk, M.D., M.P.H., vice president and head of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at MD Anderson. "We look forward to growing our partnership with the University of Houston and to the future success of the Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity & Evaluation Research."

For more information on the symposium or awards ceremony, visit the website.  

Media covering the event should check in at the press table located on the 4th floor of the hotel.

Height and Hope Awards Ceremony:
Friday, June 29, 6 - 9 p.m.
Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel, 1600 Lamar Houston, Texas 77010