CDC Presents Inaugural Award for Advancements in Health Equity to Oregon’s Lessie Williams

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is proud to announce that Lessie Williams, the recently retired Executive Director of Highland Haven in Portland, Oregon, is the first recipient of the REACH Lark Galloway-Gilliam Award for Advancing Health Equity.

Ms. Williams has long been a champion for community health. During her career, she created youth violence prevention programs, expanded access to culturally relevant mental health services, and launched culturally tailored health education programs to promote healthy behaviors such as healthy eating, physical activity, and tobacco cessation.

Ms. Williams organized a network of churches and community organizations serving African Americans in Multnomah County, and used this network to increase access to health care, to bring preventive services such as blood pressure screenings to community churches, and to increase access to healthy foods.

“Through local outreach and partnership with the faith-based community, Lessie Williams united and strengthened efforts to improve health access and outcomes for those she and her organization serve,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “CDC is honored to recognize Ms. Williams for her leadership and her contribution to advancing health equity in Oregon.”

The new award honors extraordinary individuals or teams associated with CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program who work to eliminate health disparities linked to race or ethnicity, education, income, location, and other social determinants of health. REACH recipients carry out culturally tailored interventions that address chronic disease and associated risk behaviors such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and smoking.

“We know that conditions in places where people live, learn, work, and play affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes,” said Karen Hacker, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “With this award, we honor the meaningful legacy of Lark Galloway-Gilliam – a passionate advocate for health equity – and we recognize others who galvanize this critical work in communities across the country.”

Racial and ethnic disparities in health are widespread across the United States. Since 1999, CDC’s REACH program has demonstrated that locally based and culturally tailored solutions can be effective in reversing these seemingly intractable gaps in health.

“Lessie has been an agent of change in her community,” said Multnomah County REACH Program Manager Charlene McGee. “Her efforts to build a culture of health in Multnomah County have changed countless lives, and this award honors the impact her work will make in our community for generations to come.”

To learn more about Lessie Williams’ outstanding work, and the REACH program in CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, visit

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