Center for Ethnic Studies Annual Conference

Health Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color

Wed, April 7, 2021  |  3:30-7:15 pm  |  Virtual Mini Conference

Yale School of Medicine reports a “pair of studies released recently show how Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaskan Native people in the United States continue to suffer an outsized share of sickness and death in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” 1

Other media highlight the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of people of color as well as lack of access to and fear of the vaccine within their communities.

Native American girl and mom embrace wearing masks

Join us as we explore what is happening in southeast Wisconsin with medical professionals, healthcare providers, and public health experts.


3:30 pm


Kenneth French  |  Center for Ethnic Studies Director

Debra Karp  |  Community and Business Engagement Director

Ann Pratt, OP  |  Dominican Center for Justice Resources Opening Our Hearts and Minds to End Racism

3:45 pm

PANEL  |  The Impact of COVID-19 on the Physical and Mental Health of Communities of Color

Lea Acord, Ph.D.  |  Retired Dean of the College of Nursing, Marquette University 

Wallace Brandies  |  Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor, Racine Vocational Ministry

Preneice Love  |  Community Strategist–Racine, UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health

Alison Sergio  |  Executive Director, Health Care Network

Moderated by Brandon Hutchins, LPC  |  Counselor, UW-Parkside Student Health & Counseling Center

Lea Acord

Lea Acord, PhD is a Nurse Practitioner and former Dean of the School of Nursing at Marquette University. In all, Lea has spent twenty years as a Dean of Nursing from Maine to Marquette. Her practice has always been focused on assisting nurses in collaborative and innovative skill building so that patients are able to receive outstanding levels of care and building awareness of disparities in the delivery of health care.



Wallace Brandies, is a Case Manager at Racine Vocational Ministry, Racine, Wisc. He holds the Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) credential and is an Independent Clinical Supervisor (ICS) with the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing. He graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin with a BA in Healthcare Administration.



Preneice Love, is a Community Strategist in Racine for the UW Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Her primary focus is regarding Maternal Health. She focuses on using Case Management, Program Development, and Community Leadership to achieve more positive outcome for mothers and children.



Alison Sergio, is the Executive Director at Health Care Network, Racine, WI. Alison has over 24 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and currently serves as the Executive Director of Health Care Network in Racine. Alison holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University and a BS in Social Work from UW-Milwaukee. Additionally, for the past 20 years, she has been creating curricula and teaching courses through the Wisconsin Child Welfare Professional Development System through the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.


5 pm

KEYNOTE  |  Historical Perspective of People of Color and the US Medical System

Repairing the Breach between Biomedical Research and the African-American Community in Milwaukee

Dr. Ryan Spellecy  |  Ursula von der Ruhr Chair in Bioethics, Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Medical College of Wisconsin

The history of mistrust towards biomedical research in the African-American community, both nationally and in Milwaukee, is well known and sadly, well-deserved. In order to repair this breach in trust, we must understand the history, the current situation, and we must partner with the African-American community. Since the history is well known, this talk will focus on current healthcare disparities in Milwaukee and discuss the views of the African-American community regarding biomedical research. Based on focus groups with African-American churches in Milwaukee, our research team, which itself is a partnership between researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin and community partners, found that there are clear strengths in Milwaukee’s diverse African American community that can, through partnership, begin to repair the lost trust and make real progress on health disparities in Southeastern Wisconsin.


Dr. Ryan Spellecy is the Ursula von der Ruhr Chair in Bioethics Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at the Medical College of Wisconsin.  He received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Utah. Dr. Spellecy has authored and co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles in the area of research ethics, informed consent, ethical issues in psychiatry, and community involvement in research. He has advised the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute regarding engaging patients in the peer review process, the Association of American Medical Colleges on Institutional Review Boards (IRB)  and community based research, and testified before the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics regarding the use of clinical data for research. Ryan served on the Association of American Medical Colleges working group on IRBs and community based research. He currently chairs an Institutional Review Board at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Spellecy is the Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network co-PI for an NIH funded national study evaluating a novel, easier to read informed consent form for BMT trials.


6:15 pm

PANEL  |  COVID-19 Vaccines and Health: Challenges and Successes

Dr. Jen Frieheit  |  Director, Kenosha County Division of Health 

Cecilia Garcia  |  Lead Community Health Worker, STOP COVID-19 Project (City of Milwaukee) and All of Us Wisconsin

Renee′ Sartin Kirby, Ph.D.  |  Director, Student Health, Counseling, and Disability Services, UW-Parkside

Elizabeth Markham, Ph.D.  |  President, Wisconsin Nurses Association

Moderated by Molinna Bui  |  Senior Pre-Med Student and Peer Health Educator, UW-Parkside; EMT


Jennifer Freiheit, PhD has been the Health Officer/Director of the Kenosha County Division of Health since December 2019. She has 18 years’ experience working in state and local public health within Wisconsin, including preparing for pandemics, much as we’re in right now. She earned her doctorate in the Department of Administrative Leadership at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Freiheit has a strong commitment to developing research that impacts public health practice.



Renee Sartin Kirby, PhD is Director of Student Health, Counseling, and Disability Services at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. While there, she has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in teacher education and has co-taught a graduate course in the Department of History on the History of Disabilities in America where she served as an Adjunct Instructor.

She was also an exceptional education teacher in the Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin Public School Systems for a decade, and has served as a Governor’s appointee to the Wisconsin Rehabilitation Council for the State of Wisconsin. Most recently, Dr. Kirby served on the University of Wisconsin President’s Advisory Committee on Individuals with Disabilities.

Dr. Kirby has co-authored articles on diversity and fair labor standards in academic journals and business encyclopedias and has presented more than two-dozen papers at local, state, and national professional conferences on disability services. She has also given numerous presentations to parent and community audiences on disability, health, and student services’ issues throughout the nation. 


Elizabeth Markham, PhD received her Doctorate and MSN from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Currently she is an Adjunct Nursing Instructor, Aspen University, Online MSN, DNP. She is also the President of the Wisconsin Nurses Association.


Cecilia Garcia, is the Lead Community Health Worker STOP COVID-19 Project (City of Milwaukee) & All of Us Wisconsin. STOP COVID-19 project is a collaboration between the City of Milwaukee, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and the County of Milwaukee (funded by Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin). As part of the STOP COVID-19 project Cecilia provided public health information on infection prevention in a culturally adapted way. In addition, she provided direct food and financial relief to families who were COVID-19 positive in Hispanic communities in Milwaukee. She currently is assisting the health agencies to encourage the community to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Cecilia has been active in the Latino community for 8 years as a promotora de salud (health promoter). Her main focus has been to support the neediest families by providing access to resources, as well as women’s reproductive health.


Following the conference, registered attendees will receive a survey and information about the option to obtain Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for $20.


Conference sessions will be interpreted for individuals with hearing impairments.


Kenneth French  |

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