$3.5 million grant extends Michigan Resource Center and the work of Social Work associate professor and MSW alum to engage minority older adults in research


The Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research (MCUAAAR), a joint program between WSU’s Institute of Gerontology, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, received $3.5 million from the National Institute on Aging to extend its 21 year grant for another five years.

As one of 18 Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research in the U.S., the MCUAAAR will continue working to increase the number of diverse junior faculty working in aging and health research and collaborating with older African Americans to improve health and well-being. The MCUAAAR’s administrative, investigative and community core members have trained more than 60 minority pilot scholars, two-thirds of which are now tenured university professors. The 15 most recent MCUAAAR scholars published more than 200 research papers, and are investigators on 92 grants totaling $60 million in funding. Also the Healthier Black Elders Center (HBEC), a program within MCUAAAR, has provided educational programs and health screenings to nearly 2,400 older African Americans in metro Detroit each year.

With continuous funding since 1997, the latest grant expands the MCUAAAR U-M partnership to Michigan State University, Flint and MSU at Flint. The MCUAAAR is co-directed by Peter Lichtenberg, director of the Wayne State Institute of Gerontology and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Research Institute; James Jackson, Distinguished Professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research; and Joan Ilardo, director of Research Initiatives at the MSU College of Human Medicine. Wayne State Social Work Associate Professor Tam Perry co-leads the Community Liaison Core with U-M Social Work Assistant Professor Jamie Mitchell, MSU Assistant Professor Vicki Johnson-Lawrence, community specialists Wayne State alums Vanessa Rorai (MSW 16’) and LaToya Hall (BA 08’), and extension educator Sean Knurek.

Assistant Professor Tam Perry

Understanding the relationship between urban relocation, health and well-being is at the heart of Perry’s research, which focuses primarily on older adults in the metro Detroit and Flint area. In her role in the MCUAAAR, Perry supports the goal of increasing the Detroit African American communities’ receptiveness to research through open communication, education and the distribution of research findings. “This is a great opportunity to continue providing important information about varying health and social topics relevant to older Michiganders,” Perry noted. “We work with a group of seniors, our Community Advisory Board members, in planning the programming. This information provided through our outreach, as well as the opportunity for research involvement, offers ways for seniors to contribute to the narrowing of health disparities facing the

Community Specialist Vanessa Rorai


As community specialists, Rorai and Hall coordinate community education events, which introduce researchers to potential participants, maintain a relationship with community-dwelling older adults, and provide free health-focused information to attendees. Rorai also maintains the Participant Resource Pool (PRP), a database comprised of nearly 1,300 older African Americans willing to participate in research, reviews applications from researchers requesting to recruit from the PRP, organizes the Community Advisory Board activities and edits the newsletter.

Rorai credits her Wayne State MSW training with providing the “knowledge and hands-on experience with community-based research, direct clinical, and broader community-level work with older adults that has prepared me to be a part of this team and successfully undertake this work. Being a community outreach specialist furthers my training by connecting older adults to research in a trusting, safe environment to target and reduce health disparities.”

For more information vist the MCUAAAR website.

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