This is Part 2 of a 2-Part Series highlighting the partnership between Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church where the Rev. Franklin Lance is Senior Pastor, and the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s PATIENTS Program is headed by Dr. C. Daniel Mullins.

   The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (MLBC) planted a seed in the community through The PATIENTS Program. An interdisciplinary research team of community partners and researchers housed at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, The PATIENTS Program works to change the way we think about research by creating a path for health equity in West Baltimore. More than 10 years later, their seed has taken root, sprouted, grown and flourished in the community. 

   The newest blossom on the branch is COMMIT (COmmunity Mistrust and Measures of Institutional Trustworthiness). The COMMIT Project seeks to co-design a sustainable model for trustworthy Community Engaged Research (CEnR) partnerships to address Social, Ethical, Behavioral Indications (SEBI) of COVID-19 testing. 

   C. Daniel Mullins, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Practice, Sciences, and Health Outcomes Research (P-SHOR) at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.  

   “COMMIT deals with COVID-19 and has a specific focus on health equity,” said Dr. Mullins who is the Executive Director of The PATIENTS Program. “I do believe that what we’re doing here has application to other funding agencies. That will help us to continue to do work at the core of advancing how we engage patients and community stakeholders in a more trustworthy manner in research.”

   He added, “It will also allow us to continue to look at how we can work together to advance health equity through research in true partnership with communities. That’s at the core of what The PATIENT Program does. So while this particular grant can’t be renewed, I’m very confident we’ll continue to get federal funding and funding from other sources to continue to advance our mission which is to advance health equity in our city and across the country.” 

   The COMMIT Project also created a Memorandum of Commitment (MOC) template for CEnR partnerships for COVID-19 testing to advance trust through trustworthiness, transparency, and respect. 

   “We believe that we can help others to build a roadmap of how you can have successful partnerships, where all members of the partnership feel respected,” said Dr. Mullins. “Not only do we have something in writing, but we’re calling it a Memorandum of Commitment. So it goes beyond the Memorandum of Understanding, because it really explains the commitment between the two parties. It also provides a roadmap for other community partners and other academic institutions across the United States to learn how to have better conversations so that community partners don’t feel abandoned.”

   The brainchild of the Rev. Franklin Lance, Senior Pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, The COMMIT Project was made possible through a $1.2 million grant award from the NIH-National Institute on Minority Health & Health Disparity. Pastor Donald L. Wright Jr. is the Executive Pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church and is heavily involved in The COMMIT Project.

   “My job was to get the information out to the community about what The COMMIT Project is and what it does,” said Pastor Wright. “COMMIT seeks to impact the community to become better and to invite people to the table. Part of the responsibility of the Executive Pastor is not just to shepherd people spiritually, but to be involved in it. A church cannot be a church, if it’s only operating. God is not only concerned with us spiritually. God is also concerned with us emotionally, mentally, and physically.”

   He added, “Our goal is to make our community better and to make people better. We want to make sure the community has resources. The church has to return to a place of being a resource sector. Church is a place where people should be able to come to get help, and a house of prayer that offers tangible resources so people can live life better.” 

   In addition to the Memorandum of Commitment, the project also created the opportunity for MLBC to work with retail pharmacy chain CVS Health for a pharmacy technician training program that will be run out of the church’s basement. 

   “Through our partnership with The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, we have been able to partner with some people with resources to create change to really make the community better,” said Pastor Wright. “We are visible here, and I think that we’ve got to be intentional and come up with creative ways to work with developing partnerships. As a church, we are having an impact. But now, we are getting a chance to make an even greater impact.”


Ursula V. Battle
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