Voices Changing Communities

Goldie Smith Byrd, PhD: “Investing in Herself so She Can Invest in Her Community”

Goldie Smith Byrd, PhD, is the director of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity (MACHE) and a Professor of Social Sciences and Health Policy at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. That is a big title for a small-town girl from Magnolia, North Carolina. But Dr. Byrd’s goal is not to wear a big title, but to make a difference in her community. To position herself to make that difference, Dr. Byrd has invested in herself at every opportunity. She and her sister, only one year apart in age, attended North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina (NC A&T). While there Dr. Byrd gained two bachelor’s degrees, one in biology secondary education and one in professional biology. She continued to invest in herself by pursuing her PhD at Meharry Medical College in Microbial Genetics. She completed post-doctoral work at Meharry Medical College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Duke University. At each institution where she was employed, Dr. Byrd put this investment to work in higher education, by increasing diversity in the STEM and biomedical sciences work force. In addition, she has spent the past 20 years increasing diversity in AD research and clinical trials. “Closing these disparity gaps are helping to close gaps in health disparities.”

Dr. Byrd credits her parents as her best leadership examples and raising a family as a close second! Living in Eastern North Carolina during the Jim Crow period, her parents experienced the impact of structural racism. Despite these obstacles they owned their own home and their own land. They modeled respect, hard work, decency and building a legacy. Dr. Byrd applied those values to her adult life and made investments in her legacy by taking advantage of workshops, seminars, conferences, leadership training – any and every opportunity to become a stronger leader and to share new knowledge with her students, colleagues, and communities she served. Her confidence and love for her work shine through as she describes the MACHE mission of making everyone healthier – every race, every ethnicity, all genders, every person – so the world can be a better place.

Before her appointment to MACHE in September 2018, Dr. Byrd spent fifteen years at NC A&T. Her time there set a foundation for her leadership at MACHE. She was the first female chair of the Department of Biology and the first permanent female dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

She served as the interim executive director of N.C. A&T’s Center for Outreach in Alzheimer’s Aging and Community Health. In addition to her leadership at NC A&T, Dr. Byrd was a faculty member in the Departments of Biology at Tennessee State University and North Carolina Central University, and adjunct Assistant Professor at Duke University. Her research in the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease in African Americans has been recognized both nationally and internationally by the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame.

While Dr. Byrd was investing in herself, she was investing in her family. She and her husband raised three children and have one grandchild in Greensboro, where her husband is from. She imitates her mom’s style of leadership at work and at home and strives for a balance between a purpose-driven career and happy life outside of work. Her job is far from over and she urges everyone in our community to educate themselves on why and how health disparities are so prevalent in our area. Viewing our surroundings, our neighbors, and our past with clarity and work toward equity can help us see opportunities for investment in our community and our society. “If you do not know about disparities, educate yourself. Read about them. Discuss them with others. There is no excuse for ignorance.”  A large portion of our community suffers from poorer health outcomes and shorter lifespans because of social drivers, such as where they live and sleep, what they eat and do, and everyday discrimination and stress. We all need to take a deeper dive into making our communities healthier for everyone by educating ourselves, volunteering, creating new policies and doing better.

If you are looking for ways to invest in our community or for volunteer opportunities, email the Maya Angelou Center at mache@wakehealth.edu. “You do not have to be an expert. Anyone can help!”

Thank you, Dr. Byrd, for investing in yourself and in our community. Time for us to make that investment, too!


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