Richard King Mellon Foundation awards Black health equity grant

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The Cathedral of Learning.

By Natalie Frank, News Editor

After the Richard King Mellon Foundation recently awarded one of the largest gifts to Pitt in its 234-year history, the foundation also donated $250,000 to help tackle health disparities in Pittsburgh.

According to a Monday press release, the foundation awarded Pitt the gift to support the Pitt Black Faculty Development Initiative, a program that seeks to improve the lives of Black Pittsburghers by “supporting research focused on equity, health and well-being in the City.” The announcement stated that the gift will go toward three to five seed grants for Black faculty-led research projects and support Black faculty retention efforts.

Sam Reiman, the foundation’s director, said the foundation is “committed” to supporting research to help combat health disparities.

“This grant will support Black faculty at Pitt and advance our work to improve health and well-being in our communities,” Reiman said. “The foundation is committed to addressing health disparities, particularly the higher rates of infant mortality that too often mean tragedy for Black mothers and fathers.”

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According to a 2019 report from Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission,18 out of every 1,000 pregnancies for Black women in Pittsburgh end in a fetal death, which is twice the rate of white people in Pittsburgh. According to the report, Black women in Pittsburgh are more likely to die during pregnancy than other women in other U.S. cities.

Paula Davis, associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion in the health sciences, said in the press release that the seed grants are useful to “inspire creativity” and give researchers opportunities to collaborate on their ideas.

“Our vision is to engage Black faculty members in experiences that will help to develop their career paths and give them a stronger sense of what they may be facing as their careers develop,” Davis said.

According to the press release, the foundation’s grant is dedicated to “mitigating regional infant and maternal mortality within the African American community.” John Wallace, vice provost for faculty diversity and development, said Pittsburgh is currently facing issues of racial equity. Wallace’s office and the Center on Race and Social Problems will steward the grant, according to the release.

“The Pittsburgh region is challenged with regard to issues of racial equity and gender, and Pitt’s senior leaders are committed to leveraging the intellect, the experiences and expertise of our existing, as well as new, faculty to explicitly address the challenges of our region,” Wallace said.

Wallace said the research funded by this grant will have impacts beyond the Pittsburgh region.

“While Pittsburgh is certainly challenging for African Americans, racism and health disparities are not specific to Pittsburgh,” Wallace said. “I’m confident that what we learn will have implications far beyond western Pennsylvania, and I also am excited by the fact that the institution where I serve is committed to improving conditions in the community in which it is nested.”

Along with the award for the Pitt Black Faculty Development Initiative, the foundation announced on Nov. 17 a $100 million gift to help fund a bioresearch and development facility at Hazelwood Green. The gift will fund Pitt’s new “BioForge” facility, which will help develop new cell and gene therapies as well as other novel treatments to patients.