The Science of Families: Nurturing Hope, Happiness, & Health—2021 Annual Conference

Tammy L. Henderson, Ph.D., CFLE, 2021 NCFR Conference Program Chair
/ NCFR Report, Fall 2021

See all articles from this issue

Tammy L. Henderson
Tammy L. Henderson, Ph.D., CFLE

Members of the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) express their commitment to family values through excellence in evidence-based practices, instruction, basic and translational research, professional service, Family Life Education, and advocacy efforts. Our annual conference provides an opportunity for us to share, network, and deconstruct the innovations in these primary areas seasoned with the voices of persons whose voices have been often or continue to be silenced. Specifically, the 2021 annual conference (Nov. 2-5, 2021) focuses on how families remain hopeful, happy, and healthy amid major risk factors that undermine healthy development, including COVID-19, economic instability, and racism against members of Black, Asian, LGBTQ+, and other vulnerable yet resilient communities. NCFR contributes to this historical moment of change, challenge, and community to dismantle harmful and oppressive systems and support the resurgence of a global social and economic justice psyche. (Register for the conference here)

Let me share the history of my vision. The conference theme, The Science of Families: Nurturing Hope, Happiness, & Health, emerged in 2012 in direct resistance to systems of oppression and other factors that undermine healthy individual, family, and community development. The need to focus on the affirmative challenges scholars to spend additional time on the solutions, adaptive behaviors, and resilience of study or program participants after clearly naming and defining multidimensional problems. To this end, I identified plenary presenters who can provide a cohesive experience and advance our understanding of hope, happiness, and health among persons from diverse social addresses. Looking across the overall conference program, presenters are providing meaningful work that serves to dismantle adverse conditions that undermine hope, happiness, and health in response to this historical time across the globe.


Sessions Organized by the Conference Chair

The three plenary sessions and a special session are linked together to provide a deeper context and foundation to the real-time experiences of contemporary families and vulnerable populations. This year, the conference’s featured presenters are Black women scholars from two Historical Black Colleges and Universities, a predominately White university, and a national collaborative community-based research initiative. I suggest that featuring four powerful Black women scholars is a form of resistance to systems of oppression and exemplifies a professional bridge between NCFR and scholars in diverse communities.1

Andrea Hunter
Andrea Hunter

More About Dr. Hunter

Podcast: When A Colored Girl Speaks

Starting with the opening plenary, Andrea Hunter, Ph.D., outlines the interconnections of “knowledge, power, and ideas” and paradigmatic rifts in Family Science that has attended the scholarship and theorizing about Black families. She deconstructs the politics of knowing while highlighting a paradigm of resistance and resilience in the study of Black Families. Dr. Hunter will also explore the ways scholarship can unearth the legacies of racialized trauma, injury, and healing as well as the adaptive capacities of families.

The evidence presented by Dr. Hunter will support efforts to understand and identify the influence of the intergenerational and compounding layers of posttraumatic slave syndrome, survivor’s syndrome2, and Historical Trauma1-4  and the adaptive behaviors of Black families. Dr. Hunter is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and a Chancellor’s Fellow for Campus Climate at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Patricia Matthews-Juarez
Patricia Matthews-Juarez

More About Dr. Matthews-Juarez

National Center for Medical Education Development and Research, Meharry Medical College.

Annual Communities of Practice Conference: Presentation by Angela W. Walter, Ph.D.

In the next plenary session, Patricia Matthews-Juarez, Ph.D., describes the developmental and transformed Black family by unpacking familial transformations. She suggests strategies for the hope, happiness, and health of persons experiencing homelessness and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Grounded in Family Systems Theory, Dr. Matthews-Juarez provides a consciousness-raising critique of how we “think, act, and plan” our work with families from diverse communities. She addresses health equity using the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, migrant farmworkers, and persons experiencing homelessness.

Going deeper, the second plenary highlights the work of Drs. Paul Juarez and Matthews-Juarez, the National Center for Medical Education Development and Research at Meharry Medical College. Scholars in the center’s educational research focuses on the gaps in medical education to address access to patient-centered care, coordination of care models, and health equity to persons who identify as LGBTQ+, persons experiencing homelessness, and migrant farmworkers. Their research also points to the need for medical schools in the United States to initiate a process for transforming their curriculum to enhance primary care education and clinical practice to advance the skills and knowledge of primary care professionals caring for vulnerable populations.

As the center’s co-director, Dr. Matthews-Juarez helped organize the annual Communities of Practice Conference, which recently celebrated its fifth year. Dr. Matthews-Juarez also provides service to Meharry Medical College’s state and local public health projects as professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, and as senior vice president for strategic initiatives and innovation. Meharry is at the center of COVID-19 efforts in Tennessee, and its president James Hildreth was appointed to the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (see established by the Biden administration.

Suzanne Randolph Cunningham
Suzanne Randolph Cunningham

Before closing these foundational sessions, I have devised a special session that mimics NCFR’s Theory Construction and Research Methodology (TCRM) model. In this session, Suzanne Randolph Cunningham, Ph.D., guides a compassionate, yet critical, exploration of the intersection of race, ethnicity, culture, and COVID-19 on mental health and hope. Conference participants will be exposed to a variety of lessons learned from COVID-19. Dr. Randolph Cunningham will also address physical and mental health disparities and the influence of lingering and ongoing post-traumatic slavery and Historical Trauma. The plenary presenters will each offer perspectives on Dr. Randolph Cunningham’s research.

Dr. Randolph Cunningham is the chief science officer at MayaTech Corporation and associate professor emerita of Family Science at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. The research conducted by Dr. Randolph Cunningham is from the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) COVID-19 needs assessment project sponsored by the Alliance of National Psychological Associations for Racial and Ethnic Equity and the National Urban League.


Camara Jones
Camara Jones

More About Dr. Camara Jones

Emory PA Program Commencement 2020 - Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones

Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones: Dismantling Racism in the Children and Nature Movement: Naming Racism and Moving to Action

Dr. Camara Jones Explains Cliff of Good Health

Creating choices, telling our stories, and advocating for change are linked to happiness, hope, and health.1,2,5–14 Therefore, Camara Jones M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., offers the closing plenary and uses her long-standing evidence-based premise that racism is a public health risk factor. Dr. Jones’s scholarship advanced the leadership at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Public Health Association, and her other recent efforts surrounding COVID-19. The allegories of racism are used to outline institutional, personally mediated, and internalized racism.15

Dr. Jones will share strategies to advocate for and dismantle the enduring impact of racism that undermines hope, happiness, and health. She proposed several approaches to organizing and addressing racism that include (a) communicating and disseminating fact-based information coupled with narratives that ground the quantitative facts;16 (b) educating via effective evidence-based cultural grounded trainings; (c) using global eradication strategies; (d) advancing the awareness of the historical successes of anti-racist approaches; (e) organizing excellence in research, clinical and best practices, and translational partnerships; (f) enacting policies and laws that shape the behaviors of the masses; and (g) advocating for transdisciplinary funded research on the practices, instruction pedagogy, and research needed to dismantle racism.17

Dr. Jones is a past president of the American Public Health Association and was the 2019–2020 Evelyn Green Davis Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She has served as a medical officer at the CDC. She is currently a senior fellow at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine; an adjunct professor at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education and the Department of Epidemiology; and an adjunct associate professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in the Department of Community Health and Preventive Medicine.


In summary, I hope you have seen the NCFR Call for Papers—The Science of Families: Nurturing Hope, Happiness, and Health (see for the journal Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science. In this special issue, I, along with guest editors Drs. Randolph Cunningham and DeAnna Harris-McKoy, invite authors to build on the momentum generated at this conference, continuing critical dialogue and supporting the manifestation of hope, happiness, and health in the lives of children, youth, adults, and families everywhere. At the end of the day, members of NCFR are committed to developing, using, and grappling with long-standing effective approaches to dismantling racism and other systems of oppression that undermine families’ quest for hope, happiness, and health.

Let us explore! We offer more concrete measures to advance the development of children, youth, adults, and families. Conference presenters will highlight best practices, basic and translational research, instruction, and innovative approaches. We also will provide continuing education credits for Certified Family Life Educators. We look forward to seeing you in November!



1Winters, M.-F. (2020). Black fatigue: How racism erodes the mind, body and spirit. Berrett-Koehler.

2Joy DeGruy, L. (2005). Post traumatic slave syndrome: America’s legacy of enduring injury and healing. Uptone Press.

3Brave Heart, Y., Chase, J., Elkins, J., & Altschul, D. (2011). Historical trauma among indigenous peoples of the Americas: Concepts, research, and clinical considerations. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 43, 282–290.

4Campbell, C., & Evans-Campbell, T. (2011). Historical trauma and Native American child development and mental health: An overview. In M. Sarche, P. Spicer, P. Farrell, & H. Fitzgerald (Eds.), American Indian and Alaska Native Children in mental health: Development, context, prevention, and treatment (pp. 1–26). Praeger.

5Achor, S. (2018). Big potential: How transforming the pursuit of success raises our achievement, happiness, and well-being. Crown.

6Achor, S. (2013). Before happiness: The five hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustain positive change. Crown.

7Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. Crown.

8Bastian, B. (2019). The other side of happiness: Embracing a more fearless approach to living. Penguin Random House.

9Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live do love, parent, and lead. Penguin Random House.

10Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden.

11Diangelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for White people to talk about racism. Beacon.

12Gielan, M. (2015). Broadcasting happiness: The science of igniting and sustaining positive change. BenBella.

13Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. Random House.

14Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The origins of our discontents. Random House.

15Jones, C. (2014). Allegories on race and racism. TEDx Emory,

16Gilgun, J. F. (2012). Enduring themes in qualitative family research. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 4, 80–95.

17Jones, C. P. (2018). Toward the science and practice of anti-racism: Launching a national campaign against racism. Ethnicity & Disease, 28(Suppl. 1), 231–234.