#BlackInCardioWeek: How it started, what happened, and what is to come

Black In Cardio is an international group of cardiovascular scientists and trainees from diverse backgrounds and subject areas. A team of eight strangers met on Twitter and volunteered time to make an idea a reality. #BlackInCardioWeek follows several other BlackinX weeks and was created to highlight black cardiovascular scientists and raise awareness around cardiovascular diseases by offering a space to the wider community. Issues such as access to information, representation of black communities in decision making, and destigmatization of research e during #BlackInCardioWeek has opened a space for collaboration and mentorship.


Here is a quick run through of the events and what #BlackInCardio means to the team. 

Before the launch of the week, we set a 7 day workout challenge.

 #BICWorkout Challenge. This was to encourage the conversation around cardiovascular health and get people to “just start”. Using the hashtag, people were encouraged to post their workout image after following a specially created programme by fitness coach Nelao, or any other form of physical activity.

#BlackInCardioRollCall: Announcing their presence as black scientists, researchers and working professionals,. participants shared their research and motivations within the cardiovascular field. It is no longer possibleto say we don’t exist, and simply scrolling through the hashtag links people in the field with each other. 

Stanley Buffonge (PhD Researcher, University of Bristol):

Recognising the urgency for representation in the cardiovascular field, and seeing the other black in X events, I sent out the tweet on the 13th August 2020. From there, a fantastic team was formed and #BlackinCardio began. My journey to being a scientist began through observing the detrimental effects of diabetes and how it caused a drastic change in the lifestyle of many. Seeing this, and recognizing it’s prevalence within my community, formed my drive to participate in scientific research. To be a scientist means to discover new knowledge through challenging, searching and answering the questions that need to be tackled. My research combines my two interests and focuses on diabetic cardiomyopathy and it is my personal motivation that is driving me through. Consistently engaging with those who suffer from diseases of the cardiovascular system, hearing the views of why they suffered from members within and outside my community, and witnessing how it was being treated, verified my pursuit as a scientist who understands the community.

The Career Panel was designed to provide insights on the experiences of Black scientists and clinicians in various cardiovascular fields and give an opportunity for people interested in careers within the field to get advice and inspiration.

Adama Saccoh (BSc Medical Physiology and MSc Medical Ultrasound):

During my undergraduate studies, I decided that a career in medicine was no longer for me and wanted to focus on a career in life science research. In my search for the perfect role, I knew I wanted to work within cardiovascular research, but I saw a lack of career guidance and started a blog in search for the “perfect career”. In my personal life, there has always been support to achieve what I wanted but that wasn’t reflected in my professional circle. #BlackInCardio was especially important for me as a Masters student just stepping into the professional world. My main takeaway from the panels and working with the team has shown me, through representation, that my dreams aren’t so far out of reach. 

The Q&A sessions were designed to create an open dialogue between researchers, clinicians, early career professionals and the general public. Specific sessions included discussions around the Whole Heart: Congenital Heart Diseases, The Vasculature , Nutrition (in French) and Cardiometabolic Syndromes

Catherine Tcheandjieu (Doctor in Veterinary Medicine and PhD in Genetic Epidemiology):

I was born and raised in Bafang, a small town in West Cameroon in Africa. During my PhD, I unfortunately lost my father from stroke complications after six months of intensive care. My father was my first advocate; he was very proud of my achievements, and his ultimate dream was to cheer for me during my PhD graduation. Losing my father completely switched my perception of the world and the value of life. More importantly, it reshaped my research interests in studying cardiovascular diseases. I felt the need to contribute to the field and help advance research in cardiovascular disease in the Black communities. After my PhD, I joined Stanford University as a postdoctoral scholar to study genetic risk factors of vascular diseases, particularly in the Black population. My current research includes studying genetic risk factors for vascular diseases such as aortic aneurysm and coronary artery diseases in multiple ancestry groups, as well as cardiac hereditary amyloidosis (hATTR), a disease due to a pathogenic mutation in the Transthyretin (TTR) gene and particularly prevalent in Black populations. Most of my research is conducted on The Million Veteran Program, the largest multi-ethnic cohort to date with electronic health records and genetic information.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world. With this harrowing fact, as a team we understand the importance of destigmatising narratives around the Black population in regards to cardiovascular health. For this reason two separate panels were created. The first focused on a discussion of the stigmatization of Black people in cardiovascular research and medicine, and its consequences. The second was a conversation around diet, physical activity, and medicine in Black communities. 

Debora Kamin Mukaz (MS Biological Sciences and PhD Medical Sciences):

I am originally from Likasi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My senior honors project was on “the genetics of race and ancestry”. Despite my love for biology, I wanted to do population research and understand health disparities. That’s how I ended up getting a PhD in Medical Sciences. The focus of my dissertation was on the epidemiology of acculturation and diabetes in African immigrants. A lot of cardiovascular conditions are preventable; that racial disparities in these diseases exist is a public health crisis. That’s why events like #BlackInCardioWeek are so important to me. My research made me realize that cardiovascular/cardiometabolic issues in African immigrant communities are part of a larger discourse on racial disparities in health. So for my current postdoctoral position at the University of Vermont, I am studying racial disparities in cardiovascular/cardiometabolic diseases (including COVID-19) in the REGARDS (The REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke). The REGARDS is one of the largest and most diverse cohort studies in the U.S. 

Daniel Tyrrell (PhD in Physiology and Pharmacology):

As the only person on the #BlackInCardio organizing team who isn’t Black, my perspective may be different than the other co-organizers. I thought I knew a lot about systemic racism and how I could make a change and improve inclusivity and representation in science, but I thought I had to wait until I was in a position of power to do this. I thought the best thing I could do was to understand the issues facing Black people in science and not contribute to any racist narratives. #BlackInCardio and other BlackInX initiatives have taught me that being an ally is much more than not contributing to racist narratives. #BlackInCardio taught me that you don’t need to wait to be tenured and appointed to a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity task force to make a change. By helping to organize #BlackInCardio, I could spend my time and energy on this global initiative to help lighten the load that my 7 other Black co-organizers had to bear. This burden should not always be placed on traditionally marginalized groups. As an ally, anything you can do to improve representation and inclusivity in STEM fields helps. It can be as simple as liking or retweeting a post on Twitter by a Black scientist, student, or trainee that shows that science is open, accepting, and supportive of Black people in this predominantly white space.

Destigmatising cardiovascular health: From diet to medicine. This event focused on how harmful narratives affect everyday life. Black people are often told that diets are inherently bad and are criticised for eating certain foods. This panel created a safe space with a diverse range of qualified professionals sharing their knowledge on the lessons learnt working within the fields of diet, nutrition and medicine. 

Chichi Okagbue (PhD Researcher, University of Reading):

My research focuses on how the biological mechanisms of obesity contribute to cardiovascular diseases. I am currently analyzing the cellularity and morphology of both visceral and pericardial adipose (fat) tissue after undergoing high fat fed conditions. I have a deep passion for cardiovascular research due to its prevalence within the Black community and also having experienced loss of family members and family friends due to cardiovascular disease and its associated complications. Events like #BlackinCardioWeek are very important as the current literature showsthat the Black community are at a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It’s important to highlight the research being done to help and educate our community in this very important matter of cardiovascular health. I hope I can one day share my knowledge and experiences to inspire a new generation of scientists who tend to be excluded from scientific research and careers.

The future of cardiovascular research: On this panel, the issues of access, recruitment, and retention of black scientists and clinicians were discussed. Panelists shared their successes and shared struggles navigating the professional world. The discussion ranged from writing grant applications, networking, and most importantly navigating a space that has many obstacles for black people.

Jason Amartey (PhD Researcher, University of Nottingham):

I have always had an interest in science, and wanted to be in a career that could help people (I actually wanted to be a heart surgeon). Many a time, I have been the only black person in a room and I’d always wondered why there weren’t many black people in science. I know first-hand the power of representation and seeing people who look like you go through the process. During my Masters, seeing a postdoc who had just completed his doctorate inspired me to believe that I could do something like that too. I always share the story of catching up with someone after a few years who asked what I was doing now. His response to me saying I was a research scientist was “Oh wow, I have never seen a black scientist before”. I saw this as a problem for a while. I want people to be able to identify themselves as scientists no matter what their background is. I have been greatly encouraged after the inaugural #BlackInCardio Week and I believe this is the beginning of achieving long-overdue equity in science and medicine.

Black cardiologists in history: This was a series of blog posts done in conjunction with AHA Early Career Voice. Throughout the week, we highlighted the profiles of several Black cardiologists and cardiovascular scientists who made a substantial contribution to cardiovascular science such as Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, and Dr. Charles Rotimi

Black Scientists have certainly set the benchmark within cardiovascular science and medicine, but their groundbreaking work has not been emphasised enough. Highlighting the work of Black pioneers in the field was not only a way to celebrate and recognize their accomplishments, but also to show young Black trainees and aspiring scientists that people like them have changed the world of cardiovascular medicine. They can see themselves in those role models and use them as an example for hard work and perseverance.   

Finally, the week ended by spending the weekend showcasing the lives of #BlackInCardio students, professionals,and researchers outside the world of science. We had four weekend events: bread baking & wig making, make-up session and conversation, live podcast, and a live afrobeats dance class

Highlighting the work of Black pioneers in the field was not only a way to celebrate and recognize their accomplishments, but also to show young Black trainees and aspiring scientists that people like them have changed the world of cardiovascular medicine.

Makeda Stephenson (PhD candidate, John Hopkins University):

I develop advanced cardiovascular tissue models for studying genetic disease. I believe that science should be accessible and that every child should have the opportunity to become a scientist. I also work on supporting marginalized groups of PhD students within the Academy. Outside of the lab I foster puppies and enjoy outdoor activities like running, hiking and gardening.

As a team the collective takeaway is that we are proud to have organised and executed a global event. It is important to note that this is just the beginning and we hope to follow through with more events outside the week, a larger team, and wider reach to include more of the African continent. Watch out for Black in Cardio, we are just getting started. 

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