An interview with Barbara Pullen-Smith
Dr. Barbara Pullen-Smith recounts her life story in a conversation with Victor Schoenbach.
- Part 1 (33 min)
Barbara grew up in Littleton, NC during the 1950s, the youngest of five children whose father passed away suddenly when she was an infant. Her mother raised all five children, all of whom became college (or higher) graduates. Barbara attended segregated schools until 6th grade, except in 4th grade she and a group of classmates were bused to a white school as an experiment in integration (but they were placed in a class by themselves, in a trailer). Her older sister, Emma, persuaded - Barbara to follow her to UNC. At UNC she learned from John Hatch about population health, which inspired her to major in public health.
- Part 2 (33 min)
Barbara met her husband Keith in Greensboro NC while she was enrolled in a masters program at Emory University in Atlanta. Upon graduating from Emory she moved to Greensboro and took a job with the American Cancer Society, working to engage the Black community in cancer awareness/education and also working on fundraising. Several years later Delton Atkinson compiled a report about racial health disparities in North Carolina, which led Health Director Ron Levine to recommend creation of an Office of Minority Health, for which Barbara became the first director. A signature focus of her office was providing funding to local health departments and also community organizations, faith-based organizations, and American Indian tribes for projects aimed at eliminating health disparities.
- Part 3 (26 min)
During her years leading the NC Office of Minority Health as its founding Director, her office worked to promote diversity and inclusion in other state health department offices. The office supported, participated in, and helped community health workers to attend the Annual Minority Health Conference at UNC. Since leaving the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (as it later became), Barbara has worked as a consultant to community organizations, traveled abroad with her husband Keith, and became an adjunct professor at St. Augustine's University, where she coordinates the internship program for undergraduate public health majors. In 2015, she developed breast cancer and experienced the health care system from the patient perspective. She then wrote The New Woman in the Mirror, based on her experience from diagnosis to healing (www.barbarapullensmith.com). Writing out her experiences has helped her to heal.
The interview was recorded by Victor Schoenbach and Barbara's husband Keith at their residence in Garner, NC, on December 13, 2019.