Meet the Scholars: Samuel Baxter

Samuel Baxter is a PhD student in health policy and management at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a part of Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2016.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests. 

As a child, I liked to play outside and in church pews. As a teenager, I was captivated by Hip-Hop, driving, and how different groups of people interact in society. I am my parents’ eldest son, so they have experienced—and continue to experience—many firsts with me: having the sex talk, having the police talk, getting in trouble at school, getting a cell phone (this used to be a big deal), filling out the FAFSA, moving out of state for graduate school. I strive to make them and my siblings proud. My faith is deeply rooted in justice, redemption, and reconciliation.

Health is profoundly shaped by where we live. Yet much of the current knowledge about racial health inequities neglects this truth. Further, the health needs and vulnerabilities of men are seldom a focus in research, practices, and policies. With this in mind, my research focuses on understanding whether racial residential segregation contributes to racial disparities in cardiovascular health among young adult men in the United States.

What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing? 

I am doing what I am doing because I want Black boys and men to have the opportunity to grow old. The predominantly Black communities we live in are the safest places for us. However, being who we are and living where we live comes with more health risks than health benefits. The undeniable reports of excess coronavirus deaths in Black cities and jails shine a light on our plight and the ways that place, health, and racism (in its many forms) are connected.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.

I am excited to be leading a project that asks young Black men to identify neighborhood features that impact their cardiovascular health. In two North Carolina cities with large Black populations, I am partnering with young Black men to identify, organize, and prioritize features in their neighborhoods they believe influence their ability to maintain a healthy weight, abstain from cigarette use, and engage in physical activity. I am humbled by the support of community stakeholders to complete this project amid unexpected challenges due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know? 

Individual health choices and behaviors are constrained by the environments people live in. These environments were systematically designed. They did not occur randomly.

Who is a researcher you admire and why?

I admire renowned epidemiologist Dr. William “Bill” Jenkins. Though he is no longer here, I would not be where I am without him. I admire Dr. Jenkins because he was more than a researcher. He was a truth-teller, lover of jazz, visionary, activist, builder, servant leader, and mentor. His life lets me know that I can be a researcher and still be called to do and be other things.

How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?

Being an HPRS Scholar has helped me remain in my doctoral program. Being a first-generation graduate student, I had a limited idea of what it would be like to earn a doctoral degree. HPRS has provided me with external validation, a national network of diverse scholars, great mentors, and financial stability in my doctoral program. Its curriculum on equity, policy, and leadership have expanded my self-concept and commitment to completing this doctoral degree. I continue to be astounded by the friendship, resource sharing, and upliftment I receive from my cohort and scholars in younger cohorts. Being an HPRS Scholar has helped me remember who I am, why I need to complete my PhD program, and what can be accomplished with a scholarly community committed to advancing equity.

In the RWJF HPRS program we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be? 

My research explores the link between segregated living patterns and racial disparities in cardiovascular health among young men in the United States. I would use my research to advance the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. AFFH is part of the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) that has never been enforced. The purpose of the AFFH rule is to take meaningful actions to combat and remove the barriers that sustain disparities in housing needs, racially concentrated areas of poverty, limited access to opportunity, and segregated living patterns. In 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a regulation to finally implement this rule. In 2018, HUD halted implementation of this rule.

Ok, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you had a talk show, who would your first three guests be? 

Assuming these guests can be of the past:

• Jesus Christ
• Maya Angelou
• W.E.B. DuBois

Thank you so much for your time!

Samuel’s bio


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