MPH student Destiny Cozart receives 2023 Lyman T. Johnson Torch Bearer Award
Kentucky native and Master of Public Health student Destiny Cozart has been named the 2023 recipient of the Lyman T. Johnson Torch Bearer Award on behalf of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health (CPH). Destiny was among nearly 40 UK alumni and students honored at the 32nd annual Lyman T. Johnson Awards Luncheon on October 13 in the Gatton Student Center Grand Ballroom on UK’s campus.
Named after civil rights pioneer and the first African American student to attend the University of Kentucky in 1949, the Lyman T. Johnson (LTJ) Awards are given to African American members of the University of Kentucky community whose faith, hard work, and determination have positively impacted the lives of people on campus or the city, state, or nation.
“Being nominated for the Lyman T. Johnson Award was honestly a shock to begin with, but it was also very humbling and confirmed that the work I’m doing isn’t going unnoticed,” Destiny said on being nominated. “I was immediately grateful to even be considered; internally, I knew I was deserving, but for it to be noticed outside of myself is gratifying. It lets me know that the process is working, and I am headed in the right direction.”
Destiny shared that this recognition is motivation for her.
“To be honored in [Lyman Johnson’s] legacy is a true honor,” she said. “What he stands for and represents to the university and especially people of color—it motivates me to continue in his footsteps in the restoration of black and brown communities throughout Kentucky and beyond.”
Finding Public Health
After graduating with a BS in Health Science Life and minors in Business and Spanish from Missouri Southern State University, Destiny returned home to Lexington to become a research assistant at UK.
Destiny’s goal was to be impactful in the health field to those that needed it most.
“I immediately discovered that, if I wanted to be as impactful as I planned to be, I needed to further my education,” she said. “Also, understanding that to have organizational and systemic change, you must first learn the system itself lead me back to my current endeavor of graduate school.”
Destiny is now working on her MPH with a concentration in Health Management and Policy. She felt that policy was the best way to make a difference.
“True and sustainable change comes in the form of policy and legislation,” she said. “For something to change, there typically must be a law put in place. If not, it is just an option.”
Destiny feels strongly that receiving adequate health care and having healthy food easily accessible should not be options, but laws. Destiny shared that she also has (secretly) wanted to be a public speaker to advocate for effective policies and felt this concentration would support her long-term goals.
In her current position as a research assistant on the Community Health Advocacy iNterventions Generating Equity (CHANGE) Team, Destiny assists in mobilizing a five-year National Institutes of Health grant, “Fit and Faithful” alongside Dr. Lovoria Williams , APRN-BC,FAANP, FAAN. Destiny culturally adapts a multi-site community-based intervention model of the National Diabetes Prevention Program, specifically tailored to address the lifestyle changes needed for African Americans in the faith setting to prevent Type 2 diabetes in Central Kentucky’s communities of color.
“I meet the needs of the project from recruitment of partnerships, retention of participants, data collection, training community health workers to deliver the intervention, fidelity, and supporting day-to-day operations,” she explained.
The goal of the grant is to partner with 20 organizations of faith and reach nearly 500 African Americans in the Central Kentucky area.
Destiny’s post-grad plans include completing and disseminating research findings for the five-year NIH grant and become involved in health equity and policy engagement. As well as continuing to coach high school girls' basketball and using the sport as tool to positively influence the youth in the city and beyond. “I also want to continue to forge a path for health equity and social determinants of health for underserved and underrepresented communities when building health policies and regulations for this country,” she said.
Destiny said she hopes to create positive, sustainable health changes in the future. Her ultimate goal is that her involvement and passion for strengthening the communities she lives in and serves will be fulfilled through her efforts.
“People are soil, and by nurturing them with the nutrients they need, we not only strengthen them as individuals, but consequently grow the community they belong to,” she said. “A great man once said, ‘I came not to be served, but to serve,’ and it is my goal to embody this mission of servant leadership both in my vocational and daily life.”
To learn more about the University of Kentucky College of Public Health’s people, programs, and passion for public health, visit cph.uky.edu.