Friday, March 31, 2023
Season 2, Episode 6:
Public Health-The Next Generation Pt 2
In today’s episode, we’re continuing the conversation in part 2 of Public Health: The Next Generation with Dr. Ashley White Jones and Dr. Antonio Gardner as we share our experiences as young, gifted, and Black public health researchers not only healing our communities, but healing ourselves.
Season 2, Episode 6: Public Health-The Next Generation Pt 2
Welcome to the Public Health Joy podcast, the safe space for real and honest conversation about what building a public health research career is really like: the challenges, the triumphs, and all the lessons we learn along the way.
I’m your host, Dr. Joyee, a Public health researcher, PhD survivor, and entrepreneur. In today’s episode, we’re continuing the conversation in part 2 of Public Health: The Next Generation with Dr. Ashley White Jones and Dr. Antonio Gardner as we share our experiences as young, gifted, and Black public health researchers not only healing our communities, but healing ourselves.
This is where research meets relationship and together, we will find our Public Health Joy!
Dr. Antonio Gardner is an Associate Professor of Health Promotion at Mississippi State University. His research interests are in health equity with a focus on rural and/or African American populations. His current research examines the risky sexual behaviors and readiness of rural African American men to participate in barbershop-based HIV prevention programs, and COVID-19 disclosure decisions among rural African Americans. Previous research examined the black church’s response to the Jackson Water Crisis.
To connect with Dr. Ashley White Jones, follow on LinkedIn and Facebook.
To connect with Dr. Antonio Gardner, follow on LinkedIn and Facebook.
If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and, leave a review! For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impact, visit https://joyeewashington.com
0:00 What brings us joy in life?
2:40 How the creative arts and science can work together to help people.
5:39 How qualitative research as therapy and healing.
7:55 The importance of empathy in the work of public health research.
16:51 What is positionality? What does it mean?
25:07 The pressure of being a young black doctor in public health.
Ashley Jones 00:00
One thing I was going to add, when he talks about, like, what brings us joy, like, I think for me, like you said, I was not the person that was like, This is what I want to do. I found my calling for the rest of my life and like to, like, I didn’t even know this existed. But I was a very, I would say, like, artistic child, as far as like drawing finding, like, I thought I was gonna be a fashion designer at one point, which is, you know, I still have the opportunity, you know, if I just put all this stuff aside, but I was gonna do that I was gonna be an architect. So there’s always been this place of like, trying to build and create things. And I think, for those of us in public health, who came from the hard sciences, the chemistry and the biology we started to be more logical, and kind of losing that piece of ourselves. So there’s this this very objective world, like, this is what it is, like, you know, we can do an equation. And it’s more, it’s always equal this. And I think public health also became a space where we could break away from that, where we had the science piece of it. But there was also this creativity, this being able to create programs pull together all these different people, networking, and the social aspect of it. Where we talk about public health is both an art and a science. And I think that was one of the other drawing pools for me is being able to marry those two pieces of my brain, it had always been, like in conflict with each other, like, you can’t do the science and you can’t do the art, you have to kind of like pick one. So in doing that, I actually was able to like reconnect with my inner child during my dissertation, because I used poetry, which was one of my big things like as a kid was just like writing, never sharing stuff, but to be able to actually in research, marry the two pieces of myself together. And now starting to see that become more appreciated with health promotion practices journal, which has a section on poetry for the public health. And so that is kind of like a new thing. Like that was never a place for those types of research and for it to be seen as legitimate and valid and valuable. But now there is. And so we talked a little bit about like, how the landscape has changed. And I think there’ll be more students who actually get to keep those pieces of themselves and not have to give it up in the name of like doing science, so to speak. And there’ll be a place for their, for their work to be to be seen. And I hope to see more of that as well.
Joyee Washington 02:40
Absolutely. Now that now that you’re saying that it makes me think about I was a Girl Scout, full disclosure, I was a Girl Scout, until I was like 17, all the way through high school. And so I got my Gold Award and Silver Award, which is the equivalent of like an eagle scout for Boy Scouts. And I remember I was I’m a church girl, too. So shout out to Beyonce, girl, too. And I was choir director, play piano at church. And I remember the first time I got to hear about music therapy, and I heard about it, I think I will they have some kind of medical doctor shadowing program on the way that was like the first time I ever saw the merge of the creative arts with science. And it was just like, mind blowing, and you’re right, we get to we get to be more creative, and public health and tying those two sides together, and seeing what we can do. And that’s kind of the beauty that public health is in everything. And that we don’t have to give up any of those things that we love, or that we’re passionate about to pursue our profession. That’s pretty cool.
Ashley Jones 03:47
I want to stay a little bit longer. Kind of just come to Jesus moment with myself, Antonio and Joyee on this podcast [laugh]
Joyee Washington 03:57
this, this is therapy in itself.
Ashley Jones 04:02
And I think there really is what… we’re working on a study now that’s looking at substance abuse in Black men, and they’re based in, we have… well I co-founded a company that does therapy, and it’s through online, they’re an online platform. And so we’ve been recruited for this study and had like a whole lot of hiccups and stuff kind of getting through it. And we we did our first set of pre pre therapy interviews, pre intervention interviews. This past week, I had a little bit of a debrief. And one of our participants kind of shared this is kind of like the first time he had a chance to really just talk and just talk about you know, what was happening in his life and why he you know, what, all his past experiences how being Black and all that has kind of led into substance substance use, which is how he actually got into the study. And so I think for a lot of us, being able to talk to people who share similar interests or particularly just an opportunity to say how you really feel. We don’t get afforded that very often. And in a place where there is like no judgment, or, you know, you just hear, just share. And nobody’s going to look at you funny or say anything about, you know what your choices were, I was just kind of here to help. So I think that that also gives us another good space and why I’m really more so drawn to that qualitative type of research. Because we get to hear people’s stories and not just really focus on what the numbers say. We’re really understanding why the numbers are the way they are. So
Antonio Gardner 05:39
kind of add to that, my dissertation chair, she kind of joked with me, because we had a nice relationship of talking and listening. And I love that’s really why I love qualitative research. So I get to hear everyone’s story. I want to talk about Ashley being the story teller, I’m more like a story-listener [laugh]. And so we have to mirror those two parts of our identities together, for sure. But there’s definitely opportunities for us to just even in the research, depending on how you phrase the question, how you pose things, it can be therapy for some individuals to tell their stories, and we want that to be a part of the research. But I hate to even say research right now, beacuse it’s not, it’s just life. Like, we need to have those conversations those Heart to Heart to hearts with each other. Sometimes, it just so happened, there’s a microphone in the room or a room zoom when we’re doing these things. But having those spaces those opportunities is definitely needed, especially for Black men. We get a lot of flack, there’s a lot that we have to you know, carry, we have to live up to these masculinity standards. And a man shouldn’t be doing this, and a real man to be doing this. And it’s like, okay, well, when do I have time to just be, just be, just be. And so creating those spaces, creating those outlets, even through the research is fulfilling in that regard, too. So we always go back and forth Ashley and I about how to even phrase a question before we even get to the interview with the pastor or an interview with some of the work that she’s doing on her end. So definitely create those spaces, create those opportunities for others to tell their stories, be receptive to what they have to say, I’m one of the people, I don’t give a lot of feedback. I’ll give feedback to Ashley in our conversations [laugh], but I really just did it to hear you talk and some people love it, some people hate it, but get that off your chest, let me help you to to engage in your own form of therapy for little to no cost.
Ashley Jones 07:51
Yeah, and Joyee I know you trying to wrap this up…[laugh]
Joyee Washington 07:55
It’s Okay, we all we on part 2 of this episode now [laugh].
Ashley Jones 07:59
But No, I was just gonna add, like, I think for us and public health, and particularly those of us who are like church kids, we also see this as kind of like our mission, our ministry work like this is like what I don’t whatever God or person, universe is telling you to do. And I think that’s also one of the reasons that we stay. And doing this because this is about like helping people. And sometimes, and this is like my real transparent moment when I read in a lot of these transcripts as we talk about a lot of trauma. And like just hard shifts, because we do a lot of vicarious racism through the work. And I was reading the transcript and I literally just started crying. I’m like, I don’t know if I’m supposed to be at work today. Because I cannot like read through these transcripts, there are some times that you really can’t separate yourself. And because we’re so connected in the black community, regardless of if we are actually related. When we do share those experiences, there’s a lot of empathy. And so by reading transcripts, sometimes it’s a very emotional piece like like going to a museum, so to speak. Like when I go to the African American Civil Rights Museum, there’s always time afterwards, which we have to just kind of sit down and reflect in the same kind of process happens like reading those transcripts. So you just have to sit on the floor sometime and cry because like, that’s my cousin and like, even though we’re not related, but it’s that and I wonder if other I’ve always wondered if other researchers ever felt that like emotional connection to their work in the same way that you know we do sometimes.
Joyee Washington 09:43
Yeah, I can’t speak for anybody else. But I know I have, this for real about to be a two part two part podcast episode. But for my dissertation, I’ve done a lot of work in sex education, right. And a lot of that stemmed from my growing up in the black church, because you grew up in the black church, sex was like a three letter word you don’t say, I mean, unless we talking about a particular Bible story. We don’t talk about that. And so and then when you start thinking about, I would probably say, most people have probably had some type of experience where they knew someone who was, you know, your friend in church who got pregnant or got somebody pregnant, and then all of the shame and all the taboo and all the, you can’t sit in the choir, no more, you got to go sit out, sit out in the pew somewhere. You know, you got to go apologize to the deacon board, you gotta go, you know, do all these things. And, you know, you kind of get the scarlet letter. Right. So a lot of that. Um, so because of my experiences, I’m so connected to it, that for my dissertation research, I also focused on sex education, and professional development, but what I chose to do was an auto ethnography. And for those who may be listening, who may not know, ethnography is focused on understanding culture. So an auto ethnography is understanding yourself in relation to the culture and understanding lived experiences. And so I went through and I literally wrote, getting back to that creative experience, I wrote out stories of my experiences of growing up in Mississippi and experiencing sex education, or the lack thereof as a student, my experience of growing up in the black church, and what the conversations around sex was, like, growing up in public school, and experiencing sex education, or the lack thereof, and then transitioning to go into Catholic school. If I thought I didn’t get sex education covered before. I definitely ain’t get it from from the nuns and Sister So and So who’s telling me Sister so and so is telling me about sex? Like, it’s just one plus one was not equaling two, the math was not mathin? And like, how am I supposed to understand sex education. So just having the opportunity, and it really was like, therapy were a lot of things that I had not sat down and processed. A lot of things that I had, I had not talked about with anyone, since I was a teenager and experienced those things. And so being and then being able to interview other people, other people who are native Mississippians and have very similar, so I could be like, Oh, you went through that too. And, like, that’s happening to other places. Like I’m not alone. Like, it really was therapeutic for me. And I learned a lot about myself. And it became a healing process for me, because for a long time, I had a period where I was like, I’m not going to church. I was like, I was in college. I don’t understand. I am not, ya’ll had me in the sheltered world, for I don’t know how long and I get to college. And I was, people wilding out. I’m like, What is going on? So I’m just trying to process everything. And I was just like, You know what, I’m not going to church, I can’t right now…
Antonio Gardner 13:25
We all have those phases where we have to drop in and out of church, I think I’m gonna in the drop out phase right now [laugh]. But I won’t go to the physical church, but I’ll definitely log in for Facebook, tune in to the Facebook services and things like that. But it can get heavy on depending on what your research is. So I had that happen. My first semester in the doc program I was doing I think it was a lit review, you had to build a lit review. And my population I chose it, like I had done this research before my master’s degree but being away from the master’s degree and then getting like immersed into the church, when I was in my gap years and being in like three different choirs, on the praise and worship team. And coming back to research on at that time, it was HIV disclosure was specifically with me, and we had sex with men. And to get into the qualitative piece and read the stories. It was like sometimes it was like soft porn. I was like, I just left, I’m supposed to go, I need to pray about this before I read the next article, or even read the next line. And so it does get interesting when you’re trying to navigate and maybe I should have done an auto ethnography or navigate, you know, placing yourself in that literature and what’s your role in interpreting those stories that are being told and how you’re because their stories already convey how you re-conveying that to your intended population and say okay, this is what the literature is saying. So it was rough to get through that lit review my first… Yeah, my first semester and so, I had to step away from the disclosure research for a while just to, you know, understand myself and placement and masculinity and all the things to get back to that type of research because, you know, when you when I was in the master’s degree, I was looking at it from what angle post? You know, being your spiritual awakening, you’re looking at things differently. And then it’s like, okay wait, who am I? What am I doing? Which is, Who am I helping? What? What’s my goal here? So that’s a whole nother discussion that needs to be had about religion and how we play ourselves and the public health research that we do that sometimes counters what we’ve been taught in the church.
Joyee Washington 15:43
Yeah. And you had to be careful about how you respond to people, when you respond to people in the community is like, okay, am I am I speaking from my position as a researcher? Am I speaking from the position of that hurt little girl? in church? Am I speaking from the position of the wilding out college student? Like, what is going on? And how am I responding to this community? Like, it really takes time to process and it’s not… when we’re talking about research, we tend to think, Oh, this is this, this is an objective thing, right? It’s numbers it’s numerical is it’s either true or false. Like there’s no in between is black and white, there is no gray. But when it comes to public health research, its gray, its rainbow colored, 50 shades, Shades of Gray, rain, shine, everything in the middle, like muddy like everything, and it takes time, and you really have to do the work on yourself, before you start going to work with communities, and it just takes time.
Ashley Jones 16:51
That’s your positionality What are your… where we talk about that in qualitative? Like those terms? What do you mean positionality? Like, I’m just me, but there are terms for how do we think of ourselves and his work? And how do our personal experiences the things that make us who we are? How does that actually fit into our research and is going to in some way, muddy the waters a little bit because a little , a little piece of us is always going to like, seep out somewhere? And whether we’re asking questions, whether we really want to know this for ourselves, or is this a part of the research and so I think that that’s why we I really loved qualitative so much, just because you got to keep who you were, you didn’t have to just kind of go into the field and this superior being Dr. So and so you got to just be Ashley from Lambert, Mississippi, just talking to folks that were in the community with her and feeling feeling valid and understood in those ways and also creating a space for other people to do the same thing. And just, I think all of us kind of go through that church break period because it’s you know, I say this, I always do. But I feel like it’s it’s at a higher level when you have decided to go take on a PhD and you start to see the world in a different light. And it’s just kind of like, sometimes, like the more you learn, the more you have to unlearn. So that’s basically like where all of us are now just kind of unlearning those things that were taught to us whether they were good or bad, just kind of trying to make those decisions for ourselves and processing all of that, like everything that we did, as a child during especially in church was not always right. But we had to do it, you know, whether we wanted to or not, that was just part of surviving or get your head knocked out [laugh].
Joyee Washington 19:00
That unlearning process is real and especially when you become older and you go back to the same church that you grew up in and you like how did I How did I make it out? It’s like they got this a tik tok or Instagram reel saying like I don’t know how I did it, but I made it happen. Like that’s I feel when I go back home and I’m like, How did I How did I make it through this? Like how did I survive and just thinking about the thought process and the type of thinking that we have in the black church and probably what we grew up with is a little bit different than what what is presented in the black church now in a lot of places because we because I know for me it was more than fire brimstone.
Ashley Jones 19:49
Joyee Washington 19:51
That Scary, scary fear of God type preaching. So
Ashley Jones 19:57
now it’s prosperity. Everybody manifesting and getting millions and stuff. I’m like my pastor didn’t tell us nothing about that. I must have been in the wrong church [laugh]. I think that, but given all the things that we have experienced, I think that is what makes our research unique. And it’s also the reason why we we are able to build that trust with community members when we do go out because we’ve had these same experiences, and nobody else, can come into that church and talk to them about sex education now, you know, or HIV or mental health, the way that we can now because we’re one of them, and we are part of them. So that makes it makes it worthwhile. Even, you know, it’s just interesting to be on the other side, like a and to be an adult, really, now go back into church and see things from a different perspective, and also like a professional that does this type of work. So people have asked me, especially during COVID, and like Dr. Jones, so what was going on with the COVID? So I’m not…I’m not Dr. Fauci, first of all [laugh], honestly, trying to stay as far away from COVID numbers right now, because this has become too much of my life. And so I’m like, I don’t really want to be asking you questions as randomly about what’s what’s the next wave gonna be? What do we need to be doing is just kind of like, I just came to church like, I just don’t know, it’s the same situation where, well similar not exactly the same, as you know when people are like, is there a doctor in the house, when there’s somebody choking or something? That’s the kind of “is there a doctor in the house” situation that we go into? Like, what is COVID? What does this mean? What and we have to answer those types of questions. And I think that’s probably been the first time that people have really understood what public health is or pieces of it. Outside of the health department, my daddy used to tell people that I sold insurance [laugh] I did work with the Affordable Care Act. So he thought the closest thing was she must sell insurance or something, so that’s what people thought I did. That’s not it, but if that helps you understand it, you know, that’s fine, we’re not gonna dispute it. Yeah.
Antonio Gardner 22:28
And with that COVID example that you gave Ashley, was, it’s the doctor in the house, I’ve just had to basically teach people how to do research for themselves,, because I can’t be on top of it all the time. Every day, it was always late breaking something, this is the latest trend, this is the latest recommendation. And I’d be sitting on the couch some days, like at lunchtime with my laptop trying to Google the terms because whoever’s on TV was talking to this level, and the population is at this level, and we’re okay let… Okay, if I have to google what’s going on. This is problematic, you know, gets into the health literacy piece and how we were ineffective as public health practitioners in a lot of regards in terms of translating that information for the general public to understand but my thing was really just showing people how to do the research that hey, is the CDC website, this is a credible site, I promise you they are credible. Not only do we depend on them in United States, but other countries depend on them as well, this is this is where you need to look for this information. This is how you find information from your State Department of Health and from your local Department of health to get all the relevant information. And then if you have questions about interpretation, that’s where I can come in. But I’m not the boots on the ground. Like this is what the rule is today, this is the recommendation today, but I can, from that research, make inferences and make recommendations. Like I’m not doing the primary research. They were the primary data collection, all these projects. So good luck. And so I ended up being the teacher again, and people don’t even look at look at us, as researchers, for example, just saying, Oh, he’s at a university. He’s a professor. All he does is teach and then they say, oh, well classes are over, you don’t have anything to do. But actually, I have a full calendar, after the students are here, and sometimes even you know, during the semester, I’ve had to, you know, change class times or move things online because I’m at a conference or I’m presenting something or I’m out in the field trying to collect data. And there’s no other time it could fit into the schedule. So there’s a lot more to it. And I think that’s the tricky part when you’re in academia and in public health is explaining what you do there and explaining the contracts and okay, this is what my split looks like. This is how much time I should be devoted to this. How much time I should be devoted to that. But circling back to the bigger issue of, okay, this is how I can be a resource for you with the skills that I have with the expertise that I have.
Joyee Washington 25:07
Yeah, and I think that for me, I can’t speak for everybody, of course. But for me, I think there’s a lot of pressure, especially being a young, black person with a PhD, and in our communities, like people just say, Doctor, and it’s like, oh, like, and the support, the support is amazing, like, the love is amazing. But the pressure people come to you with is crazy, but I think it’s also okay to say, I don’t know everything. Just because I have these letters behind my name, or I have this degree, I don’t know, everything, I know enough that got me through this dissertation. That’s that, and I’m continuing to learn. But here is how I can help and being able to, to phrase that and be able to voice that in a comfortable way to say, you know, I don’t know, I don’t. And that’s, that is perfectly fine. And then the other thing that I think is also helpful is because we come because of the communities that we come from, even if we’ve kind of grown into our adulthood, or our professional life, and our thinking may have changed, we also understand why those people may think the way that they do, those people in our community, those people who may not have had the same experiences that we’ve had, because we once had those thoughts too, because we were brought up in the same environment, but we’ve had different experiences that have allowed our thinking to change. And so being able to acknowledge that and understand that so that when you do go back to those communities, or you’re in a similar community, if they say something that you don’t agree with, or you don’t understand, you kind of have to go back and say, okay, you know what, I once thought that, but I had this particular experience that allowed me to change, just kind of having that in mind and being able to relieve yourself of the pressure that you have to know and address everything,
Antonio Gardner 27:03
right. And that’s the biggest misconception of people with doctoral degrees is that they know everything. I had to clear that up with, especially family, people from my home community, and even like staff around here, and just like, Oh, you have a PhD, you know, everything I’m like, no, we learned…
Ashley Jones 27:22
I know this thing [laugh]
Antonio Gardner 27:25
…very specific. And what I don’t know. And that’s what I appreciate about Dr. Yerby, Leah Yerby, she was my professor for that health policy and planning course, that was kind of my aha moment for Hey, maybe I should be going into this field and not pursuing this medicine thing. But every week, there’ll be a… almost every week, there’ll be a question that she did not have the answer to off the spot. And she said, Well, I don’t know the answer, but I’ll get back to you on that. And every week she started the class with well such and such ask this question last week. And here’s the response. And that really just kind of piqued my curiosity and was like, okay, but she doesn’t know. But she’s finding out, she’s doing the research. She’s following up. What does she do because some professions, physicians, they do come across as know it alls. A lot of times, they know everything about everything, and they don’t, um, a lot of times, which is how we ended up in some of these situations public health wise with the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, with a gastroenterologist saying, Hey, you shouldn’t wear a mask. I’m like, are you really the expert to give that recommendation, given your specialty? We have to clear that up professionally as well across professions, not just within public health, but MDs need to stay in their lane, DOs need to stay in their lanes, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, etc. Everybody has a lane that they’re supposed to be in, should try to stay in as best as you can. And when you don’t have the expertise, you call on the other expert to help convey the information or provide the resource, the relevant resources for whatever the issue is. And so that’s what I love about that being built into our areas of responsibility is serving as a resource. But when you don’t have the information, you know how to get the information to the population through the relevant experts on that topic. Yeah,
Joyee Washington 29:19
I’m gonna start I’m gonna start building that into my brand like definition of a researcher. My job title is, I don’t know. I don’t know. So I seek the answer. That’s what researchers do, like its built into the description. So yeah, so we just not having that pressure has been a sense of freedom for me. So I’d be glad to tell somebody I don’t know, but I can help you find the answer. Because that’s what I that’s what I do best. Right. Okay, so as we get ready to wrap up part two of this podcast episode, why don’t we tell tell the listeners kind of where where they can find you how to get in touch, how they can contact you. If they want to to ask questions or just reach out, yes,
Antonio Gardner 30:02
best place to find me is Facebook and Antonio J Gardner. I’m always on there. Because I like to stay connected to family friends just to everyone I’ve ever come in contact with there. If you can’t find me there Twitter, I’m less active there. But Antonio underscore Gardner Antonio underscore Gardner, Gardner with one E, not two E’s by the way. And LinkedIn, I finally updated my LinkedIn. Same thing, look for me, Antonio J Gardner and this was after APHA a few weeks ago. So it was like, Well, you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile, so I went back to my room, updated for the first time in about six years. So you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m more social on there now. And I think those are the social media handles where you can best find me and connect with me. And you’ll find especially on Facebook, you’ll see things about my personal life, you’ll see things about professional life, I’ll be sharing things about CHES, NCHEC, Delta SOPHE, SOPHE its just a melting pot of Antonio, on Facebook, if that’s where you choose to find me and Twitter to.
Ashley Jones 31:05
I’m currently debating if I’m going to be on Twitter for much longer. Like I love Twitter, and I’m just like heartbroken, a little bit about it like something you have to leave. But until I decide to exit Twitter, I’m on Twitter at ash a-s-h underscore n underscore White. I’m on Facebook to I think it’s Ashley White Jones. I haven’t changed my name in a couple of years. But Facebook is probably my most reliable method since I’ve had it since Facebook actually existed. So we feel really old right now. I had a Facebook before people had Facebook. I don’t even know my LinkedIn, but if you type my name in I think it should come up in in Google somewhere. For the most part,
Joyee Washington 31:57
all right. Well, I thank you all so much for an incredible conversation. And we talked about so much and I know this just went a lot longer than we anticipated. But it was incredible conversation. And I’m incredibly grateful for your time and we are going to wrap up this episode. So thank you all for joining me.
Outro: I’m so grateful for this time we got to spend together. If you enjoyed this episode, I need you to subscribe, rate and, leave a review. For more information on building a public health research career, visit www.joyeewashington.com! This is where research meets relationship and I’ll see you next time on the public health joy podcast.
Rate & Leave a Review!
Like the podcast? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify to rate and leave a review! We would love your feedback and thanks for listening to the Public Health Joy podcast!