Associate Director, Herstory Writers Workshop
Ama R. Saran, PhD, MSW is northern-born and reared, and now, a southern woman of the South Carolina Low Country’s Gullah Geechee Corridor where she’s resided for nearly 10 years. Her work over the course of 45 years has been conducted primarily as a self-employed thought-partner, community organizer, policy advocate and analyst, social science researcher, teacher, and non-profit organizational development trainer. These multiple and diverse roles represent interlocking, and intersectional progressive, political, and cultural commitments forged most notably from her social space and time as a Baby Boomer coming-of-age in the sixties.
This sometimes terrible but always fruitful terrain has cultivated a constant and acute social/political/cultural consciousness that is her guidance system for working at the nexus of social welfare and public health. This holds true whether she is engaged with: Health and Human Services as principal investigator exploring the incidence of female circumcision in public health region IV, constructing the Road Map to Health Equity with Mississippi’s Jackson State and its Urban League, conducting HIV research at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, non-profit management with El Centro Feminista de Bayamon (PR), creating SisterReach for the former, National Black Women’s Health Project (now Black Women’s Health Imperative) in its nascent years, or designing research for the last survivors of the Tuskegee Experiment and their family networks or mounting an exhibit on women’s health for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
She has also worked with an array of colleges and universities such as: Georgia State University in adult literacy project, University of Washington, maternal and child health communications in HIV/AIDS, the Kellogg, Ford and Casey Foundations and served as program officer for DC’s Community Humanities Foundation. She has been afforded opportunities to extend her reach into the global realm through consultation with women-led NGOs focused on women’s health and mental wellness, self-help advocacy, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, partner abuse, and economic development in West and South Africa, Belize, Central America and most recently public health curriculum design for All Saints University’s School of Medicine in St. Vincent and The Grenadines.
It is the mix of roles through which she has been privileged to serve that has further curated her learnings, skills and assets for application to such work as self-help organizing for women’s health advocacy, such as The Names Project where she co-created, Call My Name, a program to enhance the engagement of people of color, Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, SisterSong International reproductive justice, The Cambridge-based Environment and Health Group for which she created text messages for HIV medication adherence, documentary filmmaking, On Becoming a Woman for what is now, Black Women’s Health Imperative, workplace literacy and LGBTQ rights with Southerners On New Ground (SONG).
Selected Fellowship and research opportunities were with Cornell University’s Black Women and Africana Studies, Chicago’s Union Institute’s Women’s Organizing and Documentation Project, NIH minority health fellowship and as a Spelman community scholar with cultural anthropologists, Johnetta B. Cole, PhD then Spelman’s President, and Professor Mary Catherine Bateson, PhD. Please see Full Circles, Overlapping Lives, (Ballatine Books, 2000). Most recently, she has been appointed a Brandeis University Visiting Scholar in the Women’s Research Center where she is studying COVID as it impacts the life events of older black women in the Gullah community through narratives that illuminate the pandemic’s interruption of critical daily life rituals Illuminating the women’s capacity to transform and ultimately transcend them.
Her overarching interest is in qualitative research, specifically participatory action research deploying case studies, appreciative inquiry, phenomenological inquiry, health narratives, storytelling, and photovoice documentation technology, to construct health interventions as part of her accountability to translational health. Her critical complex of research domains are: gender, aging, sexuality, Black feminist standpoint theory, feminism, maternal and child health, behavioral health communications/promotion, health equity and disparities, and non-profit organizational development.
Whatever the struggle it has always been for change whether it be teaching virtually at USC School of Social Work, or Head Start, organizing women for improved health and self-advocacy at the former National Black Women’s Health Project (now, Black women’s Health Imperative), HIV disease advocacy for older, southern black women, or working with immigrant women on female circumcision. It all comes down to social justice.
She views her new position as an urgent and compelling opportunity to engage and incite a cross-section of communities across age, ethnicity, race, class, political and cultural beliefs, and affiliation. She understands her primary accountability is to learn and teach, translate, and apply what we courageously and experientially glean as source material for transformation into substantive change through writing.