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First-generation alumna, Dr. Regina Washington, was the first African American graduate student to graduate from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health (UKCPH) with her Doctor in Public Health (DrPH) in 2006.

Dr. Washington strongly believes that faith, family, perseverance, positivity, health and well-being, and education are some of the key drivers to happiness in her life. 

Born and raised in Martinsburg, West Virginia, her young parents raised Regina and her siblings to be life-long learners, independent, and to serve others with passion – to say yes to life, to people, and yourself. 

In 2022, Dr. Washington shared her story after receiving UKCPH’s Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence Award, recognizing one African American alum from each of the university’s academic colleges whose faith, hard work, and determination has positively affected the lives of people on UK’s campus, the city, nation, or beyond. 

In 2023, we revisit with Dr. Washington to expand on her original story. 

Previously, you shared with us the importance of faith, family, perseverance, positivity, and education. You also shared that your parents (and siblings) promoted being life-long learners, independent, and to serve others with passion – to say yes to life, to people, and yourself. Expand on this more, especially your mother, which you recently shared played a significant role in your life. 

“1964 was the year that my hometown, Martinsburg WV, integrated African Americans and White Americans in the same school. My mother attended Ramer School system designated for African Americans and she was forced to integrate into a predominantly White high school in 1964. It was during this time when she was called derogatory names, had to continue her education in a non-welcoming environment, and was not provided busing which required her to walk miles to get to school.  

During the winter season, she had to walk miles in the snow and was not at home when the announcement of school being cancelled came on the radio, because as a walker she had to leave her house early enough to get to school on time. On the days school was canceled due to snow, the walkers (like my mother), didn’t find out until they arrived at school and then they had to turn around and walk back home in the cold and snow.  

My mother said that she kept telling herself that education is important for a better quality of life and that during the time of early integration, she just had to hang in there because she believed that things were going to get better. 

After witnessing African Americans being passed to the next grade level without sufficient education and reading skills, my mother vowed to get all the education she could so that she could make a difference in the community by improving reading outcomes among rural low-income students.

Fortunately, my mother did not allow early teen pregnancy to stop her from pursuing a career in education as a third and fourth grade teacher and assistant principal. She utilized technology to improve reading outcomes. She decided to begin her college education at age 44 after my siblings and I graduated from high school. Her value for education is strong, and she believed it was key to breaking the generational poverty cycle. 

Interestingly, I serve as the director of Rural Impact Networks and managing director of the Rural Library Network at Partners for Rural Impact in Berea, Kentucky. One of the initiatives of the Rural Library Network was to work with twenty-two rural library practitioner fellows to improve reading outcomes through an equitable results action plan and community collective impact approach. 

My mother plays an instrumental role in encouraging me and my siblings to imagine the wonderful things we can do to improve our community, to be an influencer and change agent to address inequities, and to seek to have lasting, positive impact on the lives of people.” 

You are currently the Director of Rural Impact Networks at Partners for Rural Impact in Berea, Kentucky. Tell us more about this position, the organization, and how your role fulfills the mission of this non-profit. 

“As the director of Rural Impact Networks and managing director for the Rural Library Network at Partners for Rural Impact, I am afforded the opportunity to address education and health disparities and inequities through by engaging libraries and library practitioners who are committed to accelerating education outcomes, cradle to career. 

This strategic priority is aligned with Partners for Rural Impact’s mission that all rural students succeed. The Rural Library Network is a cradle to career initiative focused on improving educational inequities in rural America through driving resources to rural libraries as they engage children and families, implement strategies to improve educational outcomes, and collaborate with other community sectors to maximize the services and resources for the community.

The Rural Library Network is a forum to: 

  • Engage and support rural libraries and practitioners committed to move cradle to career outcomes for youth, 0-24, in rural places across this nation. 
  • Build community and shared learning among members committed to not only improve cradle to career outcomes but also strengthen place-based community partnerships across educational institutions among public, academic, and school libraries. 
  • Drive funding and resources to members committed to advance educational outcomes across the cradle to career (kindergarten readiness, reading proficiency, high school graduation and college readiness, college graduation, and meaningful employment).” 

What does “water first” mean? Explain this more and how it fits in your health journey and how others can apply this in their health journey? 

“Health and wellbeing are at the heart of my work and personal life. Growing up in a Pentecostal nondenominational church in West Virginia provided an opportunity for me to strengthen my servant leadership, love for my neighbor, and desire to heal the community.  

Water is a symbol of healing, in addition to fluidity, change, purifier, and a source for growth in a spiritual and physical perspective. Spiritually, the living water is the symbol of the “Word” that can cleanse the spirit, provide inner peace, and activate spiritual wellness and healing.  

Drinking water also serves as a physical wellness strategy to heal your body, including your organs, blood, joints, and clarity of thinking. In essence, water can heal the mind, body, and soul. In all our actions in life, take water first to achieve optimal spiritual and physical wellbeing.” 

You have recently shared that we need to continue to be trailblazers and leave things better than how we found it. In your experience, what is your advice on how we all can and should do that? What are some examples? 

“Many times, in my life, I had no blueprint (personally and professionally). Being the first college graduate in my family in 1993 from Berea College, I did not have a blueprint or a model to immolate. Fortunately, I had two parents that were guided learners in raising me and my three siblings.  

A trailblazer is a pioneer that has courage and is willing to take risks and go in a pathway that may not have a blueprint. Rest assure that the pathway will be a blueprint for others to follow.  

I encourage others to be trailblazers, take risks, have courage and strength to be a part of the solution and not the problem. Similarly, to Garrett Morgan who invented the three-light signal in 1923, George Washington Carver who suggested an alternative to growing cotton in the late 1800’s early 1900’s, and Shirley Chisholm who became the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress. 

Although I was not blessed to have children, I have given birth to several new ideas, initiatives, and policies that have positively impacted the lives of the community. 

After completing my DrPH (Doctor of Public Health) degree from UKCPH, I served as the Dept of Public Health Division Director of Prevention and Quality Improvement. This position was a new position in the department and provided an opportunity to: 

  • Create a strategic plan for the division;

  • Build and maintain partnerships that would encourage the first legislation related to colorectal cancer screening as one of the wellness screenings covered by insurance; and

  • Creating a healthy communities initiative to address obesity and prevent early onset chronic diseases, prescription assistance program which increased access to low and no cost prescriptions for individuals with no health insurance, and the Kentucky diabetes centers of excellence program through local health departments to reduce emergency room visits, increase screenings and group support, and increase the quality of life of those diagnosed with diabetes.” 

You were the first African American student to graduate from UKCPH. With that in mind, what does Black History Month mean to you? Also, why is it important that we continue to elevate and amplify Black achievements and awareness during this month and throughout the year? 

“Black History Month means we celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of Black achievement, not just in February but every day. 

As we celebrate public health week, we also recognize the importance of public health everyday of our lives. Black achievement happens throughout the entire year, but Black History Month is a system of remembrance that our nation today would not be as wealthy and sustainable without the contributions of Black people, such innovations, inventions, hard work, leadership, courage, and strength.  

It is important that we continue to elevate and amplify Black achievement to understand the stories and life experiences of Black people, to provide an opportunity to lift Black voices and highlight those who made a difference in our community, culture, and history.  

Recognizing the impact of trailblazers and leaders of all racial and ethnic groups is important!” 

To learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion at UKCPH, visit  

To learn more about our people, programs, and passion for public health, visit

National Public Health Week 2023

Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health during April 3-7

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