What’s your role in public health?
Well, I wear a few hats. I am the founder and CEO of Pillar Consulting, a global research consulting firm headquartered in Durham, North Carolina. For the past ten years, we’ve partnered with nonprofit, academic, corporate and philanthropic organizations to provide consultation on the development, implementation, evaluation and dissemination of their efforts.
All of our work is rooted in equity, and we offer a portfolio of services including contract management, needs assessments, equity audits, employee surveys and membership surveys.
I currently serve as the co-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee for Leadership North Carolina and recently was nominated for membership to the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. I’m super excited to serve our great state in each of these roles. And of course, I’m still connected to the Gillings School, serving as an adjunct assistant professor in the Public Health Leadership Program.
Can you describe your focus area in one sentence?
I guess that “sentence” would be our mission at Pillar Consulting: Build capacity, encourage innovation and foster change.
What brought you to public health?
I honestly did not know that public health was a formal field of study. I spent much of my childhood volunteering with my mother at local community events and saw this work as a responsibility. A duty. It was meaningful and rewarding in so many ways. My mother learned this responsibility from her mother, and her mother learned it from her mother. That’s our legacy of service.
In fact, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather built the first Black-owned convalescent center in Miami, Florida, in the 1930s because no one else would serve Black people. Imagine that. A carpenter and midwife with little to no resources decided they could meet this need. The City of Miami dedicated a building, the Rosie Lee Wesley Health Center, in my great-grandmother’s honor in 1990.
My mother, Dorothy Gaines Banks, spent her childhood working in the clinic and also was a proud candy striper at South Miami Hospital. She served (and created) community everywhere we lived as a military family, and ultimately went on to found the First Coast Black Nurses Association in Jacksonville, Florida, after my father retired from the Air Force.
That’s my foundation.
That’s our legacy.
Fast forward to my undergraduate studies at Florida A&M University. I chose to major in biology/pre-medicine with aspirations of becoming a physician. While I loved science, medicine wasn’t the fit for me; I was in search of a career that would afford an opportunity to create and engage with the very communities I used to serve with my mom.
Lo and behold, that career was public health. So, I began my “formal” public health training at Boston University School of Public Health, where I earned a Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology and biostatistics. Next, I came to Gillings to pursue a doctorate in health behavior.
Can you describe a time when you have pivoted in your public health career?
When the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, I created a public health campaign, Not A Host™ (NAH), that has reached more than 500,000 people to date. The Pillar team already led education, instructional design and curriculum design in the virtual space long before the pandemic, but as you can imagine, this form of engagement was amplified during COVID-19. We were able to modify and enhance our existing Virtual Student Leadership Series with youth across the Southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.
In developing the #NAH Junior Ambassador STEM and Media Engagement training, it was important to our team to equip youth with the knowledge and tools to understand root causes, social determinants of health, medical distrust, informed decision-making, mass communication, health messaging, health literacy and COVID-19. Our initial cohort, funded by Mecklenburg County Health Department, reached 272,733 people with a click rate four times the national average! We’ve since received support to scale this work in Durham and Wake counties. Hopefully, Orange County is next!
In 2022, the Pillar team led bilingual virtual educational sessions titled “Drop-in Hours” to provide a forum for the community to stay abreast of the frequent changes that happened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We are a multilingual, multigenerational team, and this opportunity served as a way to leverage our training and expertise in an innovative way.
Last — but certainly not least — we were invited to partner with AfroPunk as part of their Sound Therapy Sessions in Los Angeles. So, in brief, the pandemic, while very tragic and painful, offered our team an opportunity to innovate with and serve the most marginalized in our communities.
Who are you when you’re at home?
I’m Dorothy’s child. I am a free, loving spirit.
I love dancing and playing drums. You likely will catch me doing either, or both, of these things at home. I’m also a pup mom to two very silly cocker spaniels, Clover and Mango, who keep me on my toes.
Read more interviews in The Pivot series.
Published: September 21, 2023