From The St. Louis American…
Growing up, Renee M. Cunningham-Williams, PhD, associate professor of social work and associate dean for doctoral education at the Brown School at Washington University, said she had a front-row seat to observe how at-risk youth can get thrown off-course in life.
She grew up in the Arthur Blumeyer Housing Project in midtown St. Louis, one of the last remaining public-housing projects in the city before being demolished in 2006.
“I didn’t know Blumeyer was considered impoverished until I went to Howard University, as a first generation college student, where I saw great variations in social class,” Cunningham-Williams said.
Blumeyer was a community where risk for young people was clearly evident, but also a community where many individuals, institutions, and situations facilitated growth and opportunity, she said.
“I consider them all positive ‘change makers,’” Cunningham-Williams said. “I was blessed to be influenced by many change makers such as being nurtured in a loving home and being exposed to supportive community and church members and teachers.”
For more than two decades, Cunningham-Williams’ work has focused on the healthy transitions into and out of young adulthood, as well as leading social work doctoral and post-doctoral education. Her work has led to better screenings and interventions for gambling disorders among vulnerable populations, as well as to the training and development of future scholars in social work and public health.
“I’m proud to be at the forefront of understanding risk and protections for vulnerable youth, especially African-American youth,” said Cunningham-Williams, who is also the director of the Brown School’s doctoral program in social work. “Primarily my work has been to understand what that risk trajectory looks like and what change makers have been able to interrupt the course.”
On Friday, April 27, Cunningham-Williams will receive the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund Dr. John M. Anderson Excellence in Mental Health Award. She will be honored at the 18th Annual Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards Luncheon at the Frontenac Hilton. Net proceeds from the event support the St. Louis American Foundation, which fostered more than $750,000 in community grants and scholarships for area youth in 2017.
One of the country’s foremost experts on problem gambling, Cunningham-Williams has devoted her career to studying risk behaviors and protective factors associated with emerging adulthood, including addictions. Her research has been disseminated nationally and internationally, appeared in high-impact academic journals, and been recognized with numerous awards and honors.
Her newest line of research focused on the college/university setting as both a particular risk for substance abuse and mental health disorders, as well as an opportunity for prevention and health promotion among college students, particularly students of color.