Dr. Jerel Ezell, Cornell University

AIM Research Grantee: Dr. Jerel Ezell

Dr. Jerel Ezell is an assistant Professor in General Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and a current Fulbright Scholar. He is also the Director of the Center for Cultural Humility at Cornell, and runs Research Lateral, or ReLateral, a “community lab” focused on health disparities.

Project Description: With AIM’s support, Ezell will be building a “community action board” of Black and Latino youth in Los Angeles to act as researcher collaborators in his VioPa study of youth violence. Similar youth panels are being put together in several cities around the country, with the potential of gathering a large body of data that will help him to tailor preventive interventions to each community’s needs.

VioPa is a multi-city, multi-country study being conducted in eight urban cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, London, England, Port of Spain, Trinidad, Mexico City, Mexico, and Johannesburg, South Africa. As part of this novel, culturally responsive research initiative, Ezell will be working with Black and Latino communities that have been heavily impacted by the global youth violence epidemic to understand and contextualize the causes and contributions to interpersonal violence in youth (between roughly 14 to 26 years old). In examining the casual trajectories, this project will place a concentrated focus on the mental health profiles of these youth, exploring how patterns of depression, anxiety, trauma, and suicidality may influence patterns of aggression, violence ideation, and violence. They will gather data for this project through culturally tailored surveys, interviews, and focus groups with youth and various community stakeholders—such as K-12 teachers, social services workers, etc. To date, much of the research on the relationships between mental health and violence has taken a narrow and culturally imprecise view, failing to consider the intricate lived experiences and perceptions of perpetrators and victims and those who closely work with and engage these individuals. VioPa will take a deep, holistic view of this connection, first examining how social factors fuel mental health issues and, in turn, increase the likelihood of violence.

VioPa will be a two-phase project that helps provide nuanced understandings of the geographically complex dimensions of violence. Phase 1 will involve data collection in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia; Phase 2 will involve data collection in Long, England, Port of Spain, Trinidad, Mexico City, Mexico, and Johannesburg, South Africa. In angling to be culturally appropriate, this project will adopt a “Community-Based Participatory Research” design that incorporates the ideas of youth into the formulation of research aims/questions, and involves youth in data collection, interpretation, and dissemination efforts. Additionally, youth will participate in “Photovoice,” a stimulating, creative approach to visually documenting and understanding one’s environment. 

VioPa has 3 primary research objects, including:

  1. Identifying Black and Latino youths’ understanding of (their) mental health and dynamics contributing to it
  2. Capturing Black and Latino youths’ reasons and justifications for committing interpersonal violence
  3. Contextualizing Black and Latino youths’ receptivity to alternate approaches to violence or aggression mediation, including mental health counseling, peer mentorship, mindfulness exercises, and restorative justice