Jamie Ducar of the University of Pittsburgh kicked off the Community Solutions meeting, sharing information on the March 2nd, 2021 University of Pittsburgh Community Engaged Scholarship Forum. The forum will cover topics such as liberatory and critical practices in community engagement, health equity, and a conversation with Dr. Doug Wood of the Aspen Institute on Criminal Justice Reform ecosystems. Registration info and more detail on these keynote events can be found on the forum site here.
Additionally, keynote speakers from the University of Pittsburgh Black Equity Coalition (BEC) joined The Forbes Funds to discuss the inception of the BEC as a means to advocate for resilient and disenfranchised populations in the Pennsylvania Region. A recording of the call can be accessed here.
- Mark Lewis – Mr. Mark S. Lewis, President and Chief Executive Officer of POISE Foundation, February 2002 to present. Mark is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in accounting, he began his career as a financial auditor with the Pittsburgh office of Price Waterhouse, a public accounting firm.
- Dr. Shannah Tharp Gilliam – Director of Homewood Children’s Villiage, Dr. Tharp-Gilliam is passionate about synthesizing ideas into cohesive strategies that support equity and justice. In addition to her role in examining the Children’s Village’s direct services, she also leads regional efforts to design and implement systemic strategies to positively impact the lived experience of Allegheny County’s most vulnerable populations.
- Richard Garland – For over thirty years, Richard has been a practitioner and specialist of violence prevention for at-risk youth and those associated with gang and drug violence. His work has resulted in lives transformed from violent offenders to community members, major truces between gang members locally in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, and community organizing around gun violence and homicide research.
Highlights from the BEC
The Black Equity Coalition is a group of physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, social scientists, government officials, community funders, and beyond who maintain a commitment to addressing institutional racism and structural impediments that primarily impact the most resilient communities.
The fast-moving organization formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further illuminated gaps in racial equity, disparate health outcomes, and economic stability, among many other things. In less than a year, the BEC has adapted quickly to address the needs of resilient Black community members across the region and the State of Pennsylvania at Large.
In his remarks, Mark Lewis referred to the BEC as more of an organism than an organization, reflecting on how the coalition has maintained an adaptive mindset, growing its impact in the Pittsburgh region via human-centered design in their statewide approach.
In line with this approach, the BEC Virtual Research Lab has and will continue to deploy strategies in an informed manner, tailoring their efforts to the specific needs identified by each resilient community, respectively. The BEC actively drills down data to identify outcomes of inequitable methods so they can be improved in more equitable ways.
The actions of the BEC center on a variety of topics, ranging from Policy to Education to Criminal Justice, and beyond. The work is centered in the Social Determinants of Health framework as it touches on the interconnected nature of many core tenets of daily life that support community members’ comprehensive well-being. Building the coalition has established and amplified a collective voice that gives resilient communities hope that there are people looking out for their well-being.
Timeline and Future Efforts
Given the Black Equity Coalition is still in its first year, there is plenty of room to grow, yet we would be remiss not to acknowledge the progress they have made in just 11 months. Current efforts include “Tell Your Story,” a community education campaign for vaccine testimonials with attention to equitable vaccine distribution, optimizing primary health care services, and more.
The BEC also provides real-time COVID updates to the covid.createlab.org site, which provides data on case prevalency by race.
The coalition recognizes the growth and contributions it has made while also keeping sight of progress, next steps, and expanding its impact. As the coalition continues to mature, the expectation is to provide a progress dashboard and repository of resources to aid in achieving their mission.
Arthur Pang shared weekly policy updates regarding the Greater Pittsburgh Region and beyond, covering the national drop in COVID-19 cases, vaccination progress, and legislation protecting older adults from mistreatment in caregiving, as well as expansion of SNAP eligibility to cover college students based on family financial history.
Other highlights specific to Allegheny County included $1.5M investments from Highmark Health in diversity, amendments to the CROWN Act to include religious facial hair, changes to a Wilkinsburg statue, and a collaboration between North Side artist, Cue Perry, and Millie’s Ice Cream to benefit 1Hood Media during Black History Month.