The HORIZON Center was established in 2007 by a National Institutes of Health grant (5P20 MD002290) from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to the University of Massachusetts Boston. The Center is interdisciplinary in scope, with its administrative home in the Department of Psychology. It also has collaborative partners beyond the University.

Founding HORIZON partners included the Program to Eliminate Health Disparities at the Harvard School of Public Health and two community groups with historical roots in Roxbury, the Cherishing our Hearts and Souls coalition (COHS) and the Roxbury Community Research Advisory Board (CRAB), which was founded by COHS in 2005. COHS, a coalition of concerned citizens and health professionals in Roxbury, was established as a named group in 2000, with funding by a grant to HSPH from the Center for Disease Control. The goal of this initial funding was to address heart health disparities in the predominantly African American community of Roxbury.

The conceptual history of the HORIZON Center can be traced to the convergence of complementary achievements and goals in the founding institutional partners. The University of Massachusetts Boston provided the foundation of a public, urban, research University with a mission of providing underserved students with access to the finest level of higher education. Designated as a minority-serving institution, the diversity of the student body reflects that of urban Boston. Participating Center departments have research and research training traditions that include commitments to the goals of cultural competence, promotion of urban health, and health equity.

The Harvard School of Public Health provided a public health orientation from a leading private university along with a history of research aimed at eliminating health disparities in the same urban neighborhoods served by the University of Massachusetts Boston. It also brought to the Center strong academic-community partnership ties that had been forged between the Program to Eliminate Health Disparities and the Roxbury community. Now funded as a single institution Center of Excellence, the HORIZON Center continues in partnership with the Roxbury-based community groups and has formed additional institutional and community collaborations in connection with specific research, training, and community engagement projects supported by the Center.