• Research

    Serving my community with an open heart

By Eula Saxon Dean, community leader working with Mayo Clinic in Arizona on the National Institutes of Health's Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities

Editor's note: Mayo Clinic advances health equity by collaborating with communities in research that addresses their health concerns and aims to reduce health disparities. This article is the third in the Raising Up Community Voices in Research series. This series is written by community members who collaborate with Mayo Clinic on community-driven medical research.

In this essay, Eula Saxon Dean shares how her desire to serve her community began in childhood, rooted in faith, and how she carries that desire forward into her work with Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities (CEAL) research program. This research program focuses on working with communities hardest hit by the pandemic to provide trustworthy information and improve diversity and inclusion in COVID-19 research. Dean leads the Arizona Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities consortium community engagement work group. She is also a member of Mayo Clinic in Arizona's Community Engagement in Research Advisory Board.

Formal portrait of Eula Saxon Dean
Eula Saxon Dean

The heartfelt desire to serve my community is something I learned while following in Mama's footsteps.

My family members were active in our Baptist church, and Mama frequently hosted meetings of the church's Busy Bee Club at our house. The club was a women's missionary group devoted to serving our church community.

On the days the Busy Bees visited, I felt dizzy with the energy of Mama's preparation. The kitchen was filled with the aroma of freshly baked pies and cakes. And it was filled with singing, as she busily moved about. I remember a new kettle whistling on the wood-fed hot stove, and Mama dressed in a well-fitted floral poplin dress she had stayed up late to finish the night before. Mama made these preparations because she honored her guests and the work they did together.

I helped at these Busy Bee meetings, and as I entered and reentered the room with refreshments, I listened and observed. I soon realized Mama wasn't just having a "ladies' party." The conversations they had were about helping others.

The Busy Bees believed deeply in the value of education and making sure that adults and children in our community had access to trustworthy information. None of the Busy Bees had ever attended college, and less than half were high school graduates. But that didn't hold them back. They saw promoting education as one of the most important ways they could serve our community. And they served with an open heart. I knew their mission would be my mission for many years to come.

As I fast-forward to today, I see a deep connection between my work with the NIH's Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities research program and the mission I inherited from the Busy Bees.

This program is about helping the people in our community hardest hit by COVID-19 to overcome their challenges and thrive. We do that by working with the community to provide trustworthy information and seeking to include people in COVID-19 research from the communities that would benefit the most.

Our mission with CEAL is not just about saving ourselves or our local community, and not just about the here and now. It's about awakening the spirit in our hearts to lead and serve our nation and the world. By seeking to advance health equity related to COVID-19 in our community, we are taking steps, rooted in science and what we know to be truthful, and sharing it to educate and save the lives of people everywhere.

I am not sure I can translate my excitement for learning and working and serving with Mayo Clinic and Arizona CEAL consortium. It's a diverse team with so much knowledge. It's all I can do to simply offer up a part of myself and my heritage to help restore and improve the health of my community and other communities like mine.

I approach each CEAL community meeting filled with a deep sense of purpose. In the back of my mind, I still hear the voices of the Busy Bees, and I smell the aroma of freshly baked cakes. As I listen, learn and gain new knowledge, I know I am in the right place. And as I return to my community and share what I have learned through the CEAL team, I know I am bringing the right energy and knowledge to the mission, filled with love and caring to support my community's needs.

The Arizona CEAL consortium has allowed me the opportunity to serve my community with an open heart, just as my Mama and the Busy Bees did before me. For that, I am grateful.

To learn more about health equity and community engagement research at Mayo Clinic: