How can research make our community better for everyone?

Community-Driven Research to Benefit People


Research is a process that helps us understand more about our world, people, and cultures among many other things. It helps us deepen our understanding of everything around us. We also know that historically, some research has been conducted in unethical and extractive ways that have caused harm to historically oppressed communities; especially Black and Brown communities. 

  • Unethical community research can exploit participants in many ways. For example: by failing to obtain informed consent, disregarding peoples’ privacy, and not respecting their autonomy or benefiting the community.
  • Extractive community research takes data from communities without giving back or addressing peoples’ needs, often benefiting researchers more than the community itself.

In recognizing all of this, how do we move towards a reality of research that — more often than not — centers the experiences of those most impacted by historical discrimination? The People’s Research Council (PRC) is one tool to move towards this reality. By bringing community in across the different stages of a research project, space is made to share stories, prevent harmful practices and narratives, and establish community ownership over work that so deeply inquires into peoples’ lives. By centering people in this work, the Peoples’ Research Council aligns research with advocacy, and takes direction from the community in how that advocacy looks and what it should achieve. 

One example of research that centers traditionally marginalized people is the 2023 Black Philanthropy Initiative Report: The Intersectionality of Black Life and Being. As an early example of what is possible through a methodology aligned with the Peoples’ Research Council, this report highlights the success and possibilities when the community is asked to collaborate deeply and reimagine what might be possible through research. From video podcasts to local history to community-sourced images and photography and recommendations for action and advocacy, we think you’ll agree that this report is special, refreshing, and invites all of us to imagine what else might be possible if we begin to reimagine how local research happens.

What is the Peoples’ Research Council?

Understanding the Peoples’ Research Council, or ‘PRC’, begins with asking the question — How can research make our community better for everyone? Each year, in Forsyth County and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, our community invests millions of dollars into local research efforts. This research studies everything from the housing crisis, to education, to transportation, food access, and beyond. But this research often misses the most important piece — starting with people in community — to understand peoples’ lives, experiences, and invite them to be co-leaders in how to design the research and best use these resources to improve peoples’ lives. The Peoples’ Research Council has three main goals:

  1. Prevent harm through research;
  2. Expand who has influence over research, prioritizing those who have traditionally been marginalized;
  3. Align research with action to improve the material conditions of people.

Vision: The Peoples’ Research Council aims to transform research culture in Forsyth County by fostering solidarity, raising awareness of systemic disenfranchisement, and empowering change. By using community-based methodologies, we prevent harmful research, empower individuals, improve material conditions, and cultivate solidarity for systems change.

Our Team

Photograph of Dr. Crystal Ellis

Dr. Crystal Ellis

Dr. Crystal Ellis is the Vice President of Research and Strategy for Action4Equity. She holds her Ph.D in African and African Diaspora Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the primary focus of her studies over the past 10 years has been community development practices, and the transformative impact of these practices on the lives of people impacted by systemic discrimination and marginalization.

Photograph of Tyler Sparks

Tyler Sparks

Tyler Sparks is the Communications Director for Forsyth Futures. He received his Bachelor’s degree from UNC Wilmington in 2009, majoring in Poetry, Communication, and Publishing. He has worked as a graphic designer, webmaster, creative director, project manager, and communications director. He’s passionate about using his skills to make a positive impact on peoples’ lives and believes that a more just world is possible.

Get Engaged with the Peoples’ Research Council

There are lots of parts and pieces to the Peoples’ Research Council (PRC):

  • a Governance Council that helps make major decisions, 
  • Project Boards that guide, direct, and support specific projects, and 
  • a Communication and Engagement Workgroup,
  • Backbone Partners and Staff that support the day-to-day operations. 

With so much happening, it’s crucial to intentionally welcome our neighbors into this effort, share information, and build community through discussion and participation. By partnering together, we can strengthen the collective power that forms the foundation of the Peoples’ Research Council.

The Peoples’ Research Council Open House Series

Through our PRC Open House series, you can deepen your understanding of the PRC, provide vital feedback, and discover opportunities for deeper engagement. The Open House series extends beyond the PRC — designed to be a broader community feedback loop, offering a shared space where local partners who are engaged in relevant community, advocacy, or related work can both share and gather essential community feedback. Join us at upcoming Open House events to connect with and become more informed about the ongoing work in your community!

Who is the Open House for?

Research about our community affects all of us! We need moms, dads, students, young professionals, artists, bus drivers, musicians, elders, advocates, organizers, brothers, sisters, business owners, dancers, retirees, volunteers, nature lovers, dog people, cat people, aunts, uncles, and regular people just like you!

PRC Affinity Caucuses

To complement PRC Open Houses, every other month the PRC will provide partner and hosting support for Affinity Caucuses. Our aim is to cultivate safe, culturally affirming spaces for people of different marginalized backgrounds and identities to come together and discuss the issues, challenges, and opportunities that matter most to them in regard to community research and advocacy. Critical feedback from these spaces will help inform and guide the future development of the PRC. So far we have identified the need for three Affinity Caucuses: Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and LGBTQIA+, with the opportunity to add more as we grow.


Go to the interest form to learn more about the Affinity Caucuses and sign up!

Project Updates

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The We Heal Together Initiative


Project Background

The We Heal Together Initiative (WHT), involving Action4Equity, Crossnore, the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities, and Forsyth Futures, is funded by a $4M grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to address collective trauma, community violence, and civil unrest in a specific area of East Winston-Salem over four years. The initiative aims to support youth aged 12-17 and their families through trauma-informed trainings, intensive mentorship and advocacy support, and community-directed research activities.

Each Peoples’ Research Council project has a dedicated Project Board. A Project Board is a project-specific advisory group that serves for the life of a project to engage with and support the project and to help guide and direct project research and action. It operates within the project’s defined timeline and budget.

Project Board Community Advisors 

  • Michael Banner
  • Bianca Renee Fentress
  • Derrick Pender
  • Maryali Garcia Zarate
  • Renai Wisley

We are still recruiting for two additional Hispanic/Latinx members to sit on this Project Board, and they must live within a specific area of East Winston. If you are interested in this paid opportunity, email [email protected].

Status Update Highlight

The We Heal Together initiative’s Project Board guided a community-based research process involving several focus groups to produce a Community Needs and Resource Assessment (CNRA), reflecting the community’s perspectives on assets and needs.

The CNRA analysis, directed by the Project Board, identified major risk factors for community violence, including housing, health and safety, civic engagement, education, food insecurity, and others. Researchers then gathered additional data through dot surveys, where community members ranked the importance of these risk factors as well as potential solutions.

The collected information was compiled into a Community Strategic Plan, serving as a roadmap for improving community conditions related to violence and collective trauma in East Winston. This Plan will also guide the We Heal Together Project Board’s efforts throughout the initiative.


To learn more read the June, 2024 We Heal Together Newsletter!

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Pre-K Parent Quality Standards


Project Background

In 2021, a community based research project in Forsyth County trained four Black parents in Community-Based Participatory Research to understand the needs of Black and Brown children in Universal Pre-K programs. The research focused on the significance of culturally affirming environments, incorporating Black Genius elements into Pre-K, and identifying barriers in the existing system. The project included diverse methods such as focus groups and interviews with Black and Latino parents, and surveys. After data analysis, a report with recommendations was produced to reflect the desired standards of these communities. Forsyth Family Power collaborated with Forsyth Futures to engage service providers and center the experiences of Black and Brown families, aiming to influence policies to enhance the educational experiences of children in the area.

Each Peoples’ Research Council project has a dedicated Project Board. A Project Board is a project-specific advisory group that serves for the life of a project to engage with and support the project and to help guide and direct project research and action. It operates within the project’s defined timeline and budget.

Project Board Members

  • Gwendolyn Farrow-Hughes 
  • Anthony Morris
  • Mark Smith
  • Victoria Hernandez
  • Christian Rubio Perez

Project Status Update

The Project Board for this project is composed of Black and Brown parents of Pre-K age children who live in Forsyth County. They had their first orientation session on April 29 and will work together over the course of a year to:

  • Identify gaps and barriers on how to best implement the parent quality standards for future research;
  • Engage the community and stakeholders in the Early Childhood space around the recommendations;
  • Hold stakeholders accountable to staying true to the parents’ recommendations;
  • Help get the report into the hands of the people who need to read it.


Read the original Pre-K Parent Quality Standards report.

By Mothers branded image

By Mothers


Project Background

The By Mothers project, a partnership among Action4Equity and Atrium Health, aims to address the critical issue of infant and maternal health disparities within Forsyth County, focusing on the experiences of Black mothers. Through a collaborative and participatory approach, we have engaged Black mothers from the very community we research to become trained active researchers themselves. 

Our methodology is guided by the expertise of our Parent Researcher Team, composed of Black mothers with firsthand experience of pregnancy, postpartum, and early childhood challenges. These mothers provide invaluable insights. To understand the lived experiences of Black mothers in Forsyth County, we use a community-based data collection approach. This includes a survey on the experiences, needs, and concerns of expecting and postpartum Black mothers, as well as two focus group discussions where mothers share their stories, challenges, and recommendations for improving maternal and infant health outcomes. A highlight is the Annual Mothers’ Tea, a celebratory event that connects and celebrates Black motherhood, acknowledging their strength and fostering community as we share our research findings.

The By Mothers Research Team

  • Tiara Morris
  • Sharlee Hainesworth
  • Alexandria Blair
  • Michelle Carmichael
  • Shantae Graham
  • Shaadia Moore
  • Nicole Howard
  • Kayla Kizzie
  • Terrae McMiller
  • Maggie Zarate

Project Goals

Our goals are to amplify Black voices by empowering Black mothers as researchers, ensuring their experiences inform policy and practice. We aim to identify systemic barriers and disparities affecting maternal and infant health in Forsyth County. Using our research findings, we advocate for change and implement solutions that address the specific needs of Black mothers.

Next Steps

The research findings have been analyzed and will be disseminated through reports, presentations, and community forums. We are committed to working collaboratively with community stakeholders, including healthcare providers, policymakers, and community organizations, to implement impactful solutions that improve the health and well-being of Black mothers and their children in Forsyth County and beyond via the recommendations that came from the research.

“Every mother deserves a healthy journey to motherhood, and every child deserves a healthy start to life. The health of a mother and her child are inextricably linked. When we empower mothers, we empower a generation. Their well-being is essential for our collective prosperity.” 

— Tiara Morris, CD, CBE, CBC, CPD; Total Maternal Support


Follow By Mothers on Instagram!

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Peoples’ Reserch Council Governance

The Provisional Governance Council is a decision-making body within the Peoples’ Research Council that is not tied to any specific project; but rather serves a common purpose across all projects, in addition to other supportive governance functions. It is called the ‘Provisional’ Governance Council because it is currently a group of community members who were selected by Action4Equity to serve the governance function for an interim period while staff conduct a process to establish by-laws and fully constitute the Governance Council. The PGC will serve the governance function until this authority officially transfers to the Governance Council.

Provisional Governance Council Members

  • Paula McCoy
  • Marc Madrigal
  • Tembila Covington
  • Cheryl Harry
  • Ismael Hernandez
  • Regina Hall

Are you interested in serving on the Governance Council?

The Provisional Governance Council is currently working with the support of staff to develop and implement by-laws in Summer, 2024. A recruitment phase will follow this in order to fill the necessary seats for Governance Council representatives. If you are interested in serving on the Governance Council complete the interest form below and save the date for one of our upcoming information sessions:

  • July 2 from 5-7 PM
  • August 13 from 5-7 PM
  • September 5 from 5-7 PM

Joining the Peoples’ Research Council Mailing List is the best way to stay informed about upcoming events and opportunities. If you have questions about the Governance Council, please contact [email protected].


Click the button to learn more and fill out the interest form!

Special Thanks

Communications and Engagement Workgroup

The Communications and Engagement Workgroup is a dedicated group of community organizers and advocates who graciously volunteer their time to provide collective leadership, critical capacity, and support to make the community feedback loop function of the Peoples’ Research Council possible. We sincerely thank them for their time and effort to help the PRC grow into its potential:

  • Xavier Acuña
  • Michael Banner
  • Marc Madrigal
  • Marquita Wisley
  • Renai Wisley

Our Opportunity to Love + Heal Partnership 

The Peoples’ Research Council acknowledges that grassroots partnerships are critical to realizing the full potential of the Open House series and our larger Community Feedback Loop. We would like to highlight and thank Our Opportunity to Love + Heal for graciously partnering with the PRC on the June 27th Open House. This enriching community event would not be possible without their collaboration.