Black History Month Spotlight on alumna fighting to end racial and ethnic health disparities

Renee Mahaffey Harris is on the frontlines in the fight to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities in Greater Cincinnati, the tristate region and the country. The President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Closing the Health Gap and Union 2014 alumna with a Graduate Certificate in Health & Wellness, has created a number of initiatives to improve the health and quality of life for vulnerable populations.

“Sickness and premature death are preventable,” said Harris. “We are working to get the message out that health and wellness are attainable through advocacy, education, and community outreach.”

She was the co-leader of the Food Desert Task Force, jointly implemented by the City of Cincinnati Health In All Policy, and has launched several groundbreaking community-based health initiatives including the Black Women’s Health Movement.

“The Black Women’s Health Movement was created following primary qualitative and quantitative research among 114 Black women in Greater Cincinnati, and a national literature review examining health issues/initiatives, prevalent health diseases, socioeconomic impacts on health, and habits and practices relating to body and mind health,” explained Harris. “The result was a comprehensive understanding of Black women’s views and needs to live healthier lives — body and mind. We are accomplishing this through four pillars, physical health, mental health, community health, and economic health.”

She has taken a lead to educate about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“In partnership with Black physicians in Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Medical Association, we created and distributed an open letter to the Black community. This letter, which was signed by more than 50 Black physicians across the region, was designed to educate Black and Brown residents about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations.  The letter was a part of the We Must Save Us campaign that we launched with Hamilton County to encourage people to get a vaccine as soon as one is made available to them. The campaign focuses on overcoming decades of mistrust in healthcare systems and reversing early trend data related to how vaccines are perceived and distributed. Several of those physicians are featured in a video produced by the Health Gap that lays out vaccination facts, addresses the historical hesitancy around vaccines, and urges Black and Brown communities – and all people – to get vaccinated,” said Harris.

Other groundbreaking resources available at the Health Gap include a Wellness series, Black Men’s Health initiative, and much more.

Harris is an example of servant leadership and Union’s mission to transform lives and communities.

“Health education is critical work that prevents premature deaths. Lifestyle modifications can and do improve health. Join us in our mission to end social disparities in Cincinnati and throughout the nation.

Learn more about the Center for Closing the Health Gap.


Ready to start or expand your career in health education, health coaching, alternative medicine, fitness, or becoming a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)? A future in health and wellness awaits you with Union’s Master of Arts program or a Graduate Certificate in Health & Wellness.