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Naa Oyo A. Kwate '02Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Human Ecology and Africana Studies at Rutgers University

Alumna’s Research on Racism Earns Award for Young “Health Leaders”

Joining a roster of “extraordinary health leaders” under 40 years old, Naa Oyo A. Kwate ’02Ph.D. is one of 10 practitioners and researchers to receive the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) first-ever Young Leaders Award.

“It’s a little surreal,” said Dr. Kwate, an Associate Professor of Human Ecology and Africana Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. “To be counted among such an eclectic group of people, who bring so many diverse perspectives to the table, is a huge honor. When I learned that they’d received 850 applications, and I was one of only 10 they’d chosen, I was floored.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created its Young Leaders Award in recognition of the foundation’s 40th anniversary. Each honoree received $40,000 as part of the award, which highlights the early contributions made by many young health practitioners and researchers. Based in Princeton, NJ, the foundation is the largest U.S. philanthropy devoted exclusively to public health.

"As we reflected on our accomplishments over the past 40 years, we also wanted to look to the future," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF President and CEO. "We're proud to acknowledge our honorees’ early success, and we’re inspired by the potential they have to improve U.S. health and health care.”

Dr. Kwate’s research focuses on the health impact of racism, inequality and “neighborhood context” among African Americans. She began studying these areas as a doctoral candidate at St. John’s. “There’s a lot of important work that’s being done on the topic of discrimination and social inequality,” she said. “The academic experience I gained at St. John’s was instrumental in shaping my understanding of the field, especially the ways that social position affects people’s health.”
In 2009, while an Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Kwate won the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award.    The award supported her research into racism’s complex health effects on urban African-Americans. Dr. Kwate also developed a “counter-marketing” campaign to combat those effects. Conducted in African-American neighborhoods, the campaign employed outdoor advertising that highlighted facts about inequality.

Beverley Greene, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, was Dr. Kwate’s mentor at St. John’s. “She was always a shining star among her peers,” said Dr. Greene. “It’s no surprise that she has accomplished so much, so early in her career. Her research is groundbreaking in its importance, and we are extremely proud to call her one of our own.”