Sharpening Our Critical Racial Equity Health Lens Through The Prism Of The Black Equity Coalition (BEC)

by | December 16, 2022 | News | 0 comments

View a recording of the call here

“The BEC work is near and dear to my heart. The purpose of this work is to identify transformational opportunities to build new networks that optimize the assets of people of color differently that takes into account the differentiation by which medicine and medical procedures have a direct bearing on people’s quality of life that differ from dominant culture pedagogy while looking at resilient practices that mitigate risk. Since COVID hit, we have facilitated 4,431 meetings like this on Zoom with over 37,687 participants. We like action with our activity so we expect people to bring the same amount of energy and solutions to the table with their challenges. What you’re going to hear today represents a cacophony of troubles people have faced and a strategic, pragmatic response to those issues being driven through a racial equity health lens which is unique for our region given the dichotomy that exists in Southwestern PA.”  

– Fred Brown | President & CEO | The Forbes Funds 

The Black Equity Coalition (BEC): Supporting the Creation of Equitable Systems to Affirm the Dignity of Every Human Being Through Collaborations, Networks, and Policymaking

This week, we were joined on our Call for Community Solutions by Dr. Andrew Johnson, Interim Managing Director and Maryum Lee, State Grants Director, for the Black Equity Coalition (BEC), in a unique partnership between The Forbes Funds (TFF) and POISE Foundation. What emerged was a reflective, 2022 conversation and forward-thinking perspective on the work being done in creating equitable systems throughout our region and across the State of Pennsylvania adopting the critical, racial equity lens of the Black Equity Coalition (BEC).  

This formidable coalition is comprised of a group of physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, public health and healthcare practitioners, social scientists, community funders, and government officials which coalesced around concerns about addressing COVID-19 disparities in vulnerable populations.  

Originally focused on responding to COVID-19, the Coalition quickly realized that the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the health, well-being and economic stability of people of color highlighted the need to address institutional racism and structural impediments that continue to plague Black, undervalued and underserved communities. Thus, the Black COVID-19 Equity Coalition committed itself to work on matters of racial equity extending beyond the pandemic’s eventual end and became the Black Equity Coalition. 

Text BoxBEC Mission Statement 

Since its inception, the BEC has served as a comprehensive community coalition, centered in Allegheny County, committed to advancing equitable and just solutions and practices for Black and other vulnerable communities in Pennsylvania. The “comprehensive” approach of the BEC takes into consideration all of the impacts facing the community at large and is designed to de-silo the work of independent actors in the system in favor of collective understanding.  The coalition of strategic partners, collaborating through a Hub & Spoke Model approach, such as Federal Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and other community-centered organizations connected to community-serving organizations, approaches their work through the dual frameworks of the UN Sustainable Development Goals along with the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) to achieve equity, optimal quality of life, and well-being for the Black community. 

The BEC Hub & Spoke Model: Co-creating a Continuity of Care Model & Network

As our presenters indicated, the inherent promise of the BEC rests upon a model of strategic collaboration, partnership, and innovation that builds authentic relationships in trusted communities and leaves behind a stronger and more connected infrastructure. Indeed, as emblematic of TFF’s 5th Pivot toward transformational leadership, change theory for the BEC moves at the speed of trust at the community level, following a Local Hub & Spoke integrated approach (at the local and statewide level) that produces a regenerative ecosystem

“These courageous conversations we are having with the BEC are necessary to effect transformational change in our most vulnerable communities. We are modeling how to collaborate, how to partner, and how to establish levels of coalition ecosystem building in spaces in which conversations can be centralized by having a closed-loop feedback opportunity. We believe it’s important for us to work from an opportunity of collaboration versus being prescriptive and thinking about things solely from our own context, through our own lens, and independent work.” 

– Dr. Andrew Johnson | Interim Managing Director | BEC 

Ultimately, the BEC’s Hub & Spoke model and approach which centers on the Federal Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) has effectively and organically evolved into a continuity of care model with various spokes including wrap-around services from nonprofit organizations, support from small businesses and other resource holding entities (e.g. governmental, individual or community-centered).  

As the hub turns, the BEC co-creates true network effects that form a safety net for humanity, increasingly build capacity, and support the transformation of systems operations to ecosystem co-creation, while maximizing existing assets through a racial equity lens. For the BEC, this shift from transactional to transformational leadership gets realized in the context of inter-connected, cross-sectorial groups: 

  • BEC Huddle 
  • BEC Data Working Group 
  • BEC Community Health Equity Working Group 
  • BEC Black Business Working Group 
  • BEC Community Engagement Working Group 
  • BEC Policy Working Group 
  • BEC Education Working Group 
  • BEC Statewide Coalition 

Citing the foundational example of the BEC Huddle, our presenters walked our network through the nuts and bolts of some of the work of the Coalition. Within each of the working groups, the work begins with a powerful North Star guiding principle which we are all wise to consider: What are the best practices? And best for whom? And who designs and determines what’s best? As Dr. Johnson eloquently pointed out, “What we perceive to be best may not always be equitable. It may not have a justice lens. It may not have a trauma-informed approach that is culturally competent or an approach that ensures the comprehensive community has a level of participatory action in the outcomes beyond just an extractive relationship.” 

As a result of such intentionality and thinking, the BEC has seen 26 months of action in the form of raising close to $8M in resources, strategic planning, and community-level meetings in multiple locations across the state to support the coordination of the Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), in addition to the building of a robust communications platform to shape public opinion, from written documents to podcasts and weekly talk shows.  

As a backbone organization, working in partnership with BEC fiscal sponsor POISE, TFF provides infrastructure support and capacity-building resources for the BEC as well as resource acquisition, management, and assessment. Recognizing the significant role that data plays in creating more equitable systems, the BEC has also enhanced the Data Working Group in close collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh and created a data repository, working closely with the Black Researcher’s Consortium. Lastly, our presenters underscored the fact that our most resilient communities have existing assets that must be optimized in order to remain relevant, adaptive, and iterative with the pace of unmet needs and constant change that is occurring at the community level. The goal for the BEC is to replicate this model across the state, moving from a traditional approach to a hybrid approach hinging on the dual frameworks of the aforementioned Sustainable Development Goals and Social Determinants of Health. 

Call and Response: BEC Community Ambassadors

Going inside the numbers of the opportunity and disparity existing within the Black Equity Coalition Regions and African-American populations, the BEC developed its Community Ambassador program in order to think and act locally, fill information gaps, and help local newsrooms better serve their communities. There are multiple ways BEC Community Ambassadors are able to bridge the gap and help build that statewide coalition: 

  1. Make communities better by leading and supporting projects such as peer education campaigns, public health initiatives, community safety efforts, and other social service programs. 
  1. Connect people with information and guide them to services, programs, and other resources. 
  1. Working alone or in teams, as volunteers or paid workers, community ambassadors can even become the public face of a cause or campaign, tapping into their interpersonal networks to spread a message and raise awareness. 

The scope of duties for the Community Ambassador includes: 

  • Completion of 10 Training Modules for certification 
  • Deliver community-level presentations on COVID-19 and Flu mitigation 
  • Introduce at least 10 community entities to the BEC for triangulation and networking 
  • Disseminate COVID-19 Informational Table Event in conjunction with tabling community-level events. 
  • Conduct Outreach & Educational Services regarding COVID-19, Flu mitigation, and related health inequalities tracking against the Social Determinants of Health. 

If you are interested in learning more about the BEC, its Community Ambassador program, or ways to collaborate with the BEC, visit or contact Andrew Johnson at As always, reach out, share feedback or schedule a one-on-one discussion to go deeper: 


This Week’s Call Framework & Goal Alignment 

This week’s call and discussion demonstrated broad alignment within our core framework, specifically matching several UN Sustainable Development Goals, including #3 (Good Health and Well-Being); #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; #10 (Reduced Inequalities); #11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities); #16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions); and #17 (Partnerships For The Goals). In addition, the core work of the BEC and our concentrated discussion during this week’s Call For Community Solutions around health disparities and inequities strongly support Health & Health Care, Education, and Social & Community Contest Economic Stability of the Social Determinants of Health. 


Submit a Comment

Next Upcoming Event
20 June 2024
  • 00


  • 00


  • 00


  • 00


Organization name and meeting title

Stay in the know with The Forbes Funds!

Subscribe to receive the latest events, news, innovative program opportunities, and more.