The AATCLC was formed in 2008 and is comprised of seasoned multi-disciplined and nationally recognized tobacco control leaders from the fields of public health, public policy, community-based interventions, media advocacy and research.

Carol McGruder, Co-Chair

cmcgruderManager, activist, researcher, and writer, Carol McGruder is experienced in the fields of tobacco control, transnational tobacco issues, public policy, social marketing, media advocacy, parent training, health education, and community capacity building. She is a highly respected trainer, presenter, community advocate, and program designer with strong interpersonal skills. Ms. McGruder is a seasoned veteran of California’s tobacco control experience and has served as an advisor in many capacities, most recently as a founding member and Co-Chairperson of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. She served as Co-Chair of the cessation track planning committee for the National Conference on Tobacco or Health Conference 2009. She was a planning committee member and presenter for the 2008 California Department of Public Health – Tobacco Control Conference – “A Community Under Siege-the State of Black California and Tobacco Use.” She co-founded BlacksForProp86.org a grassroots initiative that garnered national attention in its efforts to support the passage of California’s Proposition 86. In 2010 Ms. McGruder was honored with the Martin Luther King Civic Engagement Award for her work in tobacco control in San Francisco. She is also a recipient of the prestigious Jefferson Award for community activism in tobacco control and in 2007 she was the American Legacy Foundation national honoree for “Community Activist of the Year.” She has been recognized by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the Berkeley City Council, and the American Lung Association for her leadership in tobacco control and community activism.

Phillip Gardiner, Dr. P.H., Co-Chair

Dr. Gardiner is a Public Health activist, administrator, evaluator and researcher. For the past 25 years, he has worked on studies ranging from Hypertension, Multiculturalism and AIDS, to Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Diabetes and Smoking. Dr Gardiner received his Doctorate in Behavioral Sciences from the University of California at Berkeley, where he focused on Youth Violence as a public health issue. Through out his research career, Dr. Gardiner has maintained his community activism to address racial disparities in health, through writing, organizing, evaluating and public speaking. Currently, Dr. Gardiner is the Social & Behavioral Sciences and Neurosciences and Nicotine Dependence Research Administrator for the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP), University of California Office of the President. Dr. Gardiner was a member of the national Steering Committee for National Conference on Tobacco Or Health in 2009 and was the national co-chair for the 2nd Conference on Mentholated Cigarettes which was held in Washington D.C. in October 2009. Dr. Gardiner is the co-editor of the Society for Nicotine and Tobacco special Journal Supplement that came out of the conference, Menthol Cigarettes: Toward a Broader Definition of Harm. Dr. Gardiner, along with Dr. Pamela Clark wrote the lead article for the above mentioned journal, making a strong case for the banning of mentholated cigarettes: http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/ntq176? ijkey=g10fjZI5OeKdPz5&keytype=ref

Dr. Gardiner is also an adjunct faculty member at Touro University in Vallejo, a graduate medical college, where he teaches a course on Health Disparities. Dr. Gardiner is also the leader of an independent consultant firm, Gardiner & Associates, whose main evaluation work has centered on health disparities. And lastly, Dr. Gardiner is Co-Chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), a group of Black professionals dedicated to fighting the scourge of tobacco impacting the African American community in California and Nationally.

Denise Adams-Simms, MPH

dadams-simmsMs. Adams-Simms has worked in a variety of settings during her extensive managerial career in health care. She is currently Vice President for Community Development with Simms Technologies, LLC, a family-owned and operated consulting company, specializing in program development, Strategic planning, meeting facilitation and grant writing. From 1999 to 2008, Ms. Adams-Simms was the Executive Director of the California Black Health Network, Inc. (CBHN), a non-profit public health advocacy organization whose mission is to improve the health status of African Americans in California. During her tenure at CBHN, she administered several community based projects including the African American Tobacco Education Partnership (AATEP),; The Community Tobacco Education Project (CTEP); She was co – PI on a multi-site community based research effort to document tobacco prevalence among African Americans using primary data collection tools; and the Center for Disease Control Foundation Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) 2010 grant entitled “Sweet Heart Project”, a 4-year initiative that focused on diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention among African Americans in San Diego county. Mrs. Adams-Simms is a member of several professional organizations including, San Diego Black Health Associates, and the American Public Health Association. She has served on numerous boards and committees including The California Medical Association Foundation Board of Directors; the California Pan Ethnic Health Network Board of Directors; and the Board of Directors for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.  Denise is married to Paul B. Simms and they have three children.

Kimberly Bankston-Lee

Kimberly Bankston-Lee is the Senior Program Director for two tobacco control programs, Saving Our Legacy: African Americans for Smoke-free Safe Places, (The SOL Project) and Breathe California, Sacramento-Emigrant Trails’, Sacramento Taking Action against Nicotine Dependence (STAND Project). Ms. Bankston-Lee has 17 years of experience planning, developing and implementing tobacco control programs. Ms. Bankston-Lee has managed six tobacco control programs for non-profits, county government and health care services such as the Gold Country Regional Tobacco Control Coalition, the African American Tobacco Education Partnership, Smoking Cessation Counselor for Sutter Medical Centers, and the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Bankston-Lee has worked with restaurateurs, the rental housing industry, community colleges and trade schools, and government agencies to adopt smoke-free policies and ordinances. She has developed numerous educational materials and campaigns such as policy tool kits, guides for adopting smoke-free policies, pamphlets, brochures and post cards on various tobacco issues and products; and developed TV, radio and social media campaigns to increase awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke, nonsmokers’ rights, and support for smoke-free outdoor policies. Although most of Kimberly’s funded projects did not include providing direct cessation service, she took it upon herself to become trained as a cessation facilitator and motivational interviewer to help countless tobacco users with quitting. She is currently the Co-Principal Investigator for a pilot research project testing efficacy of smoking cessation for college students, through a partnership with UC Davis Medical Center. Ms. Bankston-Lee is the Chairperson to the Sacramento County Tobacco Control Coalition, is a Steering Committee member of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, and is an Advisory Member of the Loop, a capacity building network. She is also a member the Healthy Sacramento Coalition, the Media and Materials Review Committee for statewide material development, and an application reviewer for the state. Ms. Bankston-Lee’s personal mission is to help end tobacco addiction through individual behavior, policy and systems change by collaborating with diverse individuals, communities and organizations. Kimberly Bankston-Lee received her Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Safety Studies with an emphasis in Community Health Planning from California State University, Sacramento in June 1992.

Susan Bradshaw

susan-bradshaw-headshotSusan Bradshaw, M.D., M.P.H., T.T.S., is a physician specialist for the Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health.  Dr. Bradshaw is certified by Mayo Clinic as a tobacco treatment specialist and currently provides academic detailing in clinical prevention and tobacco control. She has received numerous awards and is the first recipient of the Young Investigator award given by Mayo Clinic’s Tobacco Addiction program for her research project in smoking and dopamine receptors.  In addition, Dr. Bradshaw served as Chief Resident for the first clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of Bupropion as a smoking cessation aid. She has published several articles on medically- underserved populations, preventive medicine and tobacco.   Dr. Bradshaw earned her medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh.  She completed a residency in Preventive Medicine and Master’s Degree in Public Health at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. Following her residency, she has completed fellowships in cancer prevention and control at Drew/Meharry/Morehouse Consortium Cancer Center, the LOOP’s Leadership Development Program and the CDC E-Learning Institute’s Best Practices of Online Education.  Dr. Bradshaw is a Diplomate of the American Board of Preventive Medicine as well as the American Board of Integrative & Holistic Medicine.

Girma Gobezie

Mr. Girma Gobezie, Chair African Immigrant Committee, Project Director for the Smoke-Free For All San Diegans (SFASD) at Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego (CCDSD) manages the day-to-day operations of the program and provides fiscal management of project funds. His responsibility includes staff supervision, program implementation and completion of all state and internal progress reports.

Mr. Gobezie has been with CCDSD since 1994, and serves as primary contact with California Department of Public Health, Tobacco Control Program CDPH/CTCP. University-educated in Ethiopia and Europe, he worked with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France and Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia as a Research and Administration Coordinator. His training and experience in the fields of planning, research and development have served him well in the implementation of multi-cultural, multi-faceted community education and evaluation efforts. Mr. Gobezie is active in collaborating with other CTCP funded projects in San Diego. He has led SFASD’s participation in various advocacy activities.

Tonya Gorham Gallow

Tonya Gorham Gallow, MSW is the Director of Tobacco Control and Prevention Program for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Tonya first joined tobacco control in 2010 as Project Coordinator and then Project Director for Project TRUST funded through CDC, Communities Putting Prevention to Work. Prior to her work in tobacco control and prevention, Tonya served as Director of Policy for the LA Best Babies Network. In her role she coordinated all policy and advocacy activities for the Network a coordinating body for the Healthy Births Initiative funded by First 5 LA, and dedicated to improving pregnancy and birth outcomes. Tonya has extensive experience in policy and public health at the local, state and federal levels of government having worked in Sacramento through the Governor’s office for his Secretary of Health and Human Services and in Washington DC as a State Federal Relations Fellow. Tonya worked for many years providing direct service as a social worker, working in mental health as a clinical social worker with an emphasis on children and families. With a strong desire to impact the clients she served on a macro level, Tonya made the transition from direct service to pursue her interest in public policy in 1999. Tonya has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Stanford University and earned her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California.

Beverly Jones-Wright

Twlia Laster

twiliaMs. Twlia Laster is the Program Manager of Saving Our Legacy, African Americans for Smoke Free Safe Places (The SOL Project) working in tobacco control specifically serving African American and African Immigrant populations for 17 years. Her experience includes, administration, grant coordination, program development, coordination, management, cessation and focus group facilitation on each African American priority population contract for the California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) funded grant programs since 1996. Her most recent work focuses on advocating for smoke-free policies in outdoor dining areas, providing technical assistance to Sacramento Regional Transit District (SRTD) on implementation of their recently adopted smoke free policy for light rail stops and bus stations; and development and implementation of a Social Determinants of Health Community Action Plan for African Americans in Sacramento County. Ms. Twlia Laster is the owner of Twlia Makes It Happen! Consulting Services and has 18 years of experience in providing consulting services to clients in need of strategic marketing, program development, public relations, event management, health disparity reduction and smoking cessation facilitation. Ms. Laster has served as the African American Outreach and Education Consultant for three tobacco education and prevention programs: Smokefree Living for African Americans (SLAA), Wellness Initiatives Now (WIN) and the MediCal Incentive to Quit Smoking Program (MIQS). Ms. Laster also serves as the Strategic Marketing and Program Director for Sac Cultural Hub Media Company directly engaged in efforts to increased overall company revenue by revamping the marketing model and developing programs to solidifying corporate and community partnerships across sectors such as successful grant implementation for outreach and navigation of 3 Covered California contracts, an annual Black Physicians Forum and other programs that educate physicians, healthcare professionals and the African American community on inequalities in health and increasing access to health care. Ms. Laster is also an active member of several community wellness, health prevention and education coalitions throughout Northern California.

Nsele M. Nsuangani

Nsele M. Nsuangani, MPH, CHES is a Health Educator and Project Director for the Tobacco Education Program Environmental Health Division in the Kern County Public Health Services Department. He joined the Kern County Tobacco Education Program in 2004. He has worked toward the adoption of a tobacco retailer’s permit policies to curtail illegal sales of tobacco products to minors in Kern County and the cities of McFarland, Wasco, California City, and Tehachapi. He is currently working on local policies to make outdoor public places smoke-free. He is fluent in French. He is a graduate of California State University of Fresno with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Science and a Master Degree in Public Health with emphasis in Health Administration.

Pleshette Robertson

pleshette-robertson-headshotPleshette Robertson is the CEO and Founder of Sac Cultural Hub and the Chief Editor of THE HUB Magazine.  She is also the owner of PR & Associates Business Resources which is an advertisement and promotions agency specializing in providing multi-media advertising, social media marketing campaigns, e-blast ad/website production and consultation to new business and startup organizations. She also serves as the Executive Director for the Sac Cultural Hub Media Foundation and as a Covered California Certified Enrollment Counselor.  Pleshette has received numerous awards that include: Martin Luther King Jr. Difference Maker Award for Service and Advocacy in 2015, NAWBO OWL Wise Woman (a.k.a. Business Woman of the Year) in October 2015;  BWOPA-PAC Ella Hill Hutch Award in November 2013, UC Davis Chancellor’s Achievement Awards For Diversity and Community in the Community Award category in February 2013; Business Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Sacramento Chapter in November 2009; “Women of Excellence” from the Sacramento Kappa Psi Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority in March 2008. Pleshette was featured in the August 2007 issue on her personal style and noteworthy achievements in the Sacramento magazine.  She holds a B.A. in Business Administration from San Jose State University.  Pleshette loves and celebrates her extended family while she is the proud mother of three daughters and also has one grandson.

Audrey Smith, MA, RD


Audrey has been the Director of the Preventive Health Services Department at the Watts Healthcare Corporation (WHCC), a Primary Health Care Organization in Los Angeles, California for over 30 years. The Preventive Health Services Department is comprised of an ADA Approved Diabetes Program, Nutrition, Health Education, and Tobacco Control.   She has provided the leadership in Tobacco Control (developing smoke-free policies at the Watt Health Center and in common areas at apartment buildings to decrease exposure to secondhand smoke, facilitating stop smoking classes and providing education to youth and families), Nutrition and Health Education since 1974. She has been responsible for individual counseling and group sessions on various health disorders. She has facilitated the weight control program, the diabetes classes, hypertension and pre-natal classes, and has written numerous articles on nutrition and health promotion. Her Certifications include: Master’s Degree in Nutrition; A Registered Dietitian (RD); Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), Certification of Training in Adult Weight Management; A Certified Personal Trainer & Trained Freedom from Smoking Leader.

Because of her vast experiences working in the community and helping people to lose weight, control their stress, diabetes, hypertension, and practice positive thinking, she has written a book on simple changes you can make in your lifestyle behaviors that will improve your insides and you will be able to see them on your outsides. The title of the book is “So Blessed & Unstressed” A Change is Coming; How Bad Do You Want It! The book also has simple exercises to do inside, while lying down, sitting or standing and small changes to make in your eating behavior.

Statice Wilmore

Statice Wilmore received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine and is currently employed with the City of Pasadena Public Health Department. She has managed the Tobacco Control Program as Program Coordinator II for the last 17 years. Prior to her position with the Public Health Department, she worked for five years at the Watts Health Foundation. Passion for her work is built on a personal family loss, where her father died at age 49 from his fourth and fatal heart attack from cigarette smoking. Statice has over 22 years of experience in implementing tobacco control programs and has facilitated over 60 tobacco control sessions at statewide and national conferences. Sessions included successful tobacco education strategies for reaching minority populations, developing cessation programs, and implementing local ordinances to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke in indoor and outdoor air public spaces. Additional policy work includes tobacco retail licensing, conditional use permit requirements. Ms. Wilmore has extensive experience in working with the media such as developing ads, print media, social marketing and public relations campaigns. She serves as the back-up Public Information Officer for the City of Pasadena Public Health Department. She serves as a consultant on several workgroups for the California Department of Health Services’ Tobacco Control Section to provide technical expertise on reducing youth access to tobacco, countering pro-tobacco influences, and reducing the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke.

Valerie Yerger, N.D.

admin-ajax.php 3Dr. Valerie Yerger is a licensed naturopathic doctor and Associate Professor in Health Policy at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The overarching goal of Dr. Yerger’s work is to frame the disproportionate burden of tobacco among marginalized communities as a social justice issue and to inform public health policies so that they also effectively reach these communities. Her established research program has focused on the use of previously secret tobacco documents to uncover the industry’s targeting of marginalized communities, relationship building with African American leadership groups, the disproportionate marketing of menthol cigarettes in inner-city communities, and the accumulation of nicotine in tissues containing melanin. She is a past recipient of Legacy’s Sybil G. Jacobs Award for Outstanding Use of Tobacco Industry Documents and a former Health Disparities Scholar of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Yerger has provided expert testimony to the US Food and Drug Administration on tobacco companies’ in-house research on the use of menthol as an additive in cigarettes. Dr. Yerger recently completed a research study funded by the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program that examined potential challenges of implementing a citywide smokefree multiunit housing ordinance in a diverse urban community. Currently, Dr. Yerger is the Project Director for “The LOOP,” which provides trainings and technical assistance to projects funded by the California Tobacco Control Program to help them connect, communicate, and collaborate with vulnerable populations.


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