Critical Learning Systems, Inc

Purpose, Mission, and Vision Statement

CLS is a national 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization centered on health equity and social justice whose mission is to promote healthy communities through collaborations and partnerships. CLS provided the initial concept, submission, management, direction, and secured funding to design the OHNI project for years 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 from the DentaQuest Foundation. CLS, under the direction of Cherry Houston, PhD, MPH, RN, has over 37 years of experience in leading, managing, and facilitating programs and projects at the local, state, regional, national, and international level.



Our Vision

A region free of disparities in the health and health care, where all people attain the highest level of health. Our Mission is to improve the health of all, to inform policy, change systems, and increase awareness for health equity.

CLS has experience in coordination/development of the Region IV Research Integrity Conference (Al, MS, GA, FL, TN, NC, SC, and KY). This effort included working with the DHHS Office of Research Integrity, the Region IV Minority Health Consultant/U.S. Public Health Service, Meharry Medical College/Vanderbilt Alliance, and NPA/National Partnership for Action, Meharry/ Vanderbilt Community Engaged Research Core, Nashville Health Disparity Coalition, and an array of community partners. Current and recent past projects include the Oral Health Needs Index Project, subcontractor under Community Sciences, Inc. for DHHS/OMH for the development, evaluation, enrollment and outreach of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) strategy targeted at minority populations in the United States for years 2013-2014, 2014-2015 and 2015- 2016.

CLS works with all Regional Health Equity Councils (RHECs) by moderating the all RHEC co-chair/chair calls and all membership calls. Dr. Houston, one of the founding members of the Southeastern Health Equity Council (SHEC)-RHEC IV, is on the Leadership/Executive Board, Co-Chair Governance/Operations Committee, established the Expert Stakeholders group, was a contributor to the SHEC Report Card and organized the National Oral Health Townhall meetings.

CLS coordinated the McCain/Obama 2008 Health Policy Debate in partnership with Meharry Medical College, the Joint Center for Political & Economic Studies, and the Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus. CLS has developed international projects such as the Rwanda Education Project in collaboration with the 23-California State Universities, Rwandan/U.S. Economic and Educational roundtables, and Sister Cities International.

The Oral Health Needs Index (OHNI)

Critical Learning Systems, Inc., in partnership with the National Institute for Community Mapping at Meharry Medical College Department of Community and Family Medicine, the Texas Health Institute, and other key national partners will oversee the development, dissemination, and evaluation of the Achieving Oral Health Equity through Partnerships and Development of a National Oral Health Needs Index: Meaningful data to transform oral health. The OHNI project focuses on achieving oral health equity through increased data availability, capacity building, visualization, utilization and dissemination. All, the while, using mapping as the art of storytelling; both dating back to antiquity.

The OHNI project goals



Develop and facilitate collaboration between partners to achieve oral health equity


Create access to meaningful data and resources to address oral health disparities


Engage users to promote understanding of data utilization


Implement a user driven evaluation process to increase impact of data accessibility


Build capacity and developing community mappers among youth and other non-traditional users for oral health data collection


Achieve oral health equity through research and data