The Indiana Minority Health Coalition is a statewide non-profit that exists to reduce the incidence of chronic health conditions and health disparities that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities in Indiana. We do this work through the twenty-one coalitions and affiliates that we fund around the state to focus on education, outreach, advocacy and addressing public policy.
What is your title and job description?
I am the Director of the National Diabetes Prevention Program. Our prevention program entitled “Change Your Lifestyle, Change Your Life” or CYL² is funded by the Black Women’s Health Imperative in Washington DC. In our program we target African American and Hispanic women who have a A1C of 5.7 to 6.4. Our lifestyle coaches participants how to eat differently and move more. CYL² leads the way in helping people not only shed pounds, but also avoid diabetes, heart disease and many other chronic conditions.CYL² is part of the National Diabetes Prevention Program, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I wear two hats, I am also an elected official for the State Of Indiana; I have been a State Representative for the past 26 years. One of my most recent pieces of legislation is a study of diabetes in Indiana. I found that there was no new data for our state. We know that in Indiana there are 10.9% of Hoosier that suffer from diabetes, and 6.4% have pre diabetes, we want to change those numbers.
What inspired this career path?
Well, I was already a diabetic and as a legislator we work part time. I did ask the Lord for a job and to help me with my diabetes. So when the Diabetes Director position became available at the Indiana Minority Health Coalition I applied and the rest is history.
How can people find out more about the Indiana Minority Health Coalition?
Anyone interested in our diabetes prevention program can call me directly at 317-920-4951. Visit us online at www.imhc.org. We are also very active on social media. Visit us on
Facebook – https://m.facebook.com/IndianaMinorityHealth/
Twitter – @IMHC_Indiana
Instagram – imhc_indiana
How does race impact the black community regarding healthcare?
African American communities historically are disproportionately affected by all chronic health conditions. Heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and HIV are among the top chronic conditions that affect African American communities. In Indiana there is a great push to see a reduction in infant deaths.
What’s next for the Indiana Minority Health Coalition?
Presently we are working with the City of Indianapolis to bring Change Your Lifestyle. Change Your Life to municipal employees. We will continue to bring our program to as many people that we can.
Additionally, two of diabetes prevention lifestyle coaches will traveling to Columbia to provide training in Spanish for health care professional and community health workers. There has also been interest expressed in our team going to Puerto Rico to provide training as well.
What inspired you to become a State Legislator?
My father, the late Joe W. Summers was a legislator for 15 years, he died at the early age of 61 years old. His seat was opened three hours after he died because of the climate of the Indiana House of Representatives at the time. I replaced him through a clause in Indiana law that enabled a family member to take his unexpired time; which was about nine months in 1991.
State Representative Vanessa J. Summers started in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1991. Upon the death of her father, the late Joseph W. Summers, she filled the unexpired term and has been elected ever since. In February of 2012, she became the first female as well as first African-American to become Democratic Caucus Chairman.
Vanessa’s goals in the Indiana General Assembly include improving the infant mortality in Indiana and all children’s issues. Another interest is the prisoner re-entry program.
Ms. Summers is currently the Coordinator of the National Diabetes Prevention Program at the Indiana Minority Health Coalition in Indianapolis. She has worked for The ARC of Indiana (a statewide advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities and their families) and the Julian Center Shelter (a domestic violence center). Vanessa is also a funeral director and embalmer for Summers Funeral Chapel, a family-owned and -run business.
Vanessa graduated from St. Mary’s Academy for Girls, attended IUPUI, and received an associate degree from the Indiana College of Mortuary Science, graduating in 1981 and licensed by the State of Indiana.
She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; the NAACP; and Light of the World Christian Church. Vanessa is the proud mother of one son, Trent; and a granddaughter, Emersyn Grace.