Black History Month Spotlight: Inspired by Hidden Figures, CURE Scholar Dr. Charles Rogers Embraces an Obligation to be Great
, by CRCHD Staff
In recognition of Black History Month, we at the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) are recognizing select Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) scholars on CRCHD’s Dialogue on Disparities blog. In these spotlights, scholars discuss what Black History Month means to them, recognize some of their role models, and describe their research. This spotlight features CURE K01 scholar Charles R. Rogers, PhD, MPH, MS, MCHES. Dr. Rogers is Assistant Professor of Public Health, University of Utah School of Medicine, Associate Member, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Associate Member, University of Michigan-Mixed Methods Program, and Founding Director, Men’s Health Inequities Research Lab.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Nearly each and every day, Black lives are appallingly marginalized and slaughtered. Black History Month is vital as it aims to formally counter the rest of the year, when society habitually disregards our successes, culture, ancestors, contributions and existence. Growing up in the rural south, the many heroic Black artists, inventors, soldiers, trailblazers and slaves who set the stage for me were “hidden figures,” as they were seldom celebrated. As a result, “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps,” but Black History Month annually reminds me of my obligation to be great.
I would like to use this spotlight to show my gratitude for the Central Park Five, who maintained their innocence while spending years fighting their erroneous convictions, hoping to be pardoned. —Dr. Charles Rogers
In what ways does this Black History Month feel different to you, given how challenging the past year has been regarding racial and social injustice?
As a result of the pandemic married with more Black murders caught on camera, some of America is unfortunately finally starting to really see us. Black History Month began as Negro History Week 95 years ago in 1926, but Black History Month was not formally decreed until 1976 (45 years ago), by President Gerald Ford. Since it took 50 years for Negro History Week to blossom into Black History Month, I am not surprised that many institutions and businesses are guilty of performative allyship. This truth does not hinder my productivity since I grew up with unconcealed racism, but it did make February 2021 different for me, as I am reminded I must use my training and platform to continue leveling the playing field for Blacks who face atrocious health disparities and who have died from various types of cancer at the highest rates of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S. for more than 40 years.
Are there role models—past or present—who have been an inspiration to you and your work, and whom you would like to recognize this Black History Month?
I would like to use this spotlight to show my gratitude for the Central Park Five, who maintained their innocence while spending years fighting their erroneous convictions, hoping to be pardoned. The journey to eradicate health inequities for Black folks is a game of chess—not checkers—where one must have the commitment and self-belief that the “Exonerated 5”—Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana—had.
Prior to her diagnosis, I had never heard of [coloretcal cancer] and even then did not know it was a particular concern for the greater African-American community. I’ve been committed to eliminating disparities associated with this preventable, beatable and treatable disease since. —Dr. Charles Rogers on his aunt's stage IV cancer diagnosis.
What inspired your interest in cancer research?
While growing up in rural North Carolina, I witnessed African Americans in my community struggle with persistent disparities in healthcare access, disease and health outcomes, a struggle I later saw that their White counterparts did not have to undertake. This experience became even more personal when a number of my family members were diagnosed with cancer. In Fall 2009, my aunt was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer (CRC). Prior to her diagnosis, I had never heard of CRC and even then did not know it was a particular concern for the greater African-American community. I’ve been committed to eliminating disparities associated with this preventable, beatable and treatable disease since.
Would you briefly describe your current research?
Since 2018, I have been awarded nearly $1.3M from the National Cancer Institute, the Research Foundation of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, 5 For The Fight, and The V Foundation for Cancer Research for my community-engaged, mixed-methods research aiming to eradicate inequalities in both CRC screening completion among African-American men and early-onset CRC among individuals younger than age 50.
Can you describe how you and your research have been impacted by receiving a CURE K01?
Wow…being awarded my K in September 2018 was a gamechanger. Protected time to do what I love while supporting CRCHD’s vow to reduce the unequal burden of cancer in our society via community-engaged research is invaluable.
His death will not be in vain under my watch, and his wisdom remains ingrained in me: 'Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality. Upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.' —Dr. Charles Rogers on former ESPN anchor and sportscaster Stuart Scott
You recently earned the V Foundation Scholar Grant, which “is designed to fund high-impact cancer research projects led by faculty who are early in their careers.” What does it mean to you to receive this grant?
Foundation grants are very competitive and it was my first, so I was thrilled to join the V Foundation empire, especially since I later learned that my award’s funding came from the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund, formed for the well-known ESPN anchor and sportscaster. His death will not be in vain under my watch, and his wisdom remains ingrained in me: “Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality. Upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.”