We are sharing the very sad news that Dr. Louis Graham, an alum of the 2016 Public Engagement Project Faculty Fellowship Program, and a former PEP steering committee member, passed away suddenly on December 29, 2019. At the Public Engagement Project, our hearts ache. We remember Louis for his incisive intellect, passion, and commitment to using research to make the world a better place, but most of all, his vibrant, creative, warm spirit, and sense of humor.
Dr. Graham received his BA from Carleton College, his MPH from Morehouse School of Medicine, and his DrPH from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Dr. Graham was an intellectual, a deep and innovative thinker, and a cherished colleague. His research addressed the health effects of marginality, including racism, homophobia and sexual minority discrimination. He was the Principal Investigator of a grant from the National Institute of Minority Health & Health Disparities, investigating chronic disease prevention with the Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) program in Springfield, MA. At the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, where Dr. Graham was an Assistant Professor from 2013-2018, his legacy lives on in the Stories Matter curriculum he developed with MOCHA, and in the UMass Amherst Center for Community Health Equity Research, which he helped found and which seeks to understand and address the complex relationship between oppression and health.
As a Public Engagement Faculty Fellow, Louis wrote a column for the Valley Advocate, titled, "Gains for the LGBT Community Must Include Gay People of Color". He also gained media coverage for his research on spatial stigma. In a Windy City Times article (later reprinted in the Tampa Bay Gay News), Louis explained, “Those who reside in socially and economically marginalized places may be marked by a 'stigma of place' that influences their sense of self, daily experiences, and relations with outsiders. By understanding these stigma, we can work to find solutions and ways to positively impact the lives of young people living in vulnerable and risky situations that rob them of their ability to reach their potential.”
In addition to a great intellectual, Louis is also remembered by his PEP colleagues as gracious, fun loving and a lively conversationalist. Amy Schalet, former Director of the Public Engagement Faculty Fellowship, recalls the deep insight, lightness of spirit, and willingness to engage others that Louis brought to his work as a Public Engagement Faculty Fellow. In one memorable fellowship meeting, when the natural scientists in the room were perplexed, Louis deftly, but with a gentle touch and using plain language, explained how systems of oppression impact wellbeing. During a trip to Beacon Hill to meet with policy makers, Louis proposed a detour to a tasty Korean restaurant to grab a meal and wait out the rush hour traffic. Amy recalls conversing with Louis over dinner about health, research, and the arts. Louis talked about the importance of finding, honoring, and expressing your voice, including through artistic modalities, a perspective that evidently informed his unique digital story, a Walk in the Woods.
Former PEP fellow, Miliann Kang, remembers Louis as “an innovative, committed and passionate teacher who supported and inspired many students. As a colleague, he was generous with sharing his insights, time, mentoring and compassion.”
“Louis Graham was a scholar. He was a thoughtful, critical, curious and flexible thinker. He loved new ideas and new ways of questioning the status quo,” said PEP steering committee member, Maureen Perry Jenkins. “His work with the Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) in Springfield was a perfect example of how research can be used to support and empower oppressed groups and he became a part of MOCHA in a way that was meaningful and real. Louis Graham was a kind, warm and caring human being. He used his voice to raise up all around him, the community members he worked with were not ‘subject participants’ but colleagues, friends and allies all working together to improve the health and well-being of all. He left us before his work was done but he left a whole army of individuals better prepared to work towards fairness, equality and health. He is missed so much already.”
The UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) has created The Louis Graham Memorial Scholarship to support graduate students from underrepresented groups in the Department of Health Promotion and Policy. This scholarship carries on Dr. Graham’s commitment to tackling structurally-rooted health inequity, improving LGBTQ health, and engaging communities to address the multifaceted effects of racism on health.
Donations to the fellowship fund can be made here or by sending a check payable to the University of Massachusetts Amherst with the memo line "HPP Louis Graham Memorial Fund" to:
David Catrambone, Director of Development
School of Public Health and Health Sciences
715 N Pleasant St
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
Additionally, Louis himself was a strong supporter of the Ruth Ellis Center which provides support to homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth.
Please keep an eye out of for efforts being planned or already underway to commemorate Louis, including an initiative by Louis’ former classmates at Carleton College to plant a tree in his memory at the college.
The Public Engagement Project Steering Committee