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Cultural Ambassadors: A Unique Community Partnership

YCCI recognizes that broadening community participation in clinical research involves linking investigators directly to resources in the community. To facilitate this, YCCI has partnered with Junta for Progressive Action and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) Church to ensure that clinical trial participation reflects the diversity of New Haven’s population and will benefit patients in the community and beyond. Junta is the oldest Latino community based non-profit organization in New Haven and the AME Zion Church is New Haven’s oldest African American congregations.

YCCI’s goal in developing both partnerships is to help increase the participation of the Hispanic and African American populations in clinical trials. Representatives of Junta and AME Zion Church serve as Cultural Ambassadors to Yale's research programs. They act as expert resources, advising Yale investigators how best to raise awareness of clinical research and engage the community.

Cultural ambassadors are available to:

  • Participate in projects, community engagement activities and community events designed to promote and increase participation in clinical trials.
  • Assist in the development of recruitment plans for specific trials.
  • Assist in the development of protocols for specific trials.
  • Provide translation services for informed consents and other materials into Spanish.

YCCI initially provided intensive training on topics such as the importance of clinical research, how it is conducted, and protections for human subjects. Continuing education is provided on an ongoing basis through monthly faculty presentations.

Listen to the Tom Ficklin Radio Show broadcast on the Importance of Diversity in Clinical Trials and AME Zion Initiatives, featuring Reverend Dr. Leroy O. Perry, Jr., Pastor, St. Stephens AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program and Reverend Elvin Clayton, Pastor, Walter’s Memorial AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program.

For more information or to request services provided by this program, please contact Brittany Harris at 203.785.2504 or

African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, the nation’s oldest denomination, is a major faith-based organization servicing more than 1,000,000 members. Throughout its history, AME Zion has made the salvation of the whole person--mind, body and spirit--its top priority, with an emphasis on religious, educational and social causes.

The AME Zion Church and its members have been instrumental in many of the freedom struggles of this nation, including the first wave of Black social activism and the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s. Along with its emphasis on ministry and social change in the United States, the denomination has focused much of its attention and energies on outreach abroad. As the Church continues to expand and diversify its ministry, it is also preparing to lead an ever increasing youthful church body into the next century.

AME Zion Cultural Ambassadors

Rev. Dr. Leroy O. Perry, Jr.

Reverend Leroy Perry
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Pastor, St. Stephens AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

The Reverend Dr. Leroy O. Perry is the Pastor of St. Stephens AME Zion Church. He earned his BA from Livingstone College, his MDiv from Yale Divinity, STM and doctoral degree from New York Theological Seminary in New York City.

He served on Mayor O'Leary's commission for diversity study for the City of Waterbury, and as chairman of the Clergy Support committee for Waterbury Opportunities Industrialization Center, where he worked to foster Black economic development in the area. Presently he servers as the director of the Fatherhood Program at New Opportunities in Waterbury, CT.

Although he was aware of health care disparities before becoming a Cultural Ambassador, he was not aware of the clinical research conducted at Yale. Like many African Americans of his generation, there was a historical stigma dating back to the Tuskegee Study that stymied his interest in clinical research.

He was pleased to discover that YCCI wanted to establish a partnership with the community that is built on an informed and clear definition of policies, procedures, and practices regarding clinical research. He is now an ambassador for YCCI and serves as an advocate within the African American community in particular and the larger minority communities in general. He feels the partnership with Yale is a valuable learning exchange and a necessary adhesive needed to bridge an effective community relationship for the advancement of clinical research.

Rev. Elvin Clayton

Reverend Elvin Clayton
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Pastor, Walter's Memorial Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Reverend Clayton is a native of Waterbury Connecticut, where he attended the local schools and graduated from W. F. Kaynor Regional Technical Vocational School. Reverend Clayton worked in the automotive refinishing business for 25 years. He began his pastoral vocation in 1983, after years of a passionate pursuit of music that included playing in church. He matriculated at Slidell and Hartford Seminaries and completed his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Hartford Hospital. He was the Pastor of Redeemers Church in Plainville for 18 years and is now the Pastor of Walter's Memorial Church, Bridgeport, CT.

Reverend Clayton became a Cultural Ambassador so that he could help raise awareness of the importance of clinical trials for his community. The program has taught him the importance of diversity among clinical trial participants to include people of different ethnic backgrounds, as well as women and children. He said that YCCI brochures and pamphlets on clinical research have been helpful in generating discussions about different diseases and have led to talk about cancer, diabetes, and research in general. “The program has helped to dispel the myths that clinical research means being a guinea pig,” he said. “It is also helping to inform my community that everyone needs to participate in research.”

Rev. Kelcy Steele

Reverend Kelcy Steele
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Pastor, Varick Memorial AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

In September 2016, Pastor Steele was appointed by Bishop Dennis V. Proctor to Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, New Haven, CT as the 43rd Pastor. Varick is the Second Oldest Church in the A.M.E. Zion Denomination with a membership of over 3,000 and is the Mother Church of the New England Annual Conference. Pastor Steele is a native of Rock Hill, SC and began his college education at York Technical College. He graduated from Belmont Abby, in Belmont, NC with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religion & Psychology. Pastor Steele was awarded a Certificate from Emory University for completing the course From Freedom Rides to Ferguson: Narratives of Nonviolence in the American Civil Rights Movement. He studied an array of theological courses at Shaw University Divinity School and is currently acquiring his Masters of Divinity at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Pastor Steele has a worldwide presence and provides leadership in World Methodist Evangelism by serving as an assistant to the Director of World Methodist Evangelism. Pastor Steele is married to Natasha Ford Steele and uses as his theme: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” ― John Wesley

Rev. Moses L. Harvill

Reverend Moses L. Harvill
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Pastor, Cross Street AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Reverend Harvill is a native of Birmingham Alabama, earning his BA from Alabama A&M University, his MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and MDiv from Yale University. He serves in the Northeastern Episcopal District and New England Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Along with being president and founder of H.O.P.E. Inc. (Home Ownership Providing Empowerment) and the chair of the City of Middletown Jones Fund, he is a key organizer of the Ministerial Alliance of Middletown, a coalition of dedicated pastors serving the community. His concern for education propelled him to organize and develop a successful Back-To-School Community Day, providing school supplies and accessories to over 500 children in the Middletown community.

Reverend Harvill has a focused leadership and love for people which trickles down to his congregation and throughout the community through his many deeds of service. He is credited as a Humanitarian recipient of numerous service accommodations and awards.

Rev. Robyn M. Anderson

Reverend Robyn Anderson
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Pastor, Blackwell Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Reverend Anderson is the Director for the Ministers Health Fellowship Advocacy Coalition and the Program Director for the Multidimensional Family Therapy, Training, Consultation and Quality Assurance Program for Advanced Behavioral Health in the State of Connecticut. She holds an Associates Degree in Information Systems, a BA in Computer Science and Counseling, and a MA in Counseling and is currently pursuing her Master of Divinity with a concentration in Urban Ministry at the Boston Campus of Gordon Conwell Theological Institute.

Robyn Anderson has over thirty-five years of experience in the Human Services field and over thirty years experience working with adults and adolescents with co-occurring disorders. As an agent of change in the field of human services, Robyn is a strong advocate for HIV/STD education and treatment through cultural competence and innovative, trauma-sensitive, gender-specific, family-driven services for residents throughout the diaspora. She continues to provide Clinical Consultation to state programs, community based substance abuse treatment programs and the faith based community in the Hartford and Washington, DC area.

Rev. Kelsey M. Hopson

Reverend Kelsey M. Hopson
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Pastor, Mount Olive AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Reverend Kelsey M. Hopson is a native of Earlington, KY. He received a BA in Business Administration with Management Specialization from Kentucky State University and was conferred the Master of Divinity Degree with Specialization in Wesleyan Studies from St. Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kansas.

Reverend Hopson served as pastor in Kentucky for 8 years and Kansas City, MO for 7 ½ years before being appointed to the historic Mt. Olive A.M.E. Zion Church (the oldest black institution in Waterbury) in Waterbury, CT in 2018 where he currently serves. Pastor Hopson also serves as the CEO of the Mt. Olive A.M.E. Zion Senior Citizens Center Inc.

Reverend Hopson became a Cultural Ambassador in order to learn more about clinical research and to be part of an institution and mission that strives to make a qualitative difference in people’s lives. "Since becoming a Cultural Ambassador, I’ve been amazed by the quality and practicality of the information provided through the training and presentations alone. I believe communities need access to reliable and practical information that empowers people to take up agency for their health and the wellbeing of others. Partnering with the Yale Clinical Research Program provides invaluable opportunities for me to better serve the Senior Center, congregants, community and beyond."― Reverend Hopson

Ray Anderson

Ray Anderson
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Member, St. Stephens AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Ray Anderson, a retired AT&T manager, became an YCCI Cultural Ambassador In 2018. Born in West Virginia, Ray graduated from Stratford High School, received a BA in Psychology from Southern Connecticut State College, and holds master degrees in both Communications from Fairfield University and Business Administration from Sacred Heart University. His career began as a teacher’s aide at Lee High School in New Haven then as an inaugural staff member of Infoline of SW CT, now the statewide United Way 2-1-1 service offering 24X7 information and referral to a full range of social services. Ray saw the need for and developed comprehensive statistical reports that focused the United Way’s understanding of the human services delivery needs of SW CT residents. He was active on various Boards of Directors and taught a class at Housatonic Community College.

After completing an intern training program at Pitney Bowes, Ray became a computer programmer and then the MIS Manager at Stratmar Fulfillment. Information technology jobs enabled Ray to acquire coding, management and analytical skills while gaining extensive experience applying them to solve business problems. Ray then joined AT&T holding a range of positions in sales support and operations management. Over his 31 year career, Ray assumed increasingly greater responsibilities being on a team that managed a $1.5B sales region. He had broad executive-level exposure and worked on key projects with members of the Bell Labs technical staff. Ray also received wide-ranging business, technical, management, sales, and operational training, won numerous performance awards and attended many regional and national recognition events.

When he isn’t filling his knowledge gaps in the social sciences, business, music, philosophy, and cosmology, he spends his time traveling, enjoying the arts and movies, exploring digital photography and pop culture, and being challenged constantly by Sudoku and the game of golf.

Sundae M. Black

Sundae Black
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
District Youth Director of Christian Education, AME Zion New England Conference and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Sundae M. Black is a member of Mt. Olive AME Zion Church of Waterbury CT. She is a graduate of Albertus Magnus College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business management. She has been employed in a leadership role in management with The Hartford Insurance for many years. She is the district youth director of Christian education for the AME Zion New England Conference. She is also the local director of Christian education at Mount Olive. She has also completed Community Health Worker (CHW) training to strengthen her knowledge and understanding on how to further assist the community. Her passion centers on educating others. She is actively involved in her community and has served in many roles to support it.

Ms. Black became a Cultural Ambassador because she felt the need to learn more about clinical trials so that she can educate others on the need and benefits. “It is important that I have an understanding so that I can inform the community on how they can support such efforts,” she said.

Being a part of the program has taught her about many of the health issues that members of her community face and that there are significant differences in health concerns and treatments related to minorities. “Most importantly, I’ve learned about the need to educate our community on the resources available and the importance of participating in clinical trials,” she said. In her role as a Cultural Ambassador she informs her community of the importance of studies taking place at Yale that could potentially lead to new and innovative ways to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for many people.

Joyce Patton

Joyce Patton
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Member, Varick Memorial AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Joyce Patton is a member of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church in New Haven, CT. She is a graduate of Livingstone College, Salisbury, NC, where she received a BA in elementary education and has completed further studies at Winthrop College and Southern CT State University. She is a retired educator from the New Haven Public School System. She serves as the secretary of the Bureau of Overseas Supplies, which provides supplies to disaster-stricken areas and to the homeless, victims of domestic violence, children of prisoners, and people living with HIV and AIDS. She is a member of the Heritage Chorale as well as the Varick Voices of Victory.

Through her work as a Cultural Ambassador, Ms. Patton has learned about treatment for addiction, heart disease, and cancer and has become aware of how people in underserved communities do not trust clinical trials. Through her work in the church, she has offered support and encouragement to those she comes in contact with to be open to trials that may be helpful to them and their families.

Lillian Reason

Lillian Reason
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Member and Missionary, Varick Memorial AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Lillian Reason is a graduate of Livingstone College, Salisbury, NC. She earned a Masters of Arts in teaching as well as a 6th year certificate in supervision and administration from Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, CT. Ms. Reason is a retired New Haven teacher and literacy coach and continues to tutor first graders in reading. She is a member of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, where she serves as a missionary. She is a receptionist at the food pantry on a monthly basis and has held several leadership roles in the church over the past 20 years. She has also worked in Christian education planning and holiday programs, as well planning and presenting workshops.

Ms. Reason serves as the president of the Hartford District Women’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society, a group to which Yale faculty members have made presentations, in addition to other local groups. She became a Cultural Ambassador because she wanted to inform the women she serves so that they in turn can help improve the health of their community. Her work with YCCI has helped her gain a better understanding of why people are reluctant to participate in clinical research. She is helping to address this issue by exposing people from across the state to research findings so that they can make informed decisions.

Irene Saunders

Irene Saunders
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Member, Mt. Olive AME Zion Church and Cultural Ambassador to the Yale Clinical Research program

Irene Saunders is a native of Waterbury, CT. She attended Waterbury public schools. Irene became a RN after graduating with a nursing degree from St. Mary’s School of Nursing in 1984. She has taken her nursing career beyond the walls of the hospital and out into her community.

Ms. Saunders has been a Cultural Ambassador with the Clinical Research Program at Yale since 2011. She has dedicated herself to this work since being on the front lines of nursing in an inner city hospital made her painfully aware of the disparities in healthcare. She views the program as a way to bridge some of the gaps in healthcare. Working with Yale has increased her awareness of many healthcare issues and made her cognizant of the vast opportunities that Yale offers to her community.

Irene is an active member of Mt. Olive A.M.E. Zion church, where she serves as the President of the Stewardess Board, Vice President of the Scholarship Committee, also as a Deaconess, Trustee and Usher.

She has established a rapport with the elderly that attend the Mt. Olive AME Zion church Senior Center and they look forward to her visits, where she provides blood pressure screenings and information for healthy living. Irene has recently retired from her 35-year nursing career at St. Mary’s Hospital and has decided to move into community health care work which is her passion.

For several years, she has been a teacher and parent volunteer for the Granville Academy of Waterbury, an after school program that encourages Black and Brown students to take an interest in STEM careers. She has also been of assistance in community health fairs as a firm believer in the wellness of all people in all walks of life.

Irene believes whole heartedly in the words of Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.” Irene will continue to work as a Cultural Ambassador to ensure wellness in her community.