Community Health Advocate Is Driven to Improve People’s Access to Trustworthy Information

Throughout her research career, radiation oncologist Michele Halyard, M.D., has made it a point to include community health advocates in her work. These advocates, she says, "have the ear and pulse of the communities they serve." They help the research team effectively address community health priorities and improve health equity.

Eula Saxon Dean

One such advocate is Eula Saxon Dean.

"Eula Saxon Dean is a longstanding, highly respected leader in Phoenix and is a trusted name and voice within the local Black community," says Dr. Halyard. "This makes her an enormously valued advisor and ally in community-driven research that seeks to improve health."  

When COVID-19 arrived, both Dr. Halyard and Dean got involved in the National Institutes of Health's Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities (CEAL) research program. Dean currently leads the Arizona CEAL consortium community engagement work group. Dr. Halyard calls Dean "a force to be reckoned with" in her commitment to CEAL and in her role as a health advocate.

Read Eula Saxon Dean’s essay to learn more about what drives her to serve her community and how she works with Mayo Clinic researchers in the CEAL program.

The heartfelt desire to serve my community is something I learned while following in Mama's footsteps.

My family members were active in our Baptist church, and Mama frequently hosted meetings of the church's Busy Bee Club at our house. The club was a women's missionary group devoted to serving our church community.

On the days the Busy Bees visited, I felt dizzy with the energy of Mama's preparation. The kitchen was filled with the aroma of freshly baked pies and cakes. And it was filled with singing, as she busily moved about. I remember a new kettle whistling on the wood-fed hot stove, and Mama dressed in a well-fitted floral poplin dress she had stayed up late to finish the night before. Mama made these preparations because she honored her guests and the work they did together.

I helped at these Busy Bee meetings, and as I entered and reentered the room with refreshments, I listened and observed. I soon realized Mama wasn't just having a "ladies' party." The conversations they had were about helping others.

The Busy Bees believed deeply in the value of education and making sure that adults and children in our community had access to trustworthy information. None of the Busy Bees had ever attended college, and less than half were high school graduates. But that didn't hold them back. They saw promoting education as one of the most important ways they could serve our community. And they served with an open heart. I knew their mission would be my mission for many years to come.

As I fast-forward to today, I see a deep connection between my work with the NIH's Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities research program and the mission I inherited from the Busy Bees.

This program is about helping the people in our community hardest hit by COVID-19 to overcome their challenges and thrive. We do that by working with the community to provide trustworthy information and seeking to include people in COVID-19 research from the communities that would benefit the most. I lead the Arizona CEAL community engagement work group.

Our mission with CEAL is not just about saving ourselves or our local community, and not just about the here and now. It's about awakening the spirit in our hearts to lead and serve our nation and the world. By seeking to advance health equity related to COVID-19 in our community, we are taking steps, rooted in science and what we know to be truthful, and sharing it to educate and save the lives of people everywhere.

I am not sure I can translate my excitement for learning and working and serving with Mayo Clinic's CEAL team. It's a diverse team with so much knowledge. It's all I can do to simply offer up a part of myself and my heritage to help restore and improve the health of my community and other communities like mine.

I approach each CEAL community meeting filled with a deep sense of purpose. In the back of my mind, I still hear the voices of the Busy Bees, and I smell the aroma of freshly baked cakes. As I listen, learn and gain new knowledge, I know I am in the right place. And as I return to my community and share what I have learned through the CEAL team, I know I am bringing the right energy and knowledge to the mission, filled with love and caring to support my community's needs.

The Arizona CEAL consortium has allowed me the opportunity to serve my community with an open heart, just as my Mama and the Busy Bees did before me. For that, I am grateful.

—Eula Saxon Dean