In 2018 the On the Shoulders of Giants Scientific Symposium celebrated the work of Felton “Tony” Earls, MD, Professor of Social Medicine, Emeritus at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Human Behavior and Development, Emeritus at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Recipient of the 2018 Sarah Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health.
The 2019 On the Shoulders of Giants Scientific Symposium honoring Felton “Tony” Earls, MD, was held on October 18, 2018, at the Advanced Science Research Center at the City University of New York.
The 2019 symposium celebrated the groundbreaking public health and child development work of the 2018 Sarah Gund Distinguished Scientist, Felton “Tony” Earls, MD. Dr. Earls and his mentees Renee Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD, and Kymberly Byrd, MSW, MPH, discussed their combined decades of research into how certain community dynamics positively affect the growth and development of their children, and how to harness those factors to design interventions targeting everything from violence to HIV/AIDS to minority mental health.
Dr. Boynton-Jarrett gave an inspiring presentation on how her discovery of Dr. Earls’ work on protective factors in communities and her pursuit of him as a mentor shaped her public health intervention efforts in the city of Boston.
Dr. Boynton-Jarrett’s mentee, Kymberly Byrd, presented her experience working at the Vital Village Network in Boston utilizing research and metrics to manage projects involving communities in designing community interventions that affect them. She also discussed her doctoral work leveraging community and self-efficacy.
Dr. Earls took the audience through his life’s work, particularly the results of his 20-year commitment to the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. This study started with a correlation of murder rates and birth weights and ended with quantifying the link between neighborhoods with high “collective efficacy” to positive public health outcomes. Dr. Earls then described the application of these findings in a Youth Citizen curriculum that has effectively used youth education as a vector for collective efficacy and health promotion from Chicago to Costa Rica to Tanzania.
To close the event, Child Mind Institute associate medical director Ron Steingard, MD, sat down for a conversation about Dr. Earl’s scientific journey. How did this all get started, Dr. Steingard asked? Dr. Earls points to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, who had been deeply committed to uplifting children. “The loss of that force,” Dr. Earls said, “had to be compensated for.”
About the Presenters
Felton “Tony” Earls, MD
Professor of Social Medicine, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School Professor of Human Behavior and Development, Emeritus, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 2018 Child Mind Institute Sarah Gund Distinguished Scientist
Born to an extended family in New Orleans — into an environment charged with music, cuisine, and learning — Dr. Earls graduated from Howard University’s College of Medicine in 1967. Immediately following medical school, he pursued postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin.
Dr. Earls’ career in the lab was cut short by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “‘I realized then that I couldn’t remain in a laboratory,” he recalls. Working with children would become his way of honoring King’s legacy. Over the next four years he trained in pediatrics at Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem, psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital, child psychiatry at the Hospital for Sick Children in London, and public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
In 1974, Dr. Earls joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School. In 1981 he moved to Washington University to become Blanche Ittleson Professor of Child Psychiatry, Director of the Division of Child Psychiatry and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at the Children’s Hospital of St. Louis. After eight years, he returned to Boston to assume professorships at the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He has held many visiting professorships and scores of honors and awards.
Dr. Earls is best known for directing the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Supported by unprecedented funding (over $52 million) through a public/private partnership of the federal National Institute of Justice, the MacArthur Foundation and others, the project explored the roles of neighborhood environments, family influences, and individual differences in explaining the causes of antisocial behavior. The project’s major finding was the power of neighborhoods with high “collective efficacy” to ameliorate antisocial behavior. In such neighborhoods, the residents—regardless of race, income, or the percentage of single-parent households—trust each other, share common values, and are willing to intervene on behalf of the common good; for example, in supervising children and protecting public order.
Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, SCD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine Founding Director, Vital Village
Renée Boynton-Jarrett is a practicing primary care pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, a social epidemiologist and the founding director of the Vital Village Community Engagement Network. Through the Vital Village Network, she is supporting the development of community-based strategies to promote child well-being in three Boston neighborhoods.
Dr. Boynton-Jarrett joined the faculty at Boston University School of Medicine in 2007 and is currently associate professor of pediatrics. She received her AB from Princeton University, her MD from Yale School of Medicine, and a ScD in social epidemiology from Harvard School of Public Health, and she completed a residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Dr. Boynton-Jarrett is nationally recognized for her expertise in the role of early-life adversities as social determinants of health over the life course. She has a specific interest in the intersection of community violence, intimate partner violence, and child abuse and neglect with neighborhood characteristics that influence these patterns. She was honored by the Massachusetts Public Health Association with the Paul Revere Award for outstanding impact on public health in 2015 and she is featured in the signature hour of “The Raising of America” documentary series.
Kymberly Byrd, MS, MPH PhD candidate, Vanderbilt University
Kymberly Byrd obtained undergraduate degrees in social work and Spanish from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, and graduate degrees in social work and public health from Boston University. Prior to enrolling in the PhD program at Vanderbilt, she served as project manager at Vital Village Network, a network of community residents and community-based organizations committed to maximizing child, family and community wellbeing. Ms. Byrd has research and evaluation experience in homelessness, substance abuse, mental health, HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, faith-based community organizing and community engagement.