Forum on Medicine, Race, and Ethnicity in St. Louis, Past to Future

Program & speaker bios

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Clark-Fox Forum, Hillman Hall

Washington University in St. Louis


8 am | Welcome and introduction

Land acknowledgment: Adriana Sanchez

Rebecca Messbarger, PhD

Cultural historian Rebecca Messbarger is director of Medical Humanities and professor of Italian, affiliate professor of history, art history, performing arts, and women, gender and sexuality studies, as well as a fellow in the Institute of Public Health at Washington University. She served as president of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies during the 2021–22 academic year and is current past president of the society.

Her award-winning research centers on the Italian Enlightenment, in particular the intersection of anatomical and medical science, visual and plastic art, religion, and the shifting roles of women in the eighteenth-century public sphere.

She is the author of numerous articles, including “The Re-birth of Venus in Florence’s Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History,” in the Oxford Journal of the History of Collections, winner of both the James L. Clifford Prize and the Percy Adams Prize for best article in 2012–13.

In 2020–21 Messbarger was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome to conduct research on her new book project, “Ghostly Light: How Criminal Corpses Animated the Italian Enlightenment.” She has received major grants and fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and Washington University’s Center for the Humanities. She also received major funding in 2021–22 from the Gateway Foundation, the Kemper Foundation, the Edward Jones Foundation, among other St. Louis donor institutions, for the civic arts project she conceived and produced, Requiem of Light: A Memorial for St. Louisans Lost to Covid 19.

Link to website:

Mary M. McKay, PhD

Mary M. McKay, PhD, is the vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives in the Office of the Provost at Washington University in St. Louis. The mission of her role is to enhance interdisciplinary research and education across the Danforth Campus and to build the collaborations the community needs to ensure the successful implementation of the university’s strategic plan.

McKay joined WashU’s Brown School of Social Work as dean in 2016, continuing the school’s legacy of creating vital knowledge, initiating social change and preparing leaders to address social and health challenges both locally and globally.

McKay’s academic experience connects deeply to both social work and public health. She has received substantial federal funding for research focused on meeting the mental health and health prevention needs of youth and families impacted by poverty. She also has significant expertise in child mental health services and implementation research methods, as well as over 20 years of experience conducting HIV prevention and care-oriented studies, supported by the National Institutes of Health.

She has authored more than 150 publications on mental and behavioral health, HIV/AIDS prevention and urban poverty, and more.

Prior to joining the Brown School, Dean McKay was the McSilver Professor of Social Work and the inaugural director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work. She previously served as the head of the Division of Mental Health Services Research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Her prior academic appointments include Columbia University and University of Illinois at Chicago.

Link to website:

Gerald Early, PhD

Gerald Early, PhD, is the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters in the Department of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where he has taught since 1982. He also has courtesy appointments in the Program in American Culture Studies and the Department of English at Washington University. He earned an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in English and American literature from Cornell University.

He is currently the interim director of the university’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity. He has previously served as the chair of the Department of African and African American Studies and director of the African and African American Studies Program.  He has also served as the director of the American Culture Studies Program and was the founding director of the Center for the Humanities.  He is the executive editor of The Common Reader, Washington University’s interdisciplinary journal that is published under the auspices of the Provost. From 2009 to 2012, Early served on the advisory committee for tenure, promotion and personnel for the School of Arts and Sciences.

Early is an award-winning essayist, author and editor. He has served as a commentator for NPR and as a consultant for multiple documentaries with Ken Burns. He is a noted American culture critic, a prolific anthologist, and currently serves on a number of non-profit boards in St. Louis. He was nominated by President Obama to serve on the National Council on the Humanities, was confirmed by the Senate, and served a six-year term beginning in August 2013. That same year, he was awarded a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Link to website:

8:30 am | Keynote address

Will Ross, MD

Will Ross, MD, MPH, FASN, FACP, FSACME, is associate dean for diversity and principal officer for community partnerships at Washington University School of Medicine, where he is the Alumni Endowed Professor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology.

A graduate of Yale University, Ross completed medical school at Washington University School of Medicine, an internal medicine residency at Vanderbilt University, and a renal fellowship at Washington University. He completed a master’s of science in epidemiology at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health.

Ross is renowned at WashU for his excellence in patient care, teaching and research and for his dedication to the medically underserved. Over more than two decades, he has recruited and developed a diverse workforce of medical students, residents and faculty while promoting health equity locally, nationally and globally through collaborations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials in Ethiopia, Haiti and South Africa. He is currently chair of the board of directors of the Mid-America Transplant Services Foundation, chair of the St. Louis City Board of Health and a member of the CDC’s Health Disparities Committee, where he promotes diversity in the public health workforce.

Ross is co-founder of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Center for Diversity and Cultural Competence, which works to ensure that all patients have equal access to high-quality health care. He served on the task force that created the Washington University Institute for Public Health and is co-director of the MD/MPH program. In 2021, he was honored with the distinction of being named the Washington University School of Medicine’s first Alumni Endowed Professor.

Link to website:

9:00-10:15 am | The History and Legacy of Homer G. Phillips Hospital

Student Host: Mishka Narasimhan

Ken Ludmerer, MD (moderator)

Kenneth M. Ludmerer, MD, is the Mabel Dorn Reeder Distinguished Professor of Medicine and History of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. His research interests are in the history of American medicine, with particular reference to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His work has focused on understanding medicine in a broad intellectual, social and cultural context.

Ludmerer is best known as a master clinician and teacher. His passion for system improvement has earned him the role of the country’s leading ambassador of the principles and values of graduate medical education (GME). His book, Let Me Heal, provided the intellectual foundation of the new set of Common Program Requirements that govern all residency and clinical specialty training programs in the country, effective July 1, 2017.

His honors include the Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Association of American Medical Colleges Abraham Flexner Award for Distinguished Service to Medical Education, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Two of his books have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize.

Ludmerer earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard College in 1968 and his master’s degree and medical degree from John Hopkins University in 1971 and 1973, respectively. He did his residency training at Barnes Hospital, postgraduate fellowship at Harvard University and chief residency in internal medicine at Barnes Hospital. He joined the Washington University faculty in 1979.

Link to website:

Ezelle Sanford III, PhD

Ezelle Sanford III, PhD, is an assistant professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University and visiting assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. His scholarship sits at the intersection of African American, medical and urban histories. He is particularly interested in histories of race, science and medicine from the nineteenth century to the present.  He is currently working on a book project titled “Segregated Medicine: How Racial Politics Shaped American Healthcare,” which utilizes the case of St. Louis’ Homer G. Phillips Hospital, America’s largest segregated hospital in the mid-twentieth century, to trace how the logic and legacy of racial segregation established structures of healthcare inequality that persist to this day. His work has been featured in popular and academic publications and has received several fellowships and awards.

Sanford earned undergraduate degrees in anthropology and public health from Washington University in St. Louis. He was a John B. Ervin scholar and a Merle Kling Undergraduate Honors Fellow with the Washington University Center for the Humanities. He completed graduate degrees in history and history of science from Princeton University, earning a master’s degree and a PhD.

Beyond his scholarly pursuits, Sanford is a dedicated third-generation educator and mentor and continues a lifelong dedication to social justice and diversity advocacy. At Princeton, he helped to found Intersecting Queer Identities (IQI), an organization dedicated to educating and promoting community among LGBT+ graduate students with intersecting marginal identities. He also designed and co-facilitated #Woke101, a six-week intergroup dialogue course with the LGBT and Carl A. Fields Centers. 

Link to website:

Candace O’Connor

Candace O’Connor is an award-winning, St. Louis-based freelance writer and editor. She specializes in historical and medical writing and is the author of 13 books on Midwest history. For more than three decades, her stories have appeared in local and national publications such as Adirondack Life, Washington University in St. Louis Magazine, Engineering Momentum, Focal Spot and St. Louis Magazine.

Of the 13 books she has written, 11 are institutional histories. She has written histories of iconic St. Louis institutions and locations such as Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Central West End, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, and various internal departments of the Washington University School of Medicine.

O’Connor served as the creative consultant for St. Louis’ NineNetwork film called A Place Worth Saving: The Story of the Central West End. The documentary tells the story of the famous St. Louis neighborhood through interviews, an archive of oral histories, and O’Connor’s book Renaissance: A History of the Central West End.

In 2001, she won a regional Emmy Award for the PBS documentary she wrote and co-produced, Oh Freedom After While: The Missouri Sharecropper Protest of 1939. The nationally aired film explores the story of preacher Owen Whitfield and the 1,500 evicted sharecroppers whose demonstrations for agricultural workers’ rights along the Missouri highways paved the way for the protests of the American civil rights movement.

Link to website:

Zenobia Thompson

Zenobia Thompson, RN, is a community leader and veteran activist. She graduated from the Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing in 1965 and went on to serve 54 years as a nurse before her retirement.

In 1977, Thompson, then a head nurse at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, joined the effort to prevent St. Louis city leaders from closing the first teaching hospital west of the Mississippi River for black students. Homer G. Phillips Hospital had been the only hospital for African Americans in St. Louis from 1937 to 1955, and its patients remained largely African American after desegregation. Thompson became a leader in the movement to keep the historic black teaching hospital open. Ultimately, it shuttered in 1979, but her activism against racism and discrimination continued.

Thompson received the Martin Luther King Award for leading the struggle to save Homer G. Phillips Hospital. She has served as a board member of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and was a founding board member for the Workers Educational Society, which educates young people in building progressive coalitions, including the campaign to raise the minimum wage. She participates with Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the Organization for Black Struggle. Furthermore, Thompson has served as the co-chair of the St. Louis Free Angela Davis Committee and is a veteran of dozens of electoral campaigns focused on electing African American trade unionists to local and statewide office.

In 2019, Thompson received the Lifetime Achiever in Health Care Award at the 19th Annual Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards Luncheon to honor her courageous activism and decades of service.

Link to more information:

Martha Nelson

Martha A. Jackson Nelson, graduated from Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing in 1961. She later attended the Washington University School of Medicine Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Program and became nationally certified.

Her span of nursing consists of Homer G. Phillips Hospital Pediatric Division, Jewish Hospital Child Psychiatry, St. Louis Country Health Department Well Baby Clinics, Mobile Unit, People’s Health Center Pediatric Department and the Adolescent School Base Clinic. Martha has a passion for taking care of children who were medically underserved.

Martha served as a volunteer for Metropolitan St. Louis, Sickle Cell Association for many years with her main emphasis on education of families with children with sickle cell disease, health care professionals and the general public. This was accomplished by planning and developing workshops and conferences. She appeared and spoke on several local radio and TV programs discussing the treatment and care of children with sickle cell; in addition she served on the executive board serving as first vice president and local poster child chairperson.

With her knowledge in sickle cell disease, she accepted a position in 1997 with the Medical Genetics Division of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis Children’s Hospital to develop the sickle cell newborn screening program, which included identifying and tracking patients with sickle cell disease. Later she transferred to the Hematology Division and continued to see newborns with sickle cell disease. Currently, she continues to speak at local and national conferences educating medical personnel and parents about the care and treatment of newborns with sickle cell disease. Over the years she has become an exceptional advocate and expert for the children and families who are affected by sickle cell disease.

Martha has written and published in Pediatric Health Care and AORN journals, with several articles related to sickle cell disease. She has also written a curriculum for parents of infants and children with sickle cell disease.

She has been recognized with awards including Outstanding Service Award with Sickle Cell Anemia Association, Homer G. Phillips Alumni Service Award, Anheuser Busch Companies St. Louis Award, US Public Health Service Award in Health Care, St. Louis Association of Nurse Practitioner and Associated for Outstanding Pediatric Nurse Practitioner of the Year Award, and Order of Eureka Rite F & A.M, Lifetime Achievement Award Outstanding Community Service Work with children who have sickle cell disease.

Martha resides in St. Louis, Mo., she has one daughter and is the grandmother of two grandsons.

10:20-11:35 am | Questions of Health and Well-being in the St. Louis Latin American Community

Student Host: Sofia Angulo-Lopera

Leopoldo Cabassa, PhD (moderator)

Leo Cabassa, PhD, is professor and director of the PhD Program in Social Work at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. He earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and Spanish from WashU, as well as master’s of social work and PhD from the Brown School of Social Work.

Cabassa’s dedication and passion for engaging in health disparities research has been shaped by his social work practice and research experiences in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. His work focuses on improving health and mental health care for underserved communities.

His research centers on examining physical and mental health disparities, particularly among racial/ethnic minorities with serious mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression). Cabassa’s work blends quantitative and qualitative methods, community engagement, intervention research and, more recently, implementation science. His findings are making significant contributions in improving depression literacy and reducing stigma towards mental illness in the Hispanic community, identifying and understanding racial/ethnic health disparities in people with serious mental illness, and examining the adaptation and implementation of health interventions aimed at reducing these health inequities.

Cabassa was inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) in 2021 and appointed to the Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Scientific Review in 2022.

Link to website:

Gabriela S. Ramírez-Arellano

Originally from Guanajuato, Mexico and inspired by her own experience growing up as an immigrant in the United States, Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano has a passion and commitment to help others. She is a bilingual business strategist, public speaker, and small business owner currently living in St. Louis, Mo. 

Ramírez-Arellano helps small business owners achieve their dreams as the executive director at the Center for Emerging Technologies and director of entrepreneurship at CORTEX. Through her podcast, Auténtico, she empowers and showcases bilingual Latinx professionals and small business owners. She promotes social equity and prosperity through her work at the BALSA Foundation. During the pandemic, she co-founded STLJuntos, a nonprofit that translated state-issued COVID-19 information into Spanish.

She has been recognized as a thought leader in social innovation and entrepreneurship and was named one of the Top 100 people to know in St. Louis to succeed in business in 2017.  She has appeared on St. Louis Public Radio, featured in the STL101 Speaking Series and on various panels on food entrepreneurship. She has been recognized as a Diversity Champion by the MO Department of Transportation and a Diversity and Inclusion Champion by the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers.

Gabriela earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Missouri–Columbia and an MBA from Lindenwood University. She graduated from the 2021 Leadership MO class and is most proud of raising amazing children who inspire her to help make the world a better place.

Link to website:

Diego Abente

Diego Abente is president and CEO of Casa de Salud. Casa de Salud is a nonprofit clinic in St. Louis that provides high-quality medical and mental health services for uninsured and underinsured patients, focusing on new immigrants and refugees who face barriers to accessing other sources of care.

Combining his immigrant story, passion for service, and 20 years of nonprofit management experience, Abente leads a results-driven team of staff and volunteers. In this role, he sets the vision for programmatic growth and financial sustainability as well as Casa’s contributions to building a better regional safety net.

Abente earned a bachelor’s degree in law from Catholic University in Paraguay, a master’s degree from Birmingham University in the UK and an executive MBA from Washington University in St. Louis. Previously, he served as vice president of economic development and president of the community development corporation of the International Institute of St. Louis. He also has experience practicing law in Paraguay and nonprofit management in Equatorial Guinea.

In 2022, Abente was an honoree of St. Louis Business Journal’s Champions for Diversity & Inclusion Awards. The award celebrates those championing the cause of making St. Louis a more inclusive and equitable place to live and work.

Link to website:

Julia López, MD, PhD

Julia López, MD, PhD, MPH, LCSW, is a public health researcher who uses her clinical practice skills to further advance the field of sexual health using public health and social work theories and frameworks. She earned undergraduate degrees in social work as well as Spanish and international studies from Saint Louis University. Subsequently, she earned a master of social work, master of public health, and PhD in public health sciences from Saint Louis University.

Since 2018, López has been a faculty scholar with the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2021, she became a faculty affiliate with the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity at WashU. López teaches graduate-level courses at Saint Louis University and WashU on trauma care, community health, and equity and inclusion.

López melds her clinical expertise in trauma, stigma, mental illness and substance use disorders with public health theories in an effort to further advance health equity among underserved minority populations. López is focused on addressing gaps in research and clinical practices in the areas of sexual and gender minority (SGM) health, racial disparities, HIV care and women’s health. Her goal is to engage and provide a platform for these populations through practice, research and community collaboration. Her focus is to reduce health disparities affecting SGM populations by understanding the mechanisms through which different types of trauma/minority stress impact mental health and substance use. She is committed to public health interventions and clinical care by way of behavioral and social science research, with a priority to maximize translation into community.

Link to website:

11:40 am-12:55 pm | Questions of Health and Well-being in the St. Louis Asian Community

Student Host: Joanna Im

Anna Crosslin (moderator)

Anna Crosslin is of Japanese and European heritage, moving to America from Tokyo at the age of 2.5.

In 1978, Ms. Crosslin took the helm of the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL). During the following decades, the IISTL sponsored almost 25,000 refugees, re-energized the South Grand business district, and ensured essential integration services for thousands of foreign-born newcomers.

During her 42+ year tenure as the institute’s CEO, Ms. Crosslin was routinely named one of the “Most Influential St. Louisans.” Among dozens of local and national awards, Ms. Crosslin was recognized by President Obama in 2015 as a White House Champion of Change for World Refugee Day. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from Webster University and from Washington University, her alma mater.

Currently, Dr. Crosslin remains serving on the Board of the Missouri Historical Society, and was recently appointed a Commissioner for Tower Grove Park. She is a member of the St. Louis Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

Caroline Fan

Caroline Fan is the founder and president of the Missouri Asian American Youth Foundation. Her background is in community organizing and launching startups founded by women and founders and color. She began her career in the media shop of the AFL-CIO, and has worked on issues from immigration reform to transportation debt equity in over 10 cities. 

As a startup adviser, she has won civictech competitions and judged startup competitions in places as far as Seoul, Korea. Caroline is deeply involved both locally and nationally, serving on boards and committees for institutions including the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Red Cross of Eastern Missouri and the Asian American Action Fund. As a teen, she was published in a women’s anthology alongside the late Representative Patsy Mink and civil rights journalist Helen Zia. She earned a BA in English and Asian studies from Williams College and a MPA from Baruch College through the National Urban Fellows program. 





Harold Law, PhD

Harold Law was born in Shanghai on February 28, 1935. Harold came to the United States as a refugee in 1956 and pursued undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas. He went on to the University of Michigan for his graduate studies, then Washington University for his doctoral studies in engineering. Harold and his wife, Helena, founded an engineering company, Decisions and Advanced Technology Associates, in 1986.

At Washington University, Harold served as a National Council member at the School of Engineering and was awarded the Engineering Alumni Achievement Award and the Ethic of Service Award. Among other recognitions, Harold most recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 by the Organization of Chinese Americans. Harold and Helena also received the Asian Pacific American Pioneers Award given by the City of St. Louis.

Harold later volunteered for 9 years at the nonprofit organization Christian Chinese Community Service Center (CCCSC), and fully retired in 2012 at the age of 77. 

Amana Nasir, MD

Amana Nasir, MD, is a pediatric gastroenterologist, serving at Mercy Hospital, St. Louis for over a decade and has been a practicing physician for over 20 years.

Dr. Nasir was born at Fort Bragg, NC, and raised in Pakistan. She attended medical school at Aga Khan University, Pakistan, completed a pediatrics residency at Charleston Area Medical Center, and followed that with a pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition fellowship at Brown University.

With a foundational belief in community improvement, Dr. Nasir has played an active role in the medical education field, receiving “Teacher of the Year” and “Clinician of the Year” recognitions, as well as “Top Docs” by STL magazine 2021.

Among various community-based projects, Dr. Nasir has been involved in establishing the St. Louis Youth United for Diversity, Pakistan Day projects that focuses on involving young Pakistani Americans in projects, and civic engagement and mental health awareness programs.

She resides is St. Louis with her husband and two kids; her family enjoys serving and volunteering together and they are her strength and inspiration for continued service.

1-2 pm | Lunch (provided)

1:30-1:50 pm | Performance

Philip A. Woodmore, PhD, and the Phil Woodmore Singers perform gospel favorites in honor of Black History Month and in conjunction with the Forum on Medicine, Race, and Ethnicity. 

Student Host: Chloe Carlish

Philip A. Woodmore, PhD

St. Louis native Philip A. Woodmore has been an active member of the St. Louis music community for many years. Phil received his bachelor’s degree in business marketing and music vocal performance from Saint Louis University, his master’s degree in music education from Webster University, and his PhD in music education from the University of Missouri-Columbia. His research interests are the changing voice, voice pedagogy and the transformative power of music. His dissertation is on the transformative power of music in the choral setting using the auditioned choir in the Off-Broadway run of Antigone in Ferguson. Phil taught choir one year at Ferguson and Berkley Middle Schools in the Ferguson-Florissant School District and then became the choir director at Crestview Middle School in the Rockwood School District, where he taught for 12 years. Along with his work in Rockwood, Phil was the coordinator of the voice program at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) and the artist director of the Allegro Music Company from 2008 to 2017, the director of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Choir from 2009 to 2017,  the director of the Northern Arizona University Gospel Choir from 2014 to 2017,  artist in residency for the State of Arizona for a two-year term from 2016 to 2018, minister of music at Trinity Community Church from 1992 to 2018, and vocal coach for adults and children in St. Louis, Los Angeles, Phoenix and New York. 

In August 2016, Phil was asked to compose an original score of a version of Antigone translated by Bryan Doerries called Antigone in Ferguson, which has been traveling the country for the past six years, including a national university tour, an Off-Broadway premiere and an international premiere in Athens, Greece. Since the success of Antigone in Ferguson, Phil has written an original score for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon, The Drum Major Instinct, and also for a speech by Frederick Douglass. Both premiered in New York. The Drum Major Instinct was also presented at several universities in the U.S. and was performed virtually on MLK Day 2020 during the pandemic, with two representatives from Congress playing Dr. King. Phil joined the Muny family for the 2020 summer season and was honored to be the music director for the Muny Kids for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons. 

During the pandemic, Phil took the opportunity to document his journey through Antigone in Ferguson in his first book, Antigone in Ferguson: A Journey Through the Transformative Power of Music, available on Amazon and his website. In June 2021, Phil was named as one of the newest board members for Prison Performing Arts. Phil is excited to be a part of this team and share his passion for music with this community in St. Louis, Mo. In an effort to create a space for our St. Louis community to mourn the loss of life during the pandemic, Phil collaborated with Washington University professor Rebecca Messbarger, PhD, on an event in St. Louis called Requiem of Light. Phil was named the artistic director of the event and wrote several original compositions that premiered during the historic event in October 2021 and were also performed at a lantern lighting ceremony of over 1,800 lanterns at the Grand Basin in the iconic Forest Park in St. Louis in April 2022. During the fall semester of 2021, Phil took on another passion and began a master’s in psychology at Arizona State University. Phil is excited to explore psychology and connect the theoretical frameworks he engages with to his work in the arts.

For more information on Philip A. Woodmore, please visit

Phil Woodmore Singers

The Phil Woodmore Singers assembled in 2016 after the artist director of Theater of War Company, Bryan Doerries, commissioned Philip A. Woodmore, PhD, to compose musical selections for Antigone in Ferguson, a show based on a new translation of the classic Greek play, which premiered in St. Louis, Mo., on September 17, 2016. The choir is comprised of members of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Choir, Trinity Community Church Choir, students from the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) in University City, several of Woodmore’s voice students, as well as singers from the greater St. Louis community.  

Woodmore, a St. Louis native, has been directing choirs for the past 25 years and is grateful for the opportunity to direct the Phil Woodmore Singers. Since the premiere of Antigone in Ferguson, the choir has performed at the Onassis Center in New York, New York; the PopTech Conference in Camden, Maine; Coppin State University in Baltimore, Maryland; the BRIC organization in Brooklyn, New York; Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts; and Holy Cross College in Worchester, Massachusetts.  

The Phil Woodmore Singers made their national television debut in 2017 at the Veiled Prophet Parade on July 1st. The group performed in the opening number, sang on a float presentation and performed an original arrangement of “America the Beautiful” written by Woodmore during the finale.  

In June 2017 the Phil Woodmore Singers had the honor of traveling to Greece for an Antigone in Ferguson workshop and performance followed by a performance in Brooklyn, New York, July 2017.  In June 2018 the Phil Woodmore Singers traveled back to Athens, Greece to perform Woodmore’s second project with the Theater of War Company, The Drum Major Instinct, for its international debut. Following two successful trips to Greece, the Phil Woodmore Singers were honored to be invited to perform in Antigone in Ferguson’s Off-Broadway run at the Harlem Stage in the fall of 2018 and at the St. Ann and Holy Trinity Church for a 10-week run in Brooklyn in 2019. During the pandemic the choir was able to put together a virtual choral presentation of Woodmore’s hit song, “I’m Covered” and were the featured performers for St. Louis’ Requiem of Light Memorial Service in 2021. The Phil Woodmore Singers are excited to continue sharing the “good news” across the St. Louis region and look forward to what is ahead.

To God be the glory for the great things He has done!

2:00-3:15 | Activist and Reparative Art

Student Host: Raevyn Ferguson

Vanessa Cooksey (moderator)

As the Regional Arts Commission’s (RAC) third leader and first president and CEO, Vanessa Cooksey leads the largest public funder of the arts in St. Louis. Cooksey has more than 25 years of business and civic leadership experience. She’s held marketing, communications and philanthropy leadership positions with a variety of companies. She is known for her ability to build results-driven partnerships, facilitate dynamic collaborations, create high-performing teams and effectively convene diverse stakeholders.

A serious change-maker, Cooksey has led innovative arts, education, technology, and health and wellness initiatives reaching millions of children and adults over the course of her career. Always willing to serve in her community, her humanitarian efforts over the last three decades have helped promote and advance human welfare and social reform across the United States. Highly sought-after for her expertise in governance, organizational culture, talent development, DEI and reputation risk management, she has served and continues to serve on multiple local and national nonprofit boards including the SIFMA Foundation for Investor Education, Harris-Stowe State University, Vote Run Lead and Mercy Hospitals.

Cooksey earned a bachelor’s degree in radio-television-film from the University of Texas at Austin, a master’s degree in business administration from Webster University and has studied and traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia. She has received more than 50 awards for her industry and community work, including the 2016 Eisenhower Fellowship and the 2018 St. Louis American Corporate Executive of the Year. Not one to take life for granted, Vanessa enjoys cycling, cooking and spending quality time with her family and friends.

Link to website:

Cbabi Bayoc

Cbabi (pronounced Kuh-bob-bi) Bayoc is an internationally known visual artist and illustrator residing in St. Louis, Mo. His subjects include family, children, music and a bunch of other cool stuff designed with line, bold color and phunk!

Bayoc, whose birth name is Clifford Miskell Jr., adopted his name CBABI (Creative-Black-Artist-Battling-Ignorance) during his time at Grambling State University (1992–95). In 1997, a legal name change took place at the time of his marriage. Later, he would change his last name to BAYOC (Blessed-African-Youth-Of-Creativity) as something that could be shared with his future children.

Bayoc has experience as a caricature artist at Six Flags over St. Louis as well as for Rap Pages magazine. Through this exposure, he was contacted by Violator Management to create the artwork for the cover of the Violator Compilation, Vol.1 album. The year before, Bayoc was approached to exhibit artwork at Dignity House in St. Louis, which was a beneficiary of musician Prince’s Love 4 One Another (L4OA) charity tour. Prince liked what he saw and collected Bayoc’s art for many years. Prince used a piece by Bayoc, “Reine Keis Quintet,” as the cover art for his 23rd studio album, The Rainbow Children, which was released in 2001.

In 2012, Bayoc began his 365 Days with Dad series. This New Year’s resolution to paint a positive image of black fatherhood each day for the entire year resulted in a journey that was inspiring (and exhausting!), ultimately resulting in the sharing of many stories of good experiences, no experience and hopeful experiences of Dads of all life stages. The project started a dialogue within the community about the importance of a strong foundation and support system for all children, no matter the age.

Link to website:

Simiya Sudduth

Simiya Sudduth is a mother, multidisciplinary artist, and art educator living in St. Louis, Mo. They maintain a fluid creative practice that explores the intersections of healing, wellness, ecology, social justice and spirituality. Their expansive creative practice ranges from digital illustration, designing and painting murals to experimental sound healing performances. In addition to maintaining their art practice, Sudduth is a full time K-6 art educator at a progressive independent school in St. Louis.

In the past, Sudduth’s work has often been site specific, creating in direct response to the space their work inhabits. Past projects include holding spaces within public, collaborative sound healing performances, billboards, large scale murals and working directly with the land through urban agriculture and landscape architecture-based projects. 

Sudduth’s visual arts practice informs their work as a healer, while the study and practice of a variety spiritual and healing modalities inform their visual arts practice, equally. Their work fluctuates between attending births as a doula, facilitating group sound healing, breath work, movement, meditation experiences, creating drawings, installations and facilitating social justice-based community arts programming for youth.

Sudduth has been an artist-in-residence across the United States, and their public work has been covered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Link to website:

Aja Corrigan

Aja Corrigan is a local historian and community advocate. She works as the managing director of art platform Counterpublic. Her mission is healing community trauma, and she believes the way to do this is through education. As the cultural term “Sankofa” beckons us, by “reaching back” and inspiring the community, the youth and St. Louis descendants with the trials, tribulations and triumphs of our ancestors, we can actually move forward. While researching information to share with the St. Louis community, she began sharing the stories of the tragic desecration and erasure of history occurring at local heritage sites. She is a founding member of The St. Louis Preservation Crew, a local nonprofit committed to leading uncomfortable conversations to ensure the protection and ethical restoration of these historic landmarks and ancestral repositories. 

Corrigan is the founder of the Saving Washington Park Initiative, which aims to bring awareness, organize cleanups and try to get local institutions involved at the Washington Park cemetery. She also helps people locate the graves of their ancestors, as many gravestones have toppled over, have cracked from improper landscape maintenance or have been displaced.

Corrigan has a bachelor of arts & sciences in communication and psychology and shares local history through her platform, Our St. Louis HiStory. When Aja is not busy with Counterpublic and community advocacy she enjoys discovering things she can’t live without like Solfeggio frequencies, Alexa skills and her air fryer!

Link to website:

3:20-4:35 pm | The History and Legacy of Pruitt-Igoe

Student Host: Evan Bradley

Geoff Ward, PhD (moderator)

Geoff Ward, PhD is professor of African and African American studies and faculty affiliate in the Department of Sociology and American Culture Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis. He is director of the WashU & Slavery Project, a university initiative based in the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE2), in partnership with the consortium of Universities Studying Slavery. He earned his undergraduate degree in sociology from Hampton University and the PhD in sociology from the University of Michigan.

His scholarship examines histories, dimensions and legacies of racialized violence and their reparative implications. In addition to numerous research articles and essays, he is the author of The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice, an award-winning book on the contested history and haunting remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice. 

Rooted in the black sociological tradition, Ward has been committed to an engaged public-facing academic practice throughout his career. He combines scholarship with organizing and creative work, including the development of archives, exhibitions and digital projects to engage broader audiences, support innovation in teaching and facilitate the visibility, use and impact of academic research. He serves on the national advisory board for Monument Lab’s National Monument Audit, and locally as a member of the Mayor’s Commemorative Landscape Taskforce in Clayton, Mo., and the Reparative Justice Coalition of St. Louis, a network of volunteers working with Equal Justice Initiative and other partners to address legacies of racist violence in the region.

Link to website:

Robert Hansman

Bob Hansman earned a BFA (drawing and painting, English literature, religious studies) from the University of Kansas, a time that he points to for its fervent impact on his perspective and commitment to civic and community engagement. He highlights meeting Coretta Scott King, Julian Bond and Bobby Kennedy and getting beaten up by members of the Ku Klux Klan as some critical moments in his path to this work.

An associate professor in the Washington University School of Architecture, Hansman developed a course — Community Building, Building Community — that brings Washington University students together with residents of Hamilton Heights, Clinton-Peabody, Kinloch, the Ville and other St. Louis neighborhoods to discover opportunities for shared personal and community involvement. Hansman has been a leader, a learner, a teacher, a partner and an advocate for these and other communities in St. Louis for over 25 years.

In 1994, Hansman founded City Faces, a year-round art and mentorship program for kids living in the Clinton-Peabody public housing downtown. In 1996 he moved his studio into the projects, and in 2002 he adopted one of his first students, Jovan, who now directs the day-to-day operations of City Faces. In addition to teaching WashU and City Faces students, Hansman sits on the board of directors for the Lucas Heights Neighborhood Initiative and Paint Louis, is the co-coordinator of St. Louis Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Coalition Art Program, and has been the president of the board of directors for Open Door Art Studio. Over the course of his career,  Hansman has received numerous accolades for his profound commitment and impact on civic and community engagement in the St. Louis community.

Link to website:

David Serlin, PhD

David Serlin, PhD, is associate professor of communication and science studies and affiliated faculty in critical gender studies, urban studies, and the interdisciplinary group in cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego. He is also an affiliated faculty at the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University.

His research interests include historical and cultural approaches to disability, technology and the politics of design; architecture, urbanism and the built environment; material culture and museum studies; scientific and aesthetic histories of the senses, especially tactility and cognition; and feminist, crip and queer theories of embodiment and subjectivity.

Serlin is an award-winning author. He has received the inaugural Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize from the Modern Language Association for his book Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America. He is an editor-at-large for Cabinet and a founding editor of the online journal Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. From 2000–18 he was a member of the editorial collective for the Radical History Review. 

For 2020–21 Serlin was awarded the Rome Prize in Architecture from the American Academy in Rome for a project titled “Sensory Design and Architectural Empathy in the Progetto Ophelia.” During Serlin’s fellowship year at the academy, he examined the Progetto Ophelia in relation to other architectural sites and also as a forerunner of contemporary projects that engage multisensory and empathic design elements to innovate architectures of disability for the twenty-first century.


Candace Borders

Candace Borders is a PhD candidate at Yale University and co-organizer of the Public Humanities Working Group at Yale University. She is pursuing a joint PhD in American Studies and African American Studies.

Borders graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2017 with a BA in American Culture Studies, cum laude. Her research questions center on how African-American women experience and theorize their lives at the nexus of race, gender, sexuality and public assistance. More specifically, she is interested in Black women’s relationship to public housing. As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, she wrote an honors thesis, “‘You Knew You Were Equal’: Black Women Constructing Place in Pruitt-Igoe,” based on interviews with Black women who grew up in St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe housing project. Prior to starting her graduate studies, Borders was an editorial assistant for Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society, and worked as the PNC Arts Alive Fellow at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. She has also worked in museum education at the Yale University Art Gallery. In her spare time, she practices and teaches yoga.

Her dissertation work engages interdisciplinary methods to study the intersections of race, gender and public housing in St. Louis. In 2019, Borders received an award for a paper presented at the National Conference of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH). Her paper, titled “Towards a Method of Refusal: Black Women’s Housing Activism in St. Louis,” was awarded the SACRPH Student Paper Prize for the best conference paper submitted by a full-time student.

Link to website:

4:40-6 pm | Bodies at Risk: Obstetrics, Trauma, and Disease

Student Host: Mihi Dormeville

Vetta Sanders Thompson, PhD (moderator)

Vetta Sanders Thompson is the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity and associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned a bachelor of arts in Psychology and social relations from Harvard University and earned a master’s degree and PhD in psychology and clinical training from Duke University.

Sanders Thompson’s research focuses on the health and well-being of diverse communities, particularly the African American community. Her scholarship addresses racial identity and socialization, implications of experiences of discrimination and sociocultural determinants of disparities. Her goal is to empower members of the community to improve their health and well-being through education and opportunities for action. Her funded research addresses promotion of cancer screening among African Americans and community engagement.

Sanders Thompson currently leads the Brown School’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, as well as co-directs the Center for Community Health Partnership and Research at the Institute for Public Health at Washington University. She is also an associate member of the Siteman Cancer Center and a faculty affiliate of the Department of African and African American Studies. She teaches courses in human diversity, disparities and mental health.

A licensed clinical psychologist, Sanders Thompson is active in professional associations. She served as an associate editor for the APA journal PsycCRITIQUES, a past chair of the State Committee of Psychologist, and past president of the Missouri Psychological Association. In 2022, she was awarded The St. Louis American’s 2022 Lifetime Achiever in Health Care award.

Link to website:

Dineo Khabele, MD

Dineo Khabele, MD is the Mitchell & Elaine Yanow Professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine. She is a recognized physician-scientist with extensive clinical and translational research experience in gynecologic oncology, with a focus on ovarian cancer. Her ovarian cancer research interests include chemotherapy resistance, DNA repair, epigenetic targets for therapy and targeting the tumor microenvironment. She is a dedicated educator and mentor to students, residents, fellows and faculty. She is an advocate for women’s health, women’s cancers and health equity.

Khabele is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and gynecologic oncology and earned undergraduate and medical degrees from Columbia College and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York. She completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell University Medical Center, followed by a clinical fellowship in gynecologic oncology and postdoctoral research training in cancer biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. She was a scholar of the Reproductive Scientist Development Program and the Amos Medical Faculty Development Program Scholar/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Her research has been recognized by awards and elections, including election to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2019.  She is a member of the NIH SPORE grant review committee and currently is serving as program director for the Society of Reproductive Investigation and co-chair of the Health Disparities Committee of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons, among many other national and local committees.  

Link to website:

Sowande' Mustakeem, PhD

Sowande' Mustakeem, PhD, is associate professor of history and of African and African-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Born in Pittsburgh, Penn., and raised in Atlanta, Ga., she was the first person to graduate with a degree in African American studies from Elon University. Afterward, she earned a master’s degree in African and African American studies from Ohio State University. Thereafter, she went to Michigan State University, earning a PhD in the Department of History’s Comparative Black History Program.

Mustakeem is an author, educator, speaker and community organizer. She has published a multitude of articles and essays related to her wide array of interests including race, gender, terror, violence, medicine and healing, illness, criminality, pop culture and public memory. Her most recent contribution appeared in the online publication Vox, “6 Myths About the History of Black People in America.” She has been featured on BBC radio and was likewise on Henry Louis Gates’ PBS documentary series “Many Rivers to Cross.”

In the spring of 2017, she became the first African American ever tenured through the tenure track process in the Department of History at Washington University. Mustakeem is globally known for her two-time award-winning book, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage. It was the winner of the 2017 Wesley Logan Prize for the best book for the history of the African Diaspora, jointly awarded by the American Historical Association and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, as well as the 2020 Dred Scott Freedom Award for the Historical Literacy Excellence from the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation.

Link to website:

Elvin Geng, MD

Elvin H. Geng, MD, MPH, is professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine and director of the Center for Dissemination and Implementation at the Institute for Public Heath, both at Washington University in St. Louis.  He earned MD and MPH degrees from Columbia University and underwent postdoctoral training through the Aaron Diamond AIDS Institute at Rockefeller University (posted to Kunming, China), where he worked on HIV testing, treatment and prevention among people who inject drugs.  He also completed a fellowship in infectious diseases at the University of California in San Francisco.

Using the lens of implementation science, Geng conducts research to advance the use of evidence-based interventions in the public health response to HIV and COVID-19 as well as increasingly for noncommunicable diseases. He has worked closely with service-delivery organizations in Kenya, Zambia, Uganda and the U.S. to advance strategies for HIV treatment success. This work includes assessing the comparative implementability and effectiveness of community-based and other innovative models for HIV treatment, testing adaptive strategies for engagement in HIV treatment, and using the patient experience to drive health systems improvement.

Geng has been a member of the World Health Organization’s Guideline Development Group for HIV and a Commission for Human Resources for Health in Rwanda convened by the National Academies of Science. He has authored over 125 peer-reviewed papers and is an academic editor at PLOS Medicine, an editorial board member of JAIDS and Journal of the International AIDS Society, and the editor for implementation science at Current HIV/AIDS Reports.

Link to website:

L.J. Punch, MD

L.J. Punch, MD, is changing the way we think about medicine from the inside, out. An incredibly talented and revered trauma surgeon, Punch is a transmasculine, nonbinary, biracial, neurodiverse human who loves to heal. Educated in medicine at the University of Connecticut and trained in surgery at the University of Maryland and Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, this desire to heal has brought to life a career with a three-fold focus: education, trauma and equity.  

Moving to Ferguson post-Ferguson to be on faculty at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, this work came to life for him in the development of a wide variety of educational and clinical resources in the management of surgical emergencies across the entire spectrum of illness and healing. In 2018 he collaborated with numerous health care professionals, students and community members to create “The T,” a community of health working to reduce the impact of trauma through broad public health campaigns, mobile outreach and brick-and-mortar services. In the wake of the pandemic, he left academic medicine to be the executive director of The T, with an expanded focus on multiple sources of trauma disproportionately experienced by Black people including COVID-19, bullet injuries and opioid dependence. This includes the creation of the Bullet Related Injury Clinic, or “The BRIC,” a community-based free clinic for patients and their loved ones who are discharged from the emergency department after being shot, with a focus on the experience of the Black masculine body. 

Event sponsors & partners

Center for Community Health Partnership and Research

By fostering community-academic partnerships, communication and research in the region, the Center for Community Health Partnership and Research works to reduce disparities and improve health and wellness.

Center for the History of Medicine at Becker Medical Library

The Center for the History of Medicine aims to be a community-building entity to encourage, support, and facilitate multi-institutional events, programs, and exhibits focusing on the history of medicine. Through these activities the Center will address its goals to educate future generations of physicians, scientists, and scholars; offer an historical perspective on the evolution of clinical and scientific knowledge; and highlight the School of Medicine’s important discoveries and innovations. It will also include programs to emphasize non-Western influences on medicine, how systemic racism has adversely impacted medicine, and historical illustrations of the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion on medical advances and patient care.

Center for the Humanities

As humanists, we explore the durability as well as the fragility of the human condition — opening windows onto worlds near to home and oceans away, worlds we interpret through stories and images, poems and performance, history and narratives, sounds and silence. At Washington University in St. Louis, the Center for the Humanities facilitates the labor of humanists by nurturing innovative research, transformative pedagogy, and vibrant community engagement locally and globally.

Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE2)

CRE2 brings the research force of Washington University to study how race and ethnicity are integral to the most complex and challenging issues of our time. We believe in field-defining research, innovative learning, and strategic engagement that will transform scholarship, policy, and clinical interventions where race and ethnicity are at the center. 

Here and Next, Office of the Provost

The Forum on Medicine, Race, and Ethnicity in St. Louis, Past to Future is supported by the Office of the Provost and Washington University’s ten-year strategic vision, Here and Next, designed to mobilize research, education, and patient care to establish WashU and St. Louis as a global hub for transformative solutions to the deepest societal challenges. When we bring our community together around topics that expand our knowledge and our perspectives, we stimulate the open, vibrant environment that will make our strategic vision possible.

Institute for Public Health

The Institute for Public Health harnesses the strengths of Washington University in St. Louis to address the complex health issues and health disparities facing the St. Louis region and the world.

Medical Humanities

The Medical Humanities minor offers students the opportunity to explore health, illness, and medical care in their varied historical, philosophical, aesthetic, and socio-political contexts. Students and faculty bring a variety of backgrounds and aspirations to the minor. Together, we deploy humanistic methods to investigate enduring questions. What is illness? What is health? What does it mean to heal? How is disease socially constructed? How do inequalities of race, class, and gender affect the experience of illness and access to care? How does biomedicine relate to other forms of medicine? How do the answers to these questions vary across time and place, whether in the contemporary U.S. or ancient China? These are just some of the core questions that drive our studies.

WashU and Slavery Project

The WashU and Slavery Project, based in the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE2), joined the Universities Studying Slavery group in 2021. The project explores the relationships between slavery, its legacies, and Washington University’s institutional history. With an emphasis on research and teaching — including supported student research and creative projects, and in close partnership with the university libraries, archives and museum — the WashU and Slavery Project conducts foundational research; further organizes and contextualizes relevant collections in the university archives, libraries, and museum; creates a digital project infrastructure; and facilitates an array of campus and community engagements.