A Durham professor will join a team of scholars tasked with providing national leadership and research on how to best serve African American children and their families. 

Nina Smith, an associate professor of human sciences at N.C. Central University, was selected to provide research for the newly-established National African American Child and Family Research Center (NAACFRC) at the Morehouse School of Medicine, the university announced in a press release.

Smith will work as a co-investigator under the leadership of Latrice Rollins, an assistant professor in community health and preventive medicine at the Morehouse medical school, according to the NCCU release.

The two academics plan to work in concert to help provide national leadership on how to best serve African American families in the areas of child development, child care, economic mobility, and fatherhood, according to the university. 

Smith’s work will focus on rural research. She previously studied the impact of COVID-19 on African Americans in rural North Carolina. 

“When Dr. Rollins decided to apply for these funds, she asked if I’d be interested in serving as a co-investigator given my research interests and the goals she wanted to accomplish,” Smith said in the release. “I said ‘yes’ immediately because I believe this center [NAACFRC] is one of the first, if not the first of its kind, and so I understood the importance of this national research agenda for African American children and families. 

“There’s great work being done on African American children and families, but the spotlight isn’t on that work the same as it is with work with majority populations,” Smith added. “This center will spotlight work with African Americans and the need for continued research.”

In the release, Rollins noted that Smith’s “prior work on African American families demonstrates her expertise and ability to lead the NAACFRC research in this area, which will inform policies and programs for these families.”

Rollins said the center will focus broadly on early education, including early head start and head start; child care assistance; social and economic mobility, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and poverty alleviation programs; and healthy relationships, including fatherhood and supportive family relationships. 

The work will include “specific research themes impacting African Americans,” including those in rural communities and others who have been impacted by health, disability, and criminal justice issues, according to the release.

“One in 10 African Americans lives in a non-metropolitan area; however, dominant narratives about rural America frequently neglect the experiences of African Americans,” said Rollins, who added that African Americans in rural areas “deserve special attention, and those with low incomes face substantial burdens to employment because of extremely limited transportation and childcare options.”

The center’s opening was heralded in a Black History Month press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). Among the goals of the center is the development of “a community-engaged and high-caliber research program focused on African American children and families,” according to the press release.

“The African American population, like other racial and ethnic populations in the US, is very diverse, and this Center will allow space for scholars, students, and practitioners to learn and share more about the varied experiences and strengths of this population,” according to DHS.

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Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.