What is black health?
Black Health champions the promotion of health and prevention of diseases to reduce disparities and achieve equity within the Black community.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald today announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded a second $5.5 million Racial & Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD). The program provides funds to build strong partnerships to improve health, prevent chronic disease and reduce racial and ethnic health disparities in selected communities. Along with funding, the CDC provides expert support to REACH recipients.
“For the past twelve years, I have prioritized making Allegheny County a healthier and safer place to live, learn and work,” said Fitzgerald. “The Health Department, and its many community partners, have worked diligently to improve health equity in this community and have made significant strides. This additional funding from the CDC will allow them to continue and expand this important work.”
In Allegheny County, the Live Well Allegheny REACH Program is a collaboration between ACHD and many community partners focused specifically on improving health outcomes for Black and African American residents. In addition to ACHD programs and clinics, partners include Allegheny County Economic Development, Food Trust, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Just Harvest, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Faith-Based Health Collaborative, Royally Fit, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Healthy Start Center for Urban Breastfeeding, Pittsburgh Black Breastfeeding Circle, Black Women’s Policy Center, Bethany Community Ministries, the Black Equity Coalition, and the Urbankind Institute.
With the funding awarded by the CDC REACH Program, ACHD and its many partners plan to:
The Live Well Allegheny REACH Program focuses on the following municipalities and neighborhoods:
Clairton, Duquesne, McKeesport, North Braddock, North Versailles, Rankin and Wilkinsburg and the neighborhoods of the Northside, Homewood/Larimer, Hill District, Garfield, Hazelwood, West End and the Hilltop in the City of Pittsburgh.
“The Live Well Allegheny REACH Program aligns perfectly with the Plan for a Healthier Allegheny and our collective goal of achieving health equity through the reduction of chronic disease and the increase in life expectancy,” said Dannai Wilson, ACHD Deputy Director for the Bureau of Community & Family Health. “Together, these partnerships, even in the face of significant challenges like the pandemic, have already yielded positive results for our communities and we look forward to even more success in the coming years.”
ACHD’s REACH project aims to address racial health disparities in Allegheny County by addressing several of the risk factors associated with chronic disease. Over five years, multiple partners will collaborate to improve nutrition, physical activity, continuity of care for breastfeeding and increasing adult vaccinations for Black residents through various activities ranging from expanding healthy food policies to implementing active transportation projects.
By increasing the opportunities for health and wellness through policy, systems and environmental improvement, the Health Department expects to improve the disease burden and the outcomes for more than 75,000 Black residents in target communities.
During the five years of the first CDC grant, the Live Well Allegheny REACH Program in Allegheny County achieved important goals. These include:
The first round of CDC REACH funding provided $3.75 million over five years. Partners leveraged this funding for more than $1 million in additional private and public funds to support efforts aligned with improving health, preventing chronic disease, and reducing racial and ethnic health disparities.
To learn more, visit the Live Well Allegheny REACH Program.
Pittsburgh high school football players from various schools got a chance to meet and participate in a new PSA for the American Heart Association featuring Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin.
Hamlin, serves as the national ambassador to the American Heart Association’s Nation of Lifesavers movement, encouraging all fans to learn CPR, as a lifesaving skill.
Isaiah Beckham, a senior at Shady Side Academy was excited to meet Hamlin and to be selected to work with him on this national PSA. Beckham says that he is inspired and encouraged to learn CPR especially as a football player on the team because of Hamlin's involvement. “As a football player for Shady Side Academy I am more aware of the importance of learning CPR because of Damar Hamlin. It’s really cool to have him as a spokesperson on this very important issue. As a star football player, who has worked really hard on getting into the NFL, Hamlin is someone teens like myself look up to and respect, he played football at Pitt and he is from Mckees Rock, PA, not far from us. Working with him on this PSA opened my eyes and heart to how young people need to learn CPR, it literately can save lives. It is a blessing that Damar survived and continues to give back to the community by utilizing his platform to raise awareness about learning CPR."
As professional football returns to stadiums across the country, Damar Hamlin is speaking out to encourage fans everywhere to be ready in a cardiac emergency. Hamlin, professional football player in the National Football League (NFL) and national ambassador for the American Heart Association’s Nation of Lifesavers™movement which launched earlier this year, is featured in the first of new series of public service announcements. Following the Buffalo Bills safety’s cardiac arrest during Monday Night Football on Jan. 2nd, his commitment to adding lifesavers to the chain of survival where fans live, work and play is the spark that ignited the American Heart Association’s Nation of Lifesavers™.
In the new public service announcement (PSA) released September 6th, Hamlin speaks to the simple mission of the Nation of Lifesavers - to educate and prepare teens and adults to be confident to save a life in a cardiac emergency.
“You never know when it’s going to be your opportunity to step in and save a life. CPR and AEDs – are why I’m still here today,” said Hamlin, cardiac arrest survivor and founder of the Chasing M’s Foundation. “Giving someone the skills and power to save a life is a superpower if you ask me.”
The American Heart Association is the worldwide leader in resuscitation science, education and training, and publishes the official guidelines for CPR. With nearly 3 out of 4 cardiac arrests outside of the hospital occurring in homes, knowing how to perform CPR is critically important. The recently launched Nation of Lifesavers effort works to improve the survival rate for the more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year. In the event of a cardiac arrest, immediate action is needed to save the person’s life. Less than half of all people who experience cardiac arrest receive CPR before emergency personnel arrive. CPR, especially if performed immediately, could double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival, according to the American Heart Association.
“When the world saw Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest event on Monday Night Football, what they also saw were those very first links in the chain of survival working. Everything happened like it should in a cardiac arrest emergency. This includes, early recognition, calling 911 with responders immediately on the scene, administering high-quality CPR, and having access to, and using an Automated External Defibrillator,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association. “Knowing how to respond in a cardiac emergency when seconds matter is literally the difference between life and death. We need to have everyone ready to call 911 if they see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, and to push hard and fast in the center of the chest until more advanced help arrives.”
The Association is committed to turning a nation of bystanders into lifesavers. The new multi-year initiative will ensure teens and adults can learn about CPR and AED use, share that knowledge with friends and family and engage employers, policymakers, philanthropists and others to create support for a nation of lifesavers. The long-term goal: to ensure that in the face of a cardiac emergency, everyone, everywhere is prepared and empowered to perform CPR and become a vital link in the chain of survival.
Since January, the American Heart Association has worked alongside the NFL at Super Bowl LVII and the NFL Draft as well as many NFL clubs to educate on Hands-Only CPR and train in Heartsaver® CPR AED (automated external defibrillator) course, which provides the highest quality evidence-based training in the lifesaving skills of CPR. The Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Seattle Seahawks have since hosted American Heart Association training and education opportunities for staff or their communities.
As the first sponsor of the Nation of Lifesavers, the Buffalo Bills made a five-year commitment to advance education and awareness, train at community empowerment events, and distribute CPR resources to under resourced communities.
Only 12 days after the American Heart Association hosted a Hands-Only CPR education session with the Los Angeles Rams coaching staff, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, assisted in the save of a three-year-old boy, the first CPR save directly tied back to this work.
Creating a Nation of Lifesavers includes the Association’s efforts to drive policy change at both the federal and state levels. The Association has endorsed the federal Access to AEDs Act, which would create a grant program for K-12 schools to provide CPR and AED training; purchase AEDs; and create cardiac emergency response plans that establish specific steps to reduce death from cardiac arrest in school settings.
In addition, the Association is a founding member along with the NFL and other major sports leagues of the Smart Heart Sports Coalition which is advocating for states to adopt evidence-based public policies that will prevent fatal outcomes from sudden cardiac arrest among high school students.
Hands-Only CPR is chest compression-only CPR. Following a cardiac arrest of a teen or an adult, compression-only CPR can be equally effective as traditional CPR in the first few minutes of emergency response. If a teen or adult suddenly collapses, witnesses should immediately call emergency services and begin chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute and a depth of approximately two inches. The Association encourages everyone, regardless of where they live, to take 90 seconds to learn how to save a life now at www.heart.org/nation.
Link to PSA: https://youtu.be/jCdCfj0euuU
photos provided by American Heart Association
In response to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council’s recent report on severe maternal morbidity in Pennsylvania, state Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes, D-Allegheny, said she is continuing her work to address severe maternal morbidity and Black maternal health in Pennsylvania.
PHC4’s report found from 2016 to 2022 the highest severe maternal morbidity rates were for Black, non-Hispanic patients, patients 40 to 55 years old, patients with Medicaid as their primary health insurance and patients from ZIP codes with poverty rates higher than 25%.
“Addressing severe maternal morbidity also addresses issues for Black maternal health as severe maternal morbidity rates increased by 51% for Black, non-Hispanic patients in Pennsylvania,” Mayes said. “As Black women are 3.5 times more likely to die during pregnancy-related complications and 22% of Black women report discrimination in health care, we must work to address severe maternal morbidity and more to ensure health care is equitable for all Pennsylvanians.”
According to the report, acute renal failure and disseminated intravascular coagulation contributed to more than 50% of SMM. Pennsylvania residents in Pike County, Lehigh County, Carbon County, Monroe County and Philadelphia reported the highest rates of SMM per 10,000 delivery hospitalizations. Allegheny County reported 101.3 cases of SMM per 10,000 delivery hospitalizations.
In July, Gov. Josh Josh Shapiro signed S.B. 262, sponsored by state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, into law as Act 5 of 2023, requiring the Department of Health to report maternal morbidity data using hospital discharge data from the PHC4, Mayes noted.
“With this law, and the report from PHC4, we may begin to combat maternal morbidity, which disproportionately affects Black pregnant people,” Mayes said. “As state representative, I will work to address severe maternal morbidity, Black maternal health and reproductive health, rights and justice in Pennsylvania.”
Suicide deaths among Black adults in the United States were rising before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trend has persisted. While rates tend to be highest for adolescents and young adults, research has shown that rising rates continue across lifespans.
Kamesha Spates, the William S. Dietrich II Chair and associate professor of Africana studies in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, wanted to understand how prepared communities were to tackle this crisis and to reverse the trend. Working with a team of researchers from Kent State, where she taught until December 2022, and Auburn University, the medical sociologist turned to northeast Ohio, where suicide rates among Black residents rose more than 100% between 2011 and 2021.
The team found there was work to be done before the communities they surveyed were prepared to successfully address the issue. “People were engaged and aware of general issues their communities faced,” Spates said, but when it came to suicide specifically, people were less informed.
The research was published May 25 in the journal Death Studies.
For the study, researchers surveyed 25 people from four counties across northeast Ohio. The team wanted to gauge how much people knew about suicide rates and what tools communities had to address the problem. The Community Readiness Model, which rates on a scale of 1 to 9, can help researchers understand how prepared a community is to overcome a shared problem. The survey respondents' scores averaged 3.5 which, the authors wrote, translates to the sentiment, “Something should probably be done but what? Maybe someone else will work on this.”
Survey responses suggested a lot of misconceptions about suicide, Spates said, including the notion that it just isn’t really an issue for Black people. “Instead, it’s a white issue — maybe an upper middle-class issue,” she said. “‘Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s not something we do,’” survey respondents said.
“That’s a misconception.”
But researchers also found raising awareness won’t be enough to help communities reverse suicide trends, because even some who did know about the rising rates didn’t see it as a top priority.
“They would say, ‘How do we worry about suicide when people are overdosing on fentanyl, and people are homeless, and folks are being incarcerated disproportionately?’” Spates said. Some were more explicit about their feelings. “We need jobs. We need good education for our kids. Should we be putting resources into this issue?”
The researchers’ next step will be to return to the communities they surveyed. But they won’t be going back with a plan to fix everything. They will instead work with the communities to develop culturally relevant suicide prevention and intervention strategies that will be tailored to each community’s specific needs.
“The solution isn’t to name the problem and throw money at it from afar,” said Jenny Cureton, a professor at Kent State and member of the research team. “The community guides how the issue is understood and what solutions are best,” making sure they are culturally appropriate.
For instance, some people surveyed had seen informational pamphlets about suicide, but they didn’t think the subject was relevant to them. When they saw the word, “suicide,” they typically thought of white people.
That underscores the point that solutions will require more than leaving suicide-awareness pamphlets in the lobby of a Black church, Spates said. “It means actually using statistics about Black folks who die by suicide every year, or sharing culturally specific, evidence-based protective factors or risk factors that relate specifically to your community.”
And that generic term, “community,” needs to be specifically defined “The Black community is not homogeneous; there are all sorts of ethnic differences, gender differences, different sexual orientations, differences by class, religion … I could go down the line.”
The more attention given to the mental health of Black Americans, the more opportunities researchers will have to work with different communities and help develop made-to-fit interventions.
“This is an encouraging time to tackle a very disturbing trend,” Cureton said. “Leaders within the local community and the state, as well as expert professionals, respected stars and others with influence are speaking powerfully about the problem of Black suicide, and positively about ways to address it.”
Source: — Brandie Jefferson PittWire
Kamesha Spates, Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
Black Women have a unique set of factors that can impact their health and wellness. To bring these issues to light, Sisters Saving Ourselves Now and the Pittsburgh-Mon Valley Black Women’s Roundtable are bringing this topic to the stage! “Seven Last Words on Black Women’s Health” will be performed on Friday, June 30, 2023, from 6PM to 8PM, at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206.
“These performances will help raise awareness about the unique health challenges that Black women face and the impact that these challenges have on their lives,” says Dr. Judith Moore, Founder of Sisters Saving Ourselves Now and the Pittsburgh-Mon Valley Black Women’s Roundtable.
“Seven Last Words on Black Women’s Health” will help promote healthy behaviors and encourage black women to take control of their health. The program will include a presentation by Jacqueline D. Hill, who will talk about the State of Black Women’s Health; a video discussing how the trauma of systematic racism is killing Black Women; and more. An essential part of this stage production will be the presentation of women’s stories by three women (Beverly King, Lauren Henderson, and Brenda Tate) sharing their health challenges and how they are navigating through them. Their powerful stories will connect, inspire, and encourage positive steps toward change!
Comedian Deidre Lesesne will entertain the audience with her witty, crazy, clean-cut comedy. Deidre has been engaging a variety of audiences for 15 plus years. She has performed and opened for many comedy greats such as: Monique, Don “DC” Curry, Tony Roberts, Faizon Love, and Joe Torrey. She has also worked with veteran comedians Tu’Ray, Tone X, A.G. White, and Kool-Aid seen on “BET’s Comic View”. Deidre has performed at the Pittsburgh Improv, Tampa Improv, Funny Bone, and Laugh Factory Comedy Clubs and various venues and events around the city of Pittsburgh. She has also studied Improv at the Arcade Comedy Theater in downtown Pittsburgh and performed on a musical improv team doing her tenure there.
Various health care agencies will also be on hand to provide educational materials.
This is a FREE event. To obtain tickets, visit
About Sisters Saving Ourselves Now
Sisters Saving Ourselves Now is dedicated to actionable steps facing women of all colors with a specific focus on underserved women. The organization’s objective is to convene other likeminded organizations that have a passion and a willingness to collectively participate in eliminating the challenges women of all colors and underserved face.
For more information, visit sisterssavingourselvesnow.org
About The Pittsburgh-Mon Valley Black Women’s Roundtable (PMBWR)
The PMBWR advocates for marginalized Black women and girls by focusing on grassroots efforts on public policy, economic stability and social justice work. Through leadership development, educational training and community building, the Roundtable will pursue equity that will infuse viability back into Pittsburgh-Mon Valley areas.
Researchers from Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences are helping address racial disparities in mental health care by training congregants of Black churches in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood and Wilkinsburg Borough in counseling skills, creating new entry points for residents to access services.
“Because I’m on the ground and in conversation with residents, what became evident to me is that mental health care is lacking in the Homewood area,” said Channing Moreland, former director of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Wellness Pavilion at Pitt’s Community Engagement Center in Homewood, adding, “this is a discussion that people of color historically haven’t talked about.”
In 2021, with funding from the Pitt Innovation Challenge, Moreland and Department of Counseling and Behavioral Health faculty members Laura Dietz and Quiana Golphin created TRIBUTE: Training Religious Leaders In Bereavement Counseling to Upskill Treatment Experiences.
The premise of TRIBUTE is simple: Relying on church leaders in Black communities will reduce the stigma associated with accessing treatment and normalize conversations about mental health.
When developing TRIBUTE, Moreland, Golphin and Dietz tapped community stakeholders to help shape the training. The community input made clear that partnering with neighborhood clergy would be crucial in reaching those in need.
“One thing about the Black church is that we are agents of social change because of our experience with injustice. This is not something we say — it is something we do because of lived experience,” said Jonathon Counts, a licensed clinical social worker and Homewood AME Zion Church pastor who partners with the TRIBUTE team.
“There is a long-standing historical tradition for Black churches to serve as support, safe places and resources for communities of color,” Counts added. “Clergy within Black churches are trusted pillars for the community and first responders to crisis, tragedies and loss in the neighborhoods they serve.”
The program’s focus on mourning speaks to the role systemic racism plays in Black people’s lives and its connection to both historical and ongoing trauma, including gun violence and the challenges brought by the pandemic, said Moreland
“Communities of color, including Homewood, have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic and have experienced rates of death twice those seen in white communities,” she said.
TRIBUTE also addresses the significant shortage of mental health clinicians of color, said Dietz.
“Often, people of color want to receive mental health treatment from trained individuals rooted in their communities with shared experiences, but there’s a shortage of clinicians of color in the field. TRIBUTE increases the number of people available to deliver culturally responsive counseling and increases access to mental health services,” she said.
The keystone of TRIBUTE’s training protocol is interpersonal counseling, a brief, evidence-based talking therapy. The intervention, used by practitioners since the ’70s, has been an effective model for helping individuals process grief and depression that community health workers have delivered in underresourced countries all over the world.
Graduates of the training, called Emotional Support Advocates, will implement the program in their congregations under the supervision of licensed mental health providers in the TRIBUTE leadership team.
After individuals seeking care from Emotional Support Advocates complete four counseling sessions, they have the option to continue with a bereavement support group or receive assistance in accessing additional mental health services at Primary Health Care Services, a federally qualified health center directed by Khavah Murray, who is also part of the TRIBUTE leadership team.
Moreland noted that the program aims to help people live with grief rather than get over it.
“We train our religious leaders how to help someone drill down into their experience of grief and to help them be able to get support and be able to move,” said Moreland.
“We're helping them to live with their grief and to carry it more effectively so that they can begin to live again.”
— Nichole Faina, photography by Mike Drazdzinski
Pictured: From left, the TRIBUTE team is led by: Assistant Professor Quiana Golphin, Channing Moreland, Associate Professor Laura Dietz and Primary Care Services Director Khavah Murray.
Governor Josh Shapiro signed the first bill of his Administration – Act 1 of 2023, a first-of-its-kind law in the nation that will require insurers to cover preventive breast and ovarian cancer screenings for high-risk women at no cost.
This landmark legislation, introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, passed both the House and the Senate unanimously. It removes out-of-pocket costs associated with genetic testing for hereditary breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancer syndromes – as well as supplemental breast screenings for women with a high lifetime risk of breast cancer. Act 1 ensures this critical healthcare will be accessible and affordable for more Pennsylvanians and save countless lives.
After signing this historic, landmark legislation, Governor Josh Shapiro released the following statement:
“I am proud that the first bill I have signed as Governor is a bill that passed both chambers unanimously – with Democrats and Republicans coming together to improve access to critically important healthcare and save countless lives in Pennsylvania. This bill is the first of its kind in our country, requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of preventive cancer screenings for women at high risk of breast cancer.
“This historic legislation is going to help women fight breast cancer and live healthier lives – and it would not have been possible without the courage, tenacity, and bipartisan cooperation of Senate Pro Tempore Kim Ward and Speaker Joanna McClinton. I believe government can and should be a productive force for good – and this is a real example of the big things we can accomplish in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when we work together.”
“Pennsylvania is leading the nation in the fight against breast cancer by eliminating out-of-pocket costs associated with BRCA-related genetic testing and counseling for high-risk individuals, as well as supplemental screenings such as breast MRI and ultrasound for women,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward. “My personal experience with breast cancer presented me the opportunity to see where some of the gaps were in the system. With approximately 14,000 new cases of breast cancer per year in Pennsylvania, what this legislature did by getting the Bill to Governor Shapiro for his signature, will have a huge positive affect on women’s health and lives.”
“Breast cancer is a terrible disease with roughly 264,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in women and 2,400 cases in men every year. For Black women, the statistics are even more alarming, as it is the number one cause of cancer death for Black women at an alarming rate of 31%,” said Speaker Joanna McClinton. “But there is hope, now as a result of this new law more Pennsylvanians will have access to the screening and genetic counseling that can lead to an early diagnosis and save lives. This is a testament to the good work we can do for our neighbors across the Commonwealth.”
Governor Josh Shapiro was joined by legislative leaders from both parties and breast cancer survivors and advocates from all across the Commonwealth for the signing of this historic legislation. Since taking office, Governor Shapiro has remained focused on bringing people together to deliver solutions on the pressing issues Pennsylvanians face. This landmark legislation exemplifies the progress that can be achieved in Harrisburg – and the Shapiro Administration looks forward to continuing this bipartisan cooperation in order to deliver real results for all Pennsylvanians.
February 6, 2023
Imagine going to your health care provider and receiving a serious diagnosis. Instead of focusing on your health, you think, “How am I ever going to pay for this?”
Unfortunately, this experience is common. More than 100 million Americans carry medical debt; it’s the cause of nearly 70% of personal bankruptcies. Tragically, it strikes unexpectedly and at the worst moment – when one falls ill or needs medical care.
Medical debt does not exist in other industrialized nations. Only Americans will ever require a GoFundMe for a neighbor stricken with an exorbitant medical bill. Crowdfunding pages for those facing difficult medical challenges, while heartwarming on the surface, are an indictment of our entire health care system. A person’s physical or financial wellbeing should not depend on convincing people to “click here to donate.”
For some, receiving a diagnosis for a treatable disease or an extraordinarily high medical bill can be the equivalent of a death sentence. Too often individuals avoid seeking care in the first place because they are aware of how grossly unaffordable health care is in America. Middle-class folks with exorbitant medical debt are likely to think twice before seeking care for chronic or other serious conditions.
With more than half of American adults accumulating debt due to medical or dental bills in the last five years, it is abundantly clear that medical debt hamstrings the economic mobility of working families across the nation, especially those without insurance or living on low incomes. Millions of indebted Americans report cutting spending on food, clothing and other basic needs, draining their savings, losing their homes and declaring bankruptcy. Additionally, medical debt disproportionally impacts women and people of color – women are more likely than men to carry medical debt, and 69% of Black and 65% of Hispanic adults report having medical debt, compared to 54% of white adults.
We believe that working Pennsylvanians should not have to choose between necessities and receiving medical care, between stifling debt or a preventable death. This uniquely American problem requires a uniquely American solution, and the birthplace of our great nation is the perfect place to start cleaning up this catastrophic mess.
It will take extensive reforms to mold our system into one that does not punish sick patients with debt. But with so many people drowning in medical debt now, Pennsylvanians need a life preserver -- stat. To help them quickly, we are introducing legislation to establish the Pennsylvania Medical Debt Repayment Program, which would provide medical debt relief to the most financially vulnerable residents of our Commonwealth.
Our proposed program is modeled on ones that have succeeded at the local level in several U.S. cities and allow for an exponential return on the invested funding. With a relatively modest $5 million investment (representing 0.01% of last year’s state budget) we may be able to clear at least $575 million of the debt burdening Pennsylvania families and holding back the Commonwealth’s economy.
This program would also improve the finances of health care providers and institutions that regularly carry debt on their balance sheet with little likelihood of payment. Such debt affects their ability to deliver on the necessary mission of providing care to those most in need and, critically, results in raising prices for all Pennsylvanians to make up the difference.
Illness and injury do not check your voter registration, and Pennsylvanians of all political affiliations suffer from medical debt. This is not a partisan issue. If you want to help make this program a reality, we urge you to contact your elected officials and ask them to support the creation of the Pennsylvania Medical Debt Repayment Program.
State Rep. Arvind Venkat, MD
State Rep. Nick Pisciottano, CPA
State Rep. Bridget M. Kosierowski, RN
State Rep. Tarik Khan, PhD, CRNP
State Rep. Donna Bullock, JD
The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium (WPDHAC) has launched a new, ongoing effort to document and share stories of people with disabilities who are people of color.
The history of people with disabilities has only recently become part of the narrative of American history. Within this context, the stories of people of color who have disabilities are especially untold and under-represented. This omission is coming to light as our nation grapples with the deep levels of racial inequity in our society.
Nationally known activist Andraea Lavant, who speaks nationally on the topic of race, disability and oppression, notes that people who live at the intersection of race and disability have been overlooked, not only in the narrative of disability history but in the contemporary disability rights movement.
To address this absence, the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium has begun to tell their stories. In addition to expanding the historic record, these stories provide a starting point for community conversations about the struggles of people of color who have disabilities, and their inclusion in the broader struggle for racial equality, civil rights, and social justice.
The first set of histories are set for public release in July 2022 and feature five individuals who represent diverse types of disabilities, past eras of disability services, pivotal disability rights movements, and seminal leadership.
These subjects are:
Henry Bell (b. circa 1862-d. c. 1892)
Bell was a deaf child who lived in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh. His mother was from Arkansas while his father was born in Pennsylvania. Bell became the first student at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (WPSD), and graduated from the school when he was 18 years old in 1880. Bell became a barber and died in Wellsburg, Ohio. In the 19th century, being both Black and deaf meant being limited in society and in educational opportunities.
According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dated January 19, 1895, Bell arrived at the Sabbath Day School at the Third Presbyterian Church where he was turned away several times by the instructor of the school due to not being able to communicate. Despite continuously being dismissed, Bell returned and was eventually accepted, and invited other deaf children who he befriended to the school. Realizing that Bell and other children like him needed a school to fit their needs, teacher Joel Kerr and other staff embarked on creating the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Bell’s spirited persistence opened the doors for many other children and laid the foundation for the WPSD.
Milton (“Skip”) Henderson (1961-2019)
Henderson became paralyzed because of a car accident. He became a renowned local and statewide disability rights advocate. He was a board member and later an employee of Three Rivers Center for Independent Living. He served on the statewide Independent Living Council and the City of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Task Force on Disabilities until his death in 2019. Writing on his online obituary page in 2019, Amy Selders wrote: “Milton fought for the rights of all people with disabilities as if his own life depended on it.”
Henderson was an African American man living with a physical disability; his courage of conviction and responsibility to fighting for the rights of people with disabilities has not been forgotten and continues to inspire many.
Marilyn McKinney (1947-2004)
McKinney worked for the Pittsburgh Public Schools for 30 years, most notably as program officer for the Program for Students with Exceptionalities. She served in the Pittsburgh Branch of the NAACP as the Statewide Assistant Secretary and the Second Secretary. She created a group called African Americans Make-A-Wish, to provide opportunities to children under the age of eighteen with a life-threatening illness. Other community work included the Kingsley Association, the charitable group Freedom Unlimited, and the Greater Pittsburgh Alliance of Black School Educators.
The Pittsburgh Local Task Force on the Right to Education named an award in McKinney’s honor. The award recognizes Pittsburgh Public Schools employees who demonstrate “outstanding commitment and service” to students with disabilities. McKinney was an African American woman who was not only a champion in her community but also for children of color in the disability community.
Florence Reed (b. 1944)
Reed is the founder of Working Women with Disabilities. She served on the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. Her tenure included serving as vice-chair of the Council and chair of the Advocacy Committee. Reed is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. Reed’s advocacy began before she became disabled when she worked as a speech therapist for Pittsburgh Public Schools. While having a disability may have changed her life, it also strengthened her resolve.
In her interview with Alonna Carter-Donaldson, Reed said “Disability is not a death sentence. In fact, it’s probably one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it has taught me how to accept people… all people, no matter who they are.” While being both African American and part of the disability community can come with its own set of challenges, Reed inspires women of all backgrounds to be confident and persevere beyond any boundaries.
Maurika (“Rika”) Moore (b. 2001)
Moore is a young adult with epilepsy who graduated from Washington High School (Washington County) in 2021. Her family, including her mother Cicely Moore and her father Ron Moore (Washington High School basketball coach), started a fundraiser called Rika’s Hearts to raise money for the annual Pittsburgh Fun Run/Walk for Epilepsy and to help with Maurika’s medical care. The fundraiser has expanded its outreach to the surrounding community by contributing to various community causes. Rika’s Hearts continues to raise awareness about the costs associated with treatment and to connect communities with much needed resources. Moore is part of the next generation of BIPOC and disabled advocates making profound change across communities.
Alonna Carter-Donaldson is the project scholar for the “Intersection of Race and Disability” project. She leads the research and writing of the histories and will complete a master’s degree in Public History at Duquesne University in 2022. She also holds a bachelor’s in Philosophy and Pre-Law from Carlow University and a master’s in Professional Writing from Chatham University. Among her many professional and volunteer accomplishments is her work as historian for the Edna B. McKenzie Branch of the African Studies Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Carter is a resident of Verona.
Carter-Donaldson’s research on these stories explores questions that lie at the intersection of race and disability, such as:
Throughout 2022 and beyond, Carter-Donaldson will share the project’s first five stories at community gatherings and in a variety of media. An initial presentation of the stories was held On May 6, 2022, at the Envision Conference sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind.
A community advisory committee guides this storytelling project. Members are:
Major funding for the effort comes from the “Race and Disability” initiative of the FISA Foundation. According to Executive Director Kristy Trautmann, “FISA Foundation is incredibly proud of the work of the Western PA Disability History and Action Consortium and its commitment to elevating the voices and stories of people of color with disabilities. This initiative will spotlight true heroes who fought for justice, changed the way disability is perceived, and helped to establish fundamental civil rights. Their stories will help us all to better understand the impact of racism and ableism and will inspire us to work for reform.”
The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium, founded in 2015, preserves and honors the historic struggle of people with disabilities to attain human and civil rights – and to share the lived experiences of today – to promote community access, participation, and equal opportunity. The Consortium uses this history—through presentations, media, events, and exhibits—to educate the public about the evolution and significance of existing laws and policies, and to advance disability rights.
For information, to suggest stories for the “Intersection of Race and Disability” project, or to schedule a presentation by project scholar Alonna Carter-Donaldson, visit wpdhac.org, call 412-204-7199, or email email@example.com.
Henry Bell was a deaf child who lived in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh. 1862--1892)
Amani D. Echols earned her MPH within the University of Michigan’s Department of Health Management and Policy. Currently, Amani is a Behavioral Health Policy Fellow at the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs (AMCHP). Outside of work, Amani is a trained pregnancy loss and abortion doula who volunteers her time as a case manager at the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF). The DC Abortion fund makes grants to pregnant people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia and those traveling to these jurisdictions who cannot afford the total cost of an abortion. The content in this article is the opinions of Amani and is not associated with AMCHP or DCAF.
JLD: Amani, given the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, what do you anticipate being the most significant consequences regarding “choice” for Black women in particular and women in general?
ADE: Often, choice is conflated with opportunity. However, RJ focuses on “access” and not “choice,” and Roe v Wade is a perfect example of this critical distinction. Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey protect a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy as a constitutional right until fetal viability (about 23-24 weeks). That said, Roe v Wade never guaranteed people meaningful access to abortion and to exercise their rights. For example, states have enacted laws such as waiting periods and regulations against abortion providers (also known as TRAP laws) that prevent access to timely and essential abortion care. Additionally, many people live in counties with no abortion provider. These barriers to access are exacerbated for people with lower income and in southern states where Black people are concentrated in.
In sum, repealing Roe v Wade would eliminate people’s right and access to abortion. The Turnaway Study outlines the significant adverse health and social consequences of carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. Pregnancy and childbirth are way more dangerous than abortion, with a greater likelihood of morbidity and mortality. Compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. has the worst maternal health outcomes and is experiencing a Black maternal health crisis. For this reason, it is especially concerning that Black people, in particular, will be forced to give birth in the U.S. Furthermore, the social consequences of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term include financial stressors (especially the concern of adequately providing for existing children), inability to pursue specific career/life goals, and being connected to an abusive partner.
Another major consequence of overturning Roe v Wade is the criminalization of people who have an abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth. In the media, there is rhetoric that people will go back to the “old days” of carrying out dangerous abortions in secret; however, these are tropes that stigmatize Black and Brown people. In today’s modern age and with access to medication abortion (the abortion pill) for up to 12 weeks, people will likely be able to access a safe abortion in states where it is legal and illegal. (Much like how illegal substances are found all over the country). That said, people could be penalized and incarcerated for having a medicated abortion, which is the greatest concern to many activists. Incarceration is never the social or health solution.
Lastly, overturning Roe v Wade can make vulnerable other constitutional rights built off Roe’s precedent and the establishment of the right to privacy (e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut - the right to marry whoever you’d like).
JLD: In your bio, you mentioned volunteering at the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF). Can you share about your experience at DCAF?
ADE: Great question! I love sharing about the work that I do and am so passionate about. First, I’d like to make it clear that I am very much pro-abortion. People often say, “nobody is pro-abortion, they are only pro-choice.” Unequivocally, I can say that is false. I am pro-abortion and I think it is important to not shy away from saying the word abortion…abortion, abortion, abortion. There is too much stigma around abortion despite it being so common. Everyone loves someone that has had an abortion. (These conversation cards are a tool to guide crucial dialogues about abortion and reduce stigma).
To play a larger role in this issue, I completed a Pregnancy Loss and Abortion Doula Training. As a pregnancy loss and abortion doula, my role is to offer physical, mental, and emotional support before, during, and after an abortion. I decided to take my training and new knowledge to DCAF. I am a volunteer Case Manager at DCAF. In this position, I answer phone calls from people seeking an abortion but cannot afford the total cost of the surgical or medical abortion. The organization provides funding based on a funding rubric. I also help individuals find a clinic near them, and connect them to practical support organizations (e.g., transportation, lodging, escorts, and resources for houselessness and domestic violence). On a daily basis, I work with other local funders to ensure that patients' co-pays are as close to $0 as possible. Roughly, I receive 5-10 calls per day and work 3-5 day-long shifts.
JLD: Amanda Gorman recently presented 8 reasons to stand against abortion bans. Specifically, she said, “When the penalty for rape is less than the penalty for abortion after the rape, you know this isn’t about caring for women and girls. It’s about controlling them.
1. Through forcing them into motherhood before they’re ready, these bans steadily sustain the patriarchy, but also chain families in poverty and maintain economic inequality.
2. Pregnancy is a private and personal decision and should not require the permission of any politician.
3. For all time, regardless of whether it’s a crime, women have and will always seek their own reproductive destinies. All these penalties do is subdue women’s freedom to get healthy, safe services when they most need them.
4. Fight to keep Roe v. Wade alive. By the term ‘overturn Roe v. Wade‘, the main concern is that the Supreme Court will let states thwart a woman’s path to abortion with undue burdens.
5. One thing is true and certain: These predictions aren’t a distortion, hypothetical, or theoretical. Women already face their disproportion of undue burdens when seeking abortions. If the sexes and all people are to be equal, abortion has to be actually accessible and not just technically legal.
6. Despite what you might hear, this right here isn’t only about women and girls. This fight is about fundamental civil rights. Women are a big part of it, but at the heart of it are freedom over how fast our families grow goes farther and larger than any one of us. It’s about every single one of us.
7. This change can’t wait. We’ve got the energy, the moment, the movement, and the thundering numbers.
Would you please provide your final remarks as well as anything you care to state about Gorman’s above remarks.
ADE: Gorman’s response is complete and thorough. I’d like to add to this reflection via a poem I wrote the week of the leaked SCOTUS opinion.
There is More to Life than Being Alive
I must be violated to have autonomy over my body.
I Must B. Violated to choose my reproductive health care.
I must be violated, raped, and near death, To make a decision about MY body.
Make it make sense!
No reason is needed. Fuck them kids is plenty.
Fuck them kids is the US mantra for black, brown, queer, disabled, immigrant, and lower-income people.
The same people who forced us to be sterilized as a form of eugenics want us to carry to term.
I can choose to wear a mask to protect me and you but cannot choose my reproductive health care.
Abortion access, essential health care, is being restricted during a maternal mortality crisis.
Make it make sense.
I am valued for my perspective until it’s too progressive.
The contradictions don’t stop.
We won’t stop!
JLD: Amani, your responses too are complete and thorough. I sincerely appreciate the informed commitment you bring to your work.
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
May 31, 2022
Amani D. Echols, Behavioral Health Policy Fellow, (AMCHP).
The Black Women’s Policy Center will host a Health & Wellness Brunch fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 18 at the Triveni Center in Monroeville. Proceeds from the event will support its mission to be a leading source for Black women’s voices by empowering them through policy and advocacy work – with the goal of transforming the Greater Pittsburgh region into a place where Black women and girls won’t just survive but will thrive.
There will be a variety of programs centered on physical and mental health, wellness and self-care. The schedule includes a panel discussion with Black female therapists who will discuss mental health vs. mental illness; a yoga presentation by YogaRoots On Location founder Felicia Savage Friedman and a presentation by featured speaker Lydia Glaize from Atlanta. Attendees also will learn self-care tips and have access to free health screenings. Additionally, there will be time for connection and networking, chair and hand massages, food, prizes and giveaways.
“Black women are the backbone of the Black community and typically put everything and everybody before themselves. The Health & Wellness Brunch is providing them with an opportunity to practice self-care, which is vital to our overall health and well-being,” says Rochelle Jackson, founder and director of the Black Women's Policy Center. “With this brunch, we want the women to have some good food and fellowship with other women, all while being enriched with knowledge and tools for maintaining good mental health. Most importantly, we are striving to remove the stigma attached to mental health and normalize it as a part of overall health and well-being.”
Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at blackwomemspolicycenter.org. Sponsorships and advertising opportunities also are available.
My father-in-law, Nathaniel S. Colley Sr., maintained that responses to proposed legislation and public policy often depend significantly on “whose bull is being gored,” i.e., how the outcomes of legislation and public policy impact one personally. Consider, for example, the War on Drugs which former President Nixon initiated in the 1970s.
“…A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, …admitted: ‘You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. …We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did…’” A History of the Drug War | Drug Policy Alliance
When Blacks disproportionately used crack cocaine, mandatory five-year sentences were given for possessing five grams of crack while 500 grams of powder cocaine was required for the same prison sentence (see Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984). Racialized anti-Black responses to illegal drugs continued until Whites’ opioid use began to roar out of control during the early 1900s. Then, opioid addiction was deemed a “public health” problem warranting medical interventions for “victims,” not lengthy prison terms for “criminals.”
Stated differently, part of the reason why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that the opioid overdose antidote Narcan will become an over-the-counter product later this year is the fact that the drug overdose “chickens came home” and increasingly “roosted” among Whites. Similarly, a tragic truth is that there is unlikely to be significant gun reform until Whites are increasingly the victims. Until then, we as a nation will not heed the March 28, 2023 solemn prayer of the Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, i.e., “Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers. Remind our lawmakers of the words of the British statesman Edmund Burke: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.’ Lord, deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous.”
To demonstrate how crass some can be when it comes to addressing gun violence, consider the fact that, a day after Chaplain Black’s above prayer, Representative Clay Higgins (R-La.) offered the ridiculous rant, “There’s no such thing as gun violence. There’s only human violence. It’s intellectually unsound to state otherwise. And the number one cause of death for children in America remains abortion.” (See, Huffington Post story by Josephine Harvey, March 29, 2023). For him, it matters not that “…More than 5 deaths per 100,000 Americans between the ages of 1 and 19 were due to guns in 2020, the most recent year for which the CDC has data. …4,368 kids died from gunshot wounds in the US in 2020…” (May 26, 2022 New York Post). Nor do these data seem to matter to Republican members of Congress who wore AR-15 pins, after the Nashville shootings.
As the Nashville mass shooting went through its week-long news cycle, the President and other elected officials bemoaned the lack of responsible gun legislation; pundits listed who had been “bought and paid for” by gun lobbyists; flowers were placed on temporary “memorials;” and, of course, the social media were lit up with “thoughts and prayers.” The foregoing incessant beat continues, in part, because of “whose bulls are being gored,” even when it comes to babies being murdered in sacred places.
To be sure, Chaplain Black was truth telling when he said, “Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers.” However, the same truth was applicable but not addressed when on September 15, 1963 four Black girls were killed by a bomb blast at a Birmingham, Alabama Black church. Nor was the Chaplain’s advice followed after a White man killed nine Blacks during a worship service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Across America, day after day, in city after city, death from gun violence is a daily affair with Blacks disproportionately represented among those killed. Turn on any major city’s daily news channel and, in one week, you will hear about more Blacks murdered than the 6 people killed in Nashville. Annually, during the month of December, city newspapers post headlines such as “ City is on its way to a record number of homicides, most of them Black.” Unfortunately, it seems that America will remain the leading nation for mass murders until the headlines read, “City is on its way to a record number of homicides, most of them White.”
In part because of “whose bulls are being disproportionately gored” by gun violence, gun reform remains a matter of racialized neglect which will continue until gun violence has come home and roosted! Meanwhile, there will be additional, authoritarian, asinine actions such as those of the Nashville Republican representatives who, on April 6, 2023, expelled two Black Democrats but not the White woman Democrat because they “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder” to the House by participating in a protest regarding gun legislation. By doing so, they also put blatant racism and White patriarchal power on vivid display!
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
April 7, 2023