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Welcome to Black History Month with the Illinois Public Health Association. During Black History Month, which runs from February 1-28, IPHA will be recognizing Black/African American IPHA members.

From the evils of slavery to the inequities of the Jim Crow era which extend into the modern day, Black/African Americans have struggled against increased risks and poorer outcomes for myriad health conditions, including obesity, stroke, and cancer. Yet despite being historically excluded from equal access to opportunities in education and health care, Black/African Americans throughout history have created their own spaces for brilliant breakthroughs in every major discipline of public health. From historical figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman, to contemporaries such as Deborah Prothow-Stith, Barack Obama, and the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, African Americans are fighting back against health disparities, and leading the charge to promote health and well-being for all Americans.

By sharing the stories of current IPHA members, we hope to highlight the ongoing legacy and contributions the Black/African American community continues to provide to the health and well-being of American society, as well as highlight the strength and vibrancy of the Black/African American community in the face of generations of systemic inequality and racism.



Dr. Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Environmental and Occupational Sciences Division

Health Policy and Administration Division

University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health

Our first Black History Month IPHA Member Spotlight is Dr. Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH. She currently serves as adjunct assistant professor in Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Division, and Health Policy and Administration Division of the School of Public Health at University of Illinois Chicago.

She previously served as the Chief Medical Officer for both the Cook County Department of Public Health, and the Ambulatory and Community Health Network of Cook County. She was a Bureau Acting Chief at the Chicago Department of Public Health and served as President of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group of the American Public Health Association.
Dr. Murray has dedicated her career to advancing public health in Illinois, working in internal medicine and occupational therapy, and teaching internal medicine and midwifery among other courses. She is an active member of her community, involved with several organizations and groups over the years. From 1981 to 1983, Dr. Murray was part of the First Congressional District of Illinois Health Task Force under Harrold Washington, and returned to that role from 1985 to 1992 under Congressman Charles Hayes.
Stay tuned as we continue to highlight influential African American IPHA Members throughout February in honor of #BlackHistoryMonth. Are you interested in becoming an IPHA member? Join today to #PowerPublicHealthForward in Illinois ➡


Connie Brooks, MPH, BSN

Public Health Consultant

Connie is a retired IPHA member who previously served as President of our Association from 1993-1994. Connie is an accomplished public health strategist and thought leader who has dedicated her 40-year career to addressing health care disparities and increasing community engagement.
Connie served as a consultant and regional health officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health, Associate Director of the Illinois Department of Human Services, and a public health consultant specializing in designing, developing, implementing and evaluating community health improvement strategies.


Ngozi Ezike, MD


Illinois Department of Public Health

Dr. Ngozi Ezike was appointed by Governor JB Pritzker to serve as Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health on January 31, 2019. Less than a year later, as Illinois began its battle against COVID-19, Dr. Ezike became a familiar face in the fight, updating Illinoisans daily, imparting information through a lens of compassion, knowledge, equity and professionalism.

Prior to joining the Department of Public Health, Dr. Ezike worked for over 15 years with Cook County Health promoting the organization's mission of “delivering integrated health services with dignity and respect regardless of a patient’s ability to pay”.

As a board-certified pediatrician and internist, Dr. Ezike delivered inpatient care at Stroger Hospital, formerly known as Cook County Hospital, as well as primary and preventive care in community and school-based clinics. As Medical Director for the Austin Health Center, located on the West-side of Chicago, she saw patients of all ages and engaged with the community through health initiatives involving obesity, diabetes, and breastfeeding.

In her last role with Cook County Health, she served as Medical Director at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, the largest single site juvenile detention facility in the country. She was instrumental in creating and implementing the facility's health policies as the first step of many for coming out of federal receivership and achieving national accreditation for the detention center. Additional achievements included the implementation of universal STI screening for all youths at admission and the establishment of an annual Fall Influenza Vaccine Blitz to educate and promote flu shots for the youths and staff alike. As part of Healthy JTDC 2020, she partnered with profit and non-profit organizations to sponsor the detention center’s first running program which culminated in a 3K/5K run event. Dr. Ezike is a national policy advisor on juvenile correctional health topics and has presented at numerous local and national conferences for both medical professionals and youth audiences. She has also served as a federal court monitor for health-related matters concerning juvenile correctional facilities under consent decree.

Dr. Ezike graduated with honors from Harvard College with a concentration in chemistry. Her medical degree is from University of California at San Diego. She completed her internship and residency at Rush Medical Center where she is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. She also earned a management certificate from Harvard Business School.



Karie Stewart, MPH, MSN, CNM, APRN

Director Director of Midwifery

University of Chicago Medicine

Karie comes from a public health background prior to her nursing career at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she obtained her masters of science in nursing in midwifery. She currently serves as the Director of Midwifery at the University of Chicago Medicine. She advocates not only for pregnant black women on the South Side of Chicago to have access to quality health care, but also supports and empowers persons of color through her nonprofit, Melanated Midwives, which provides scholarships to financially support midwifery education for students of color.
Melanated Midwives has also collaborated with other entities to host educational webinars to provide support and education to individuals of color through their pregnancy.
Stay tuned as we continue to highlight influential African American IPHA Members throughout February in honor of #BlackHistoryMonth. Are you interested in becoming an IPHA member? Join today to #PowerPublicHealthForward in Illinois ➡


Stacy Grundy, DrPH

Research Assistant Professor, Department of Population Science and Policy

SIU School of Medicine

Meet Stacy Grundy, DrPH, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Science and Policy at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Dr. Grundy has a distinguished career that reflects continual advancement, a depth of valuable and diversified experience, and consistent achievements in driving innovative, cost-effective population health strategies within healthcare systems and diverse communities. Dr. Grundy’s practice and research focus on the drivers of health inequities among underserved, vulnerable, and marginalized populations.

In March 2020, Dr. Grundy supervised Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Pandemic Health Worker Program. This program sought to remove barriers to health and community services for underserved Illinois residents and those most at-risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Grundy is an effective communicator and decision maker and brings a forward-thinking, inclusive, and multidisciplinary approach to public health practice.

Continue to follow along as we highlight IPHA members for #BlackHistoryMonth! Are you interested in becoming an IPHA member? Join today to #PowerPublicHealthForward in Illinois




Michael Gaines, MPA

Correction Coordinator, Division of Infectious Diseases HIV/AIDS Section

Illinois Department of Public Health

Today's Black History Month IPHA Member Spotlight is Michael Gaines, MPA, Correction Coordinator for the Division of Infectious Diseases HIV/AIDS Section with Illinois Department of Public Health.
Michael reviews and creates literature for best practices around the state associated with linkage to care from correctional facilities to HIV Care. He assesses the current status of how local jails deal with HIV care upon release and ensures compliance of state and federal laws associated with HIV with correctional facilities and county jails. Michael received his bachelor’s in criminal justice from Grambling State University, Louisiana and his Masters in Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
He also serves as a past Board Member for the Illinois Literacy Volunteers, an Executive member of Springfield NAACP, and the Springfield Boys and Girls Club and Springfield Urban League. Michael is also a mentor and Board member with the Youth Service Bureau.
Michael has been recognized as a Community Re-entry Champion, and awarded an Outstanding Work in the Field of Correction Re-entry award with his work with the Illinois Department of Correction. He has also been awarded the Forty under Forty Leadership Award from the Springfield Business Journal, Springfield Citizens Award from Springfield Visitors Bureau and the Walk the Talk Award for Men Against Violent Crimes Against Women.
Continue to follow along as we highlight IPHA members for #BlackHistoryMonth! Are you interested in becoming an IPHA member? Join today ➡


Veronica Halloway, MA, MAS

Program Administrator, Center for Minority Health Services

Illinois Department of Public Health

Meet Veronica Halloway, MA, MAS, Program Administrator for the Center for Minority Health Services at the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Veronica has over 15 years of service at IDPH, focusing on addressing health disparities and the impact of social determinates of health on Illinois’ racial and ethnic minorities. Her work directly impacts the health and well-being of minorities, low-income, and other marginalized populations, mostly through the implementation of community-focused and place-based interventions.
In addition to serving as co-chair for the Health Equity Council at IDPH, she belongs to numerous organizations and associations focused on equity and social justice work, including the National Association of State Offices of Minority Health where she serves as Secretary.
Veronica also co-leads the State’s COVID-19 Equity Team, a diverse group of public, private, and community-based partners and advocates, working together to address the disproportionate and negative impact of COVID-19 in our communities of color.
Veronica holds a MA in Communication from the University of Illinois, Springfield, and a MAS in Population Health Management from Johns Hopkins University.
IPHA is honored to work alongside Veronica as she continues to dedicate her career to addressing health disparities.


Gina Lathan, PhD, MPH

President & Chief Executive Officer

LathanHarris, Inc.

Meet Gina Lathan, PhD, MPH, today’s Black History Month Member Spotlight! Dr. Lathan is President and Chief Executive Officer for LathanHarris Inc., (LHI), a multi-disciplined program evaluation, project management and technical assistance firm. Dr. Lathan manages and evaluates multi-year and multi-site projects for the Federal Office of Women’s Health, the Federal Office of Minority Health, state agencies and the private sector.
Dr. Lathan is the former Chief for the Immunization Section and the Assistant Chief for the HIV/AIDS Section for the Illinois Department of Public Health. Dr. Lathan has successfully managed multi-year budgets in excess of $70 million, led several strategic planning processes and multi-agency collaborations. Dr. Lathan has also successfully coordinated a city-wide Court Diversion program for women arrested for drug-related offenses.
Dr. Lathan is a graduate of the University of Illinois-Springfield, Master of Public Health program, the W.K Kellogg Foundation’s Multicultural Executive Leaders Fellowship, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she earned her PhD in Community Health with specializations in Public Policy and Program Evaluation.
Dr. Lathan is a past board member of the National Black Alcohol and Addictions Council, the Illinois Public Health Institute and Memorial Behavioral Health. Dr. Lathan is also the former Health Equity Chairperson for the Illinois Public Health Association, and past member of the state of Illinois COVID Health Equity committee.


Erica Austin

Deputy Director, Community Care

SIU School of Medicine


Erica Austin is a native of Springfield, Illinois.  She currently works at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (SIU-SOM) as the Deputy Director in the office of Community Care. She has been very instrumental in COVID-19 testing centers. She has planned, implemented, and leads a team of people to provide COVID-1 tests to anyone in the community free of charge.

Erica is committed to improving her community by decreasing the disparities specifically among persons of color by providing education, social support, policy development, and addressing social and environmental justice issues. She has over 10 years of experience in community, family, and youth engagement.  Her areas of expertise are youth development, community organizing, volunteer development, and diversity and inclusion.

She has received numerous awards of appreciation for her time and commitment in dedication to the youth and the Springfield community as a whole. Most recently she was the recipient of SIU School of Medicine’s Dr. Alonzo Kenniebrew award. The Dr. Kenniebrew Equity Award is an acknowledgment bestowed upon an individual or organization actively promoting inclusive excellence, contributes to and enhances the environment of Springfield through a sustained commitment to improving opportunities for the diverse communities we serve.

Erica is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at Illinois State University in the Higher Education Administration program.  She founded her own non-profit for youth The L.Y.N.C. (Leading Youth, Networking communities), serves on a host of boards, and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.



Dr. Leslie McKnight

Community Care Director of Community Health Policy and Planning

Peoria City/County Health Department

Dr. Leslie L. McKnight is the Director of Community Health Policy and Planning at the Peoria City/County Health Department. She is responsible for the development and implementation of the Partnership for a Healthy Community Health Improvement Plan and health promotion and equity interventions throughout the Tri-County region. Dr. McKnight has over 20 years of experience in public policy and community development for local government agencies and has managed millions of dollars in grassroots and public-private partnership programs and activities related to housing, community, health, and economic development in Central IL. She holds a PhD in organization development from Benedictine University, Springfield IL and a Master of Science degree in Human Services Administration from Spertus College in Chicago, IL. She is published in many academic and leadership journals and is an adjunct professor in the Master of Business Administration program at Bradley University. Her research interests include organization strategy, adaptive leadership, and change management. Dr. McKnight’s most recent article, ‘Building Healthy Communities’, was recently featured in Peoria Magazines.  

Recent accomplishments. Secured 1.5M of funding for Lung Health Education and Programming for the Tri-County Region Partnership for Healthy Community through the Edwards Coal Plant environmental litigation settlement.

Coordinated the first Southside Farmers Market in Peoria's low-income community to address food insecurity and high obesity rates.  



Demetrius Willis, MS, RD

Assistant Coordinator of Nutrition Services

Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center

Demetrius Willis is an African American doing great work in public health! 

Demetrius Willis is the Assistant Coordinator of Nutrition Services at Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center (LCHD.) He has been with the Health Department for nine years.  Demetrius is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s degree in Health and Physical Education as well as a Master’s degree in Business Administration.  He has been practicing in the field of dietetics for 19 years.  Demetrius has worked in the public health sphere for 11 years and has successfully created and implemented nutrition education strategies and interventions that cater to the needs and culture of the population he serves.  Demetrius is recently featured in, and contributed content to, the 2021 seventh edition of “The Profession of Dietetics” by Deborah Canter and Rebecca DeYoung Daniels, a text for those who wish to begin a career in nutrition and dietetics.  Demetrius co-chaired the Lake County Diabetes Action Team which brought together community organizations to collaborate on diabetes education, management and prevention initiatives in the community. He currently is an active member of the LCHD Diabetes Work Group, an internal effort to improve diabetes programming at the Health Department.

In addition to Demetirus’ outstanding contributions to Health Department within his original job description, Demetrius is a past chair and a long-standing member of the Lake County Health Department’s Inclusion and Diversity Council.  This is a group that brings awareness and facilitates conversations about diversity and inclusion with those who serve the community.  By co-hosting monthly conversations with staff members, many who live in the community, he has opened up conversations about race, religion, prejudice and misunderstandings that plague our community and employment sectors.  By increasing the frequency of these conversations during the country’s civil unrest, political and COVID-19 confusion, he helped open the door to open discussion and better understanding.”  Demetrius sees that these honest conversations are what is missing in our public health sectors.  He feels that broken systems and complacency are major contributors to inequalities in understanding and supporting mental and physical health.  Demetrius also feels this is at the root of societies’ health and social disparities.

Most recently, Demetrius was tapped to take on additional responsibilities in leading a grass roots community group that aims to address COVID-19 in the Black Community as well as other health disparities that exist within this community.  In the 8 months since its inception, the African American Community Partnership Group (AACPG) has disseminated 23,000 PPE kits, adult and children’s masks, and hand sanitizer. Additionally, the group organized a free flu shot event. The AACPG has used several strategies to make public health knowledge accessible for Lake County’s African American community including using written, social media (Facebook, YouTube and Instagram), videos and radio media. Demetrius has used various platforms to have discussions with State Representatives, local community leaders and local community hospitals about COVID-19 and its impact on the Black community. He facilitated a townhall meeting in February 2021 in an effort to have an honest and transparent conversation about the COVID-19 vaccine with physical and mental health professionals.  He explains that “all these efforts are so that people can make an educated and informed decision about their own health.” 

Demetrius knows that athletics are a great tool to connect with youth and to open up mentorship opportunities.  Demetrius is a volunteer basketball coach at his local gyms.  He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and has helped lead efforts to establish a mentorship program for at risk black youth in Lake County.  Through “Project Alpha” he has helped collaborate with local schools to link them to this free program that is designed to provide education, motivation and skill-building and address issues of responsibility, relationships, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases for young males ages 12-17 years old.  This program allows for a trusted and safe environment to discuss social, health and political topics with youth.  There are monthly meetings with young men to provide a structured environment for development on their path to manhood.