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In Memoriam R.I.P. Dr. Norma J. Goodwin

Dr. Norma J. Goodwin, 82, pioneering medical doctor and minority health communicator extraordinaire, died on April 13 at the Brooklyn Downstate Medical Center. The cause was COVID-19 and pneumonia. Dr. Goodwin set her sights high on improving health outcomes for American people of color – Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans. She scuttled her career in medicine, but she did not disappoint, as we measure her successes as the Founder/CEO of three businesses – Health Watch and Promotion Service, AMRON Consultants and Health Power for Minorities.
Launched in 1984, Health Watch and Promotion Service was a national nonprofit for minority health headquartered in a four-story brownstone on Glenwood Avenue in Brooklyn, which Goodwin eventually purchased. The staff, a mix of social workers, health professionals and grant-writers, worked feverishly, bolstered by Goodwin’s drive and determination to succeed in foreign territory far removed from her life as a physician. Health Watch culture was always in multitask mode. The office was equal parts workspace with desks and computer stations, and also offered afterschool amenities for employees’ children. Nothing was off-limits on the HW radar. The organization would grow into a reliable venue for the latest insights about the national health as it pertained to minority populations. The HW glossary covered subjects ranging from racial disparities in healthcare, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, infant mortality, aging and stroke, to teen obesity and national teen-dating violence. Focus-group sessions, rigorous research, telephone- and on-site counseling, creating health messages for minority audiences, digital brainstorming and creating Health Watch newsletters and manuals, are parts of a typical HW workday.
Health Watch, Goodwin’s maiden entrepreneurial effort, became a household name in local and national African American health circles and beyond. The group was popular with elite corporations like the Wrigley Corporation and CBS-TV, which sought both HW counsel and opportunities to partner with Goodwin on projects to reach her large audience of minority followers. By the mid ‘90s Health Watch was a regular fixture at the National Medical Association Convention. (The NMA is a trade group of African American doctors founded in 1895), where it would host breakfast or lunch receptions for hundreds of guests, competing with corporate American parties. Health Watch also had an interface with the National Black Baptist Convention. It touched all bases. Goodwin was inundated with requests for speaking engagements and to be interviewed about the Health Watch juggernaut by mainstream media like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Daily News, and by Black media alike.
The Health Watch goal, stipulated by Dr. Goodwin, was to improve health outcomes for multicultural communities, and by any means necessary. Health Watch would customize health messages for corporate clients, which would embed in ad-buys targeted to urban radio and TV audiences. A Wrigley gum ad was a popular promotion, reaching large audiences “who got the message.” A 24/7 sex-education hotline for teen consumers was also exceedingly effective. Other strategic partners include Big Pharma’s Merck and GlaxoKlineSmith and CBS-TV. HW co-hosted health forums with the Brooklyn-based Caribbean Women’s Health Association a few times annually.
Grants kept Health Watch’s budget afloat. The Center for Disease Control, the NYS Health Department, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health were regular sources of grants and support, as was the HW Annual Awards Dinner Benefit, a $500 subscription gala, which was held at the Waldorf Astoria and Tavern on The Green, venues where its corporate titans, politicos, health professionals and medics were honored.
One of Health Watch’s most ambitious projects, again the brainchild of Dr. Goodwin, was a daylong HIV/AIDS teleconference with closed-circuit links to about 10 urban markets across the nation. It was held at the New York Academy of Medicine. Medical doctors and prominent American health officials participated in the “Stand Up For Your Life” campaign of infomercials targeting minority adolescents.
When Health Watch dissolved in 2002, Health Power for Minorities arrived as a unique digital health-news service posting blogs and stories written by a diverse roster of doctors and health professionals. Healthpowerforminorities.com was among the top five Google sites for minorities and boasted more than three million hits annually.
EPILOGUE: Look at Dr. Goodwin’s pre-Health Watch/ healthpowerforminorities.com world! Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1937, Goodwin had been a candidate for great expectations. She graduated from HS at 15, earned her BS from Virginia State at age 19 and was one of the first Blacks to graduate from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. She fled Jim Crow life and relocated to Brooklyn, where she completed an internship in internal medicine at Kings County Hospital and completed a residency in nephrology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. In the ‘60s she was the first woman and African American physician to become vice president of the NY Hospital Association. Had she survived COVID-19 she would have battled the pandemic with a vengeance.

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