Carolyn M. Tucker, PhD, receives Florida Blue Sapphire Award

First-place honor recognizes dedication to community service and fighting disparities

Carolyn M. Tucker, PhD, has dedicated her career to supporting under-served communities, inspiring new generations toward community-based participatory health and health care research, public service, and scholarship, a record of achievement that was recently recognized with a first-place Sapphire Award from the Florida Blue Foundation.

Florida Blue Foundation, the philanthropic affiliate of Florida Blue, enables healthy communities by making grants, building coalitions, and embracing solutions that create a meaningful impact in our communities. Its annual Sapphire Awards honor individuals, programs, and organizations that do exemplary and innovative work to improve health outcomes in their communities. Tucker, as a first-place winner, plans to use the recent $100,000 award, directed to the University of Florida Foundation, to continue her health disparities work at UF.

Tucker holds many administrative and research positions at UF, almost too many to count. She is a Distinguished Alumni Professor, a research professor for the Department of Psychology, and a courtesy professor in the Community Health and Family Medicine Department. Additionally, she is the director of the UF Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program, director of the UF Health Cancer Center (UFCC) Cancer Disparities Research Collaborative, and the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Liaison to Community Outreach and Engagement at the UFCC.

She is also a member of the board of directors for the Florida Community Health Workers Coalition, Inc., and serves as the co-chair of its Research Subgroup. Notably, she conducts the first-ever Health Disparities and Health Promotion Research Internship for Undergraduate Students, most of whom are pre-med, public health, or psychology majors.

Her most prominent position, however, is the UF Florida Blue Endowed Chair in Health Disparities Research, which is pivotal in most of her research. The main goals of this research are to break down health inequity, promote culturally sensitive health care, and fight obesity, hypertension, and obesity-related cancers. To those ends, she founded the Health-Smart Behavior Program, a program that aims to fight the social determinants of poor health like social isolation, food insecurity, and financial insecurity.

“I grew up in a low-income, African American community that had a large population of seniors and younger adults with obesity and related diseases and that was plagued by racism and health care disparities,” Tucker explained. “This experience continues to provide the impetus for my motivation and research to improve the health, wellbeing, and health care of racial/ethnic minorities, the poor, and the medically underserved.”

This award not only celebrates her work so far but also promises to help fund her research in the future. Her next project will address Black men — a group underrepresented in such research — and the health promotion and cancer prevention research that targets them. The award has also elevated her standing among health researchers across Florida, leading many across the state to reach out for potential collaboration on future projects.

“There are so many people I’d like to thank for helping me get here,” Tucker said. “I want to thank God, my parents and grandparents, the Black and low-income communities who have been equal partners with me in addressing the health disparities that negatively impact them, Joseph Glover, Susan Towler of the Florida Blue Foundation, Margaret Atherton, my research staff, including Miles Hamilton, the people in the Townships of South Africa who inspired me ‘to have an ear for the beats of different hearts,’ and my husband, Theotis Callaway — the person who loves me unconditionally and helps me up when I fall down.”

Read more about this year’s other winners here.

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