Friday, February 16, 2024

Season 3, Episode 4: “Beyond The Gift Card” – A Conversation with The Community Lady

In today’s episode, we’re talking with Ms. Ede Crittle also known as “The Community Lady” about what it means to build community relationships in research beyond the gift card.

Season 3, Episode 4: "Beyond The Gift Card" - A Conversation with The Community Lady

by Dr. Joyee Washington and Ede Crittle


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 talking with Ms. Ede Crittle also known as “The Community Lady” about what it means to build community relationships in research beyond the gift card.

This is the joy ride you’ve been waiting for. Join us as we revolutionize public health through research done … with … for … and BY our communities. Together, let’s create our Public Health Joy!


Research is often a dirty word in communities. The harm caused by academic researchers can only be counteracted by building trust and relationships in an authentic way. And that doesn’t mean just offering a gift card for all their data! It means prioritizing the strengths and needs of communities in addition to fairly compensating them for their time.

Today we are joined by The Community Lady herself, Ms. Ede Crittle – a seasoned professional in community engagement, partnership development, and coalition building. With over 20 years of experience, Ede’s passion for grassroots organizations as the foundation for change has led her to promote equitable health through research partnerships since 2011. 

In today’s conversation, the John Hopkins’ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award recipient walks us through her professional background, how she gained her affectionate nickname, and a rundown of Project E-RACE and the other work she’s currently involved in. Then, we dive into how she is building relationships between communities and academic researchers, what true partnership looks like, and we discuss why academic researchers need to better understand the role and power of communities. To end, Ede walks us through her Beyond the Gift Card community conversation series, and we discover why she’s at her happiest when the people around her are working together. 

To connect with Ede Crittle:

Ede Crittle on LinkedIn

Ede Crittle on Facebook  

Ede Crittle on YouTube
Ede Crittle Email

Links mentioned in this episode: 

Beyond the Gift Card

Healthy Communities Coalition  

Project E-RACE Survey 

The Association of Black Researchers

For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impact, visit

Key Points

  • Introducing The Community Lady herself, Ms. Ede Crittle. [01:04]
  • Ede’s professional background and the work she’s currently involved in (Project E-RACE). [02:02]
  • How she became ‘The Community Lady’. [03:35]
  • Taking a closer look at how to improve research in community-based organizations. [06:40]
  • The difference between community-based and community-driven research. [13:20]
  • Exploring the relationship between academic researchers and their community partners. [15:20]
  • The ins and outs of Ede’s Beyond the Gift Card community conversation series. [20:14]
  • What brings her joy in her work. [25:50]
  • More details on Project E-RACE. [26:28]

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[0:00:59] JW: Welcome to another great episode of The Public Health Joy Podcast. Today, we have Ms. Ede Crittle, affectionately known as the community lady. We got the community lady with us today. She is a seasoned professional in community engagement, partnership development, and coalition building. With over 20 years of experience, Ms. Ede has consistently brought community partners and academic researchers together to create innovative programming, particularly through the project E-RACE, which we’re going to talk about today. Which stands for Equitable Research and Community Engagement, where they are redefining research through practical application, cultural relevance, and engagement. We are so excited to have you with us today. Please go ahead and tell the people who you are, what you do, what you got going on.


[0:02:01] EC: Well, first of all, Joyee, thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I really am in admiration of the great work that you are doing to extend yourself out to the community. I’m the founder and executive director of Healthy Communities Coalition, where we’re working to convene academic researchers, community, and faith-based organizations to work together. In particular, we strive to demonstrate the role and the value of research to our community partners in the delivery of programs, services, and ministries.


The ideal situation for us is to learn how to dry research, and to have these research projects be equitable, to have community partners on the ground. I guess I’m deepening our impact, measuring our impact, translating our own findings. That’s really the goal. Project E-RACE is a needs assessment of community partners and researchers, regarding their experience with research and with community academic projects. Then, to demonstrate to some of our community partners, including myself, because I was wanting this position, that research is not a dirty word, that we can redefine research, and that we can absolutely make it work for us.


[0:03:20] JW: Yes, absolutely. I want to back up a little bit, because you and I met, because Leonore Okwara, who is the founder of the Association of Black Researchers introduced us. When I started exploring who you were, and I’m like, “Oh, this is the community lady.” I want to know, how did you become the community lady, and how did you find yourself getting into this position with research? What is the backstory behind how you got here?


[0:03:53] EC: Absolutely. I’ll start with, this was never my choice. I’ll absolutely start there. I live in the community. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. I looked around, I saw a need. I spoke with neighbors, I spoke with clergy, I spoke with school systems, all in an effort to find out how can we create programming that helps youth thrive here at home, how can we create recreation centers, how can we offer computer literacy training. Just those types of things. We did so much in our community and my home community, which is in the Northeast section of Baltimore, Maryland. We actually extended bus lines to help seniors travel to and from the bank, the supermarket, the retail store, wherever they needed to go, we established a bus line to do that. 


I was just on the ground a lot. We assessed about 400 people. So whenever I went around, it was funny, if people didn’t know me because I would walk a lot through the community. They would say, they wouldn’t know my name or they couldn’t pronounce my name. So they would just call me community lady. I just accepted that title with affection. I’m like, “Okay, fine.” I’m the community lady. I’ve never even corrected them. That’s how the name came about. But my experience on the ground as an executive director of a community-based nonprofit, I understand the challenges that many executive directors face, because you’re really doing everything. You are writing the grants, you’re managing the grants, you’re recruiting staff, you’re marketing the program, you’re creating partnerships, you’re negotiating contracts. You’re doing everything on the ground yourself.


Hence, I imagine that’s why it’s called grassroots work. But as such, part of the benefits of that, part of the benefits of being recognized as the community lady, is people put their trust in you, people listen to you. You get to understand the populations better, you understand the needs of the populations. I recall neighbors asking me, who’s the best candidate to vote for, things like that. People really trust grassroots community partners on the ground. Part of that challenge, however, is we’re on the ground doing the work. That’s all we’re really passionate about, is really doing the work and making a difference in the community.


[0:06:21] JW: I think you brought up several good points. One thing I want to say is, when you are working with the community, and the community gives you a nickname, and it was a positive nickname, you are in there, you are in their culture. That is a sign that they trust you. I think that’s such an important piece of it. Especially when we’re talking about research in these community-based organizations, and like you said, when you’re the executive director, or you are the leader of this organization, you got a million other things on your plate. You’re not exactly worried about what this survey says or what this evaluation is about, especially when some researcher coming from the ivory tower, coming from the university, they only come over here when they want something. Your goal is to protect your community. You ain’t got time to deal with them. Right?


[0:07:16] EC: Absolutely.


[0:07:18] JW: We knew, we keep it real, we keep it real.


[0:07:19] EC: Absolutely.


[0:07:21] JW: When you are a nonprofit, when you are a community-based organization, you have to prioritize. You have to prioritize and figure out what is going to be the best method to have this positive impact in the community. We have to start realizing how do we equip our community-based organizations, our nonprofits, our grassroots organizations to actively understand how they can use research tools and methods themselves to achieve even greater impact. I think it goes to one of the things that you mentioned a little bit earlier, that capacity is already there. All the things that you talked about, that you were able to do in your community, the capacity is already there. The strength of the community is already there. But it’s like, hey, there are some tools and some methods in research that can help you move even further. 


[0:08:23] EC: That’s exactly it. That is exactly it. I’ll tell you, my introduction to research, my first introduction was participating on a community advisory board. Ironically, it was for a PCORI grant, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute funding. PCORI, its mission is to ensure that the research is community-driven. However, those on the ivory tower invited me to sit there as a community partner. I didn’t understand my role. I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand the value of the project to anyone in my community. As such, I asked a ton of questions. Then, subsequently, I became personnel. I became personnel at the ivory tower. My role was to actually help researchers and community partners work together.


However, the charge was to assist community partners in developing their own research projects. What I discovered was, we really don’t know what we don’t know. There’s such a strained relationship with research, that when some of us hear the word, we cringe, we shy away from it. That’s the huge challenge. But what I discovered by working in the ivory tower, was that, not only his health in every aspect of the work that community and faith-based partners are doing, because we’re impacting those social determinants. of house. We currently use research. Whenever we’re writing grant proposals, we cite research. But we don’t understand the value, the value of it or the role of research when we’re collecting data, when we’re analyzing data, when we’re deciding what we want to evaluate in the program so that we can measure our impact. I think we haven’t been taught research, the relevancy of research in our day-to-day operations.


[0:10:31] JW: Yes. Yes. Like you say, research is such a dirty word. It might as well be a cuss word.


[0:10:37] EC: Exactly.


[0:10:38] JW: In some families, like you do not say that word around here, when the surveys come in the mail, where they go in the garbage. Y’all might know that the Nielsen surveys, the TV that rates your TV habits and all that type of stuff. They send a dollar, $2 in the mail. I know that some of us took them $2 out, put it in our pockets, and throw their survey right in the trash.


[0:11:01] EC: Exactly.


[0:11:03] JW: Because the money is what we need, we need them couple of dollars. So when it comes to research, and even when you have those community members, or community partners, who are now like serving on those community advisory boards, or serving in some capacity, working with a partner with the academic researchers is like, how do we get our community members and partners up to speed? Because these academic researchers, they are long gone with their education, and their knowledge about research. It’s like, we got to spend time educating our community members and our community partners about research and data literacy. That’s part of what I do as my consulting business, is offering that training for our community members, and our community partners to really take time and understand what is research, what is quantitative research, what is qualitative research, what does ethics mean, what is data, what does data look like. There are questions that may seem simple to the academic researcher, but they are questions that need to be answered, and that our community members, and partners need to be able to understand if we want to be able to engage in what you say equitable research.


[0:12:20] EC: Absolutely.


[0:12:23] JW: You can’t expect the academic researchers to come in with all of their knowledge, all of their power, all of their stuff, and just tell community members what to do. It don’t work. It don’t work like that.


[0:12:34] EC: It’s so interesting, because it doesn’t work like that. However, it’s traditionally done like that.


[0:12:41] JW: Exactly.


[0:12:42] EC: Even when it’s framed as CVPR, it’s still done like that. I’ve kind of set – and I thought about this, because I don’t have the answer to this at all. But I’ve often wondered, I wonder if when we serve our community advisory boards. Do we equate the researcher with a doctor? Did we simply just accept everything? We don’t question it. We accept our gift card and we go home. That’s troublesome.


[0:13:13] JW: When you say it that, the first thing that came – I’m going to say what came to my mind, which is, baby, just because you put CBPR, Community-Based Participatory Research in that proposal, or that grant does not mean that you doing CBPR. Okay. Because CBPR can look like a lot of different things. Community engagement can look like a lot of different things. It’s a spectrum. To be honest, CBPR is like the bare minimum. What we need to be doing is moving towards community-driven, community-led research. That’s a whole different ballgame. Just because you came and invited your community members to sit on a community advisory board and answer a couple questions, that ain’t what we’re talking about. That’s what a lot of people do. They just assumed that I brought in the community, I got their input on something is community-based participatory research, is community engaged research. That’s the perception.


[0:14:18] EC: It really is. When we think about the question of how can we create opportunities for equitable research? How can we get both researchers and community partners on an organization’s level, on an organizational level? Those who are providing services, how can we get them into a room to have these types of transparent, honest conversations about what’s working, what hasn’t worked. And how can we work together to ensure that this has been official for the researcher who has to publish, who has to conduct research, for the community partner who is serving, and whose mission is to better people, empower them, move them from one level to the next, create avenues to sustainability. That’s what we’re doing. We’re impacting the social determinants of health. We’re helping people live longer, longer quality lives, whether it is through housing, or it’s through workforce development, or environmental health, or academic enrichment. That’s what we’re all doing. How can we do it better? How can we have a deeper impact? Using research and partnering, I would think that it’s a win-win.


[0:15:32] JW: Yes. I’ll say, with that partnership, the academic researchers need just as much training as the community members and partners. Because what has happened is, these academic researchers have gotten so disconnected, disconnected from what it’s really like for the folks who are in the community, or not even that they’ve gotten disconnected, they’ve never been connected. Let’s talk about that. They’ve never been connected. They have a source of privilege that prevents them from seeing how things really occur in the community, to see how things really happened, to be able to view that reality of what community members and community partners are facing. 


It takes the academic researcher to get up off of that pedestal, let’s talk about it and get up off of that high horse. We not going to head it, ego tripping up in here. We’re going to sit down, and we’re going to talk about it. We’re going to be able to have some training on what does it really look like to do research differently. To do research in a way that prioritizes the community’s wants and needs, and recognizes, and lifts up the community’s power as well.


[0:17:00] EC: Absolutely.


[0:17:02] JW: Because that’s super important. But as academic researchers, and look, I’m throwing myself in there too, I had to do it too. Because I had to learn what it’s really like to do community-engaged research or community-driven research, and really understand how do I position myself in a way that I am more. So maybe a facilitator, I am here to do what the community asked me to do, not have the community do what I’m asking them to do. It’s a different type of shift, but really understanding what does it take to be a true partnership. Because traditionally, academic researchers are just like, “Here, I want you to do this survey. I want you to do this interview, I want you to do this.”


But what happens when the community says, “Hey, academic researcher, we want you to help us do A, B, and C, and D. We want you to be able to sit over there, and let us do what we need to do, and we’ll call you over for help if we need it.” For the academic researcher to sit down and be like, “Okay. I am here when you need me. I’m going to step to the side. Y’all take charge, and I’m going to be here when y’all call.” That’s a totally different mindset.


[0:18:19] EC: It really is. Absolutely. It’s absolutely a shift. It’s a mindset, not just for the researcher, there’s a shift that the community partners have to make. To get to that point is ideal. One of our partner organizations in Baltimore, actually, this gentleman owns the barbershop, and he has so much space. He uses the barbershop as a platform for mental health work. He wanted researchers to come in and to devise a project, so he doesn’t know what he wants. However, he knows the assets he has, he knows the connection he has, he knows the conversations that are occurring in the barbershop, right? But he needed and wanted an academic researcher to come in to help them define what they wanted. That was difficult. That was very difficult. We contacted a couple of institutions, and it wasn’t received well, and it was very disappointing. So you have a community partner.


The question really becomes, one of the questions, how can a community partner initiate a project? That’s one of those things that we hope to address, and we hope will be revealed in part of our stream of meetings. Project E-RACE is the umbrella project. We’re promoting equitable research and community engagement. But we found that, again, even with that word research, like today, our preliminary data shows we have 48 respondents. However, most of them aren’t researchers. So me being on the ground, talking to community members, trying to get them to even take the survey about research. They’re like, “I don’t want anything to do with this.” I sat with a couple of community members, and we thought about, “Okay. How can we make this relevant to you, to at least even approach the conversation?”


Out of that came the Beyond the Gift Card community conversation series. That’s a series of monthly workshops or conversations, where researchers and community partners are invited to actually talk about research in the framework of four pillars. The first pillar is research and program design, so that our community partners can understand how they can use research, how they are using research, to actually design their programs for whatever populations they’re serving. The second pillar is research and evaluation, so that we can look at, and discuss different evaluation methods, look at what we’re evaluating. The third pillar is research data, and not just data, but specifically data use, data collection and data analysis. 


Then, the fourth pillar, we’re hopeful that after we’ve completed these first three conversations, and we’ve established these relationships, we’ve had transparent conversations that will be prepared, then to have conversations about community-driven research once we’ve established the relevancy. That’s the design.


[0:21:30] JW: I love that, by the way. Number one, I love the name, Beyond the Gift Card, because let’s be honest, we have a lot of researchers who think that a gift card is sufficient for obtaining whatever data that belongs to the community. So we have to start learning and understanding how do we build those relationships beyond that gift card, how do we view research, how do we view our data, how do we view the community’s power beyond that gift card, and what does that look like? And what does the community need beyond that gift card, right? You are serving an immediate need by giving a $25, $50 gift card or whatever in exchange for the data. But the light bill is $200.


[0:22:31] EC: Exactly.


[0:22:33] JW: Groceries are high, super high, everything is high. Yet, we’re still on a $25 gift card. How’s that equitable? That’s not to say that, a gift card in some situations is not appropriate. It may very well be, but you have to be able to know your community’s needs and their priorities in order to really understand how that partnership needs to be built for sustainability.


[0:23:02] EC: That’s a great thing. That’s what I’m going to add. That’s it right there. You can’t just come in, as you mentioned, and study the community, leave the gift card. And then don’t even return to disseminate your findings, or to even allow the community to actually participate in every part of that research process, including translating the data.


[0:23:27] JW: The community needs to be a part of every step of the process, and is getting academic researchers to understand, you don’t take it upon yourself to figure out what the problem is, and go apply for that grant or go submit their proposal, and then come back to the community, and say, “Hey, we got the grant. Now [inaudible 0:23:51].” So it’s this understanding, how do we partner with the community from the very beginning, through every aspect of the process, to the very end, and then create a solution for sustainability so that when they grant money run out, when there’s no more funds available. 


[0:24:14] EC: That’s it.


[0:24:15] JW: And the application cycle is closed, that the community members, and the community partners still know what to do. They can still carry on, even when all that stuff isn’t available, because that’s the true win. That’s the true win right there.


[0:24:34] EC: Absolutely. Creating sustainable projects. If the community already owns it and understands it, then there are no worries.


[0:24:43] JW: Exactly.


[0:24:44] EC: We are definitely on the same page. There’s work to do and it’s possible.


[0:24:49] JW: Yes. It is most certainly possible. While we’re on it, with the Beyond the Gift Card conversations, tell folks how can they learn more about that, or what is it going to look like. Is it virtual? Is it in person? What does it look like? How can people know more about this Beyond the Gift Card conversations?


[0:25:08] EC: Absolutely. I would love to appeal to both community partners, as well as researchers. The workshops will start in March the third, Thursdays. Please mark your calendars. To find out more information, you may contact me directly. My first name,, or you can also go to the website.


[0:25:32] JW: We’ll drop the email in the show notes for everybody, so you can definitely contact Ms. Ede about the Beyond the Gift Card conversations, and how to participate, and all the information about that. But I will ask this question, because I have to ask it, because the people want to know, what brings you joy in your work?


[0:25:57] EC: Wow. What brings me joy in my work is actually seeing work done the way it should be. That really brings me joy when people are engaged with many people, our community partners, when we are working together, when we’re respecting one another, and listening to each other. And when we’re making a difference, and when you can actually see the difference, where it’s easily measurable. That only brings me joy. It brings me joy when we all work together towards a common goal.


[0:26:26] JW: I’d love that. I was also going to ask for Project E-RACE if people want to know more about that, where do they go to learn more about Project E-RACE? Or if they wanted to participate in any way, what would that look like for them?


[0:26:42] EC: Oh, great. To learn more about Project E-RACE, please log on to We’re always looking for researchers and community members, and community or faith-based partners to serve on the research advisory council. Where you can advise the content, you can help develop new programming, you can disseminate your findings, you could participate in any, way we would love to have you.


[0:27:09] JW: Amazing. Y’all need to make sure y’all contact the community lady. Okay? Because they got some amazing work going on with Project E-RACE. Ms. Ede, I’m so grateful that I was able to have this conversation with you, and thank you for coming onto the podcast to interview. I definitely – I know we’re going to have some more conversations in the future, and I’m definitely going to attend the Beyond the Gift Card conversations for sure.


[0:27:37] EC: Yes. I am looking forward to it. Your energy is wonderful. I appreciate your heart and your spirit. Thank you for all you’re doing.


[0:27:45] JW: Thank you. This is going to wrap up another episode of The Public Health Joy Podcast. 




[0:27:52] JW: I am so grateful for this time we get to spend together. If you enjoyed this episode, I need you to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impact, visit This is where research meets relationship. I’ll see you next time on The Public Health Joy Podcast.



 © 2024 Joyee Washington Consulting, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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