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UMass Amherst Receives $2.3 Million NIH Grant in Partnership with Springfield Men of Color Group

A new collaboration between UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) researchers and the Springfield Public Health Department’s well established Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) program is supported by a recent five-year, $2.3 million grant for community-based participatory research to SPHHS from the NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

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[Photo: Dr. Louis Graham]

The lead investigator, Community Health Education Assistant Professor Dr. Louis Graham, will work with Co-Principal Investigator and Chair of the Department of Health Promotion and Policy Professor Dr. David Buchanan and MOCHA Director Dr. Antonio Delesline. They hope to enhance MOCHA’s already successful support of African-American men’s health and skills for coping with stress, as well as collect data on MOCHA’s methods that might help the project to become a national model.

The team also includes Professor Emeritus Dr. Jerrold Meyer of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Community Health Education Associate Professor Dr. Aline Gubrium, and others at UMass Medical School.

Dr. Graham says that for several years MOCHA has offered African-American men ages 35 to 65 in the Springfield area a 12-week program of social networking broadly focused on supporting health and exploring different aspects of black masculinities. Among other things, it includes members sharing stories of how they cope with life stresses such as housing, employment and relationships. MOCHA members, Dr. Graham and colleagues believe this storytelling approach might offer other groups around the nation a model for successful peer support. They collaboratively built a multi-year series of studies to define, enhance and test variations of the program.

Dr. Graham says, “Our preliminary evaluation shows that while this natural storytelling may not have been an intentional part of the MOCHA program, it has certainly contributed to MOCHA’s success. One of the things we’ll explore over the next few years is specifically why and how well it works, and if we add digital and other storytelling components as a core part of a new approach, whether it could enhance positive outcomes for participants.”

He and colleagues want to develop a model that identifies high stress markers among African-American men and strategies for coping. Studies will include questionnaires about life stresses and measuring the stress hormone, cortisol, in hair samples. The researchers hope for 25 men to sign up for each 12-week cycle, reaching a total of 240. Participants will take part in digital storytelling workshops to produce two- to three-minute videos about themselves and specific instances in their lives that illustrate their stress experience and coping resilience around topics such as housing, gender identity, poverty, discrimination, relationships, unemployment or prior incarceration.

Dr. Graham says there have been few mixed-methods studies over time with biomarker measurements of stress among African-American men. “We do have some ideas about the levels and causes of stress and contributors to disparities in stress between black and white men and between men and women, such as discrimination, lack of social support and unemployment, but there is not much data on successful interventions. With a longer study we can contribute longitudinal data on causes of stress and stress disparities and hope to produce a model explaining this.”