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Penn’s inaugural Calvin Bland Fellows are tackling health disparities for men and boys of color

(L to R) GSE fellow Ed Brockenbrough, Nursing fellow Lisa Lewis, Calvin Bland, SP2 fellow Toorjo Ghose. September 29, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongPeople
Dr. Lisa Lewis of Penn Nursing has focused her research on hypertension in men of color for the past five years.

“There was a call from the National Institute of Health for proposals to examine racial and ethnic minority men and chronic illnesses, because many men of color experience the most pressing disparities around many of the chronic illnesses,” said Lewis, the school’s associate professor and assistant dean for diversity and inclusivity.

According to Lewis, the research participants told her team, “we never find anything exclusively for Black men.”

With a new fellowship for University of Pennsylvania professors, the amount of research focused on young Black men and other young men of color will be expanding.

The Penn Futures Project (PFP) announced its first cohort of Calvin Bland Fellows earlier this summer. The fellowship is a collaboration between Penn’s Graduate School of Education (GSE), School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) and Penn Nursing and seeks to facilitate interdisciplinary study on improving the lives of boys and young men of color in Philadelphia.

The three inaugural fellows are Ed Brockenbrough (GSE), Toorjo Ghose (SP2) and Dr. Lewis and were each selected for their work with marginalized communities, particularly in the Philadelphia area, within their respective fields.

Ghose, an associate professor at SP2 and founder of the Center for Carceral Communities, works on “incarceration, substance use, homelessness and HIV at both the domestic and international level.” Brockenbrough, associate professor in the teaching, learning and leadership division, has worked on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality in urban education; his current research focuses on “sexual health education for young Black queer males.”

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L to R: SP2 Calvin Bland Fellow Toorjo Ghose, Penn Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel, Penn GSE Calvin Bland Fellow Ed Brockenbrough, Calvin Bland, Penn Nursing Calvin Bland Fellow Lisa Lewis, SP2 Dean John L. Jackson, Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman.

(L to R) Ghose, Penn Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel, Brockenbrough, Calvin Bland, Lewis, SP2 Dean John L. Jackson, Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman.(Courtesy photo)

PFP was created in 2015 by GSE Dean Pam Grossman, Penn Nursing Dean Antonia M. Villarruel and SP2 Dean John L. Jackson, Jr. It hopes to provide support for marginalized families in Philadelphia by promoting and supporting research and study on the problems directly affecting them.

“We are looking at this project as a decidedly holistic and comprehensive approach to making sense of and lessening the constraints that adversely impact the lives and life chances of young men and boys of color — with the ultimate goal of designing solutions that translate into better mental health, physical health and educational success for some of the most marginalized members of our communities,” Jackson said.

“As this program unfurls, it will provide opportunities for faculty and students across all three of our Schools to collaborate on research projects that are ambitiously interdisciplinary, using methods and approaches that cut across many different professional traditions.”

Dr. Lewis is already looking to the ways that work with her colleagues will support her own research.

"What I see is going to be very useful for me is tapping into their expertise around education and health."
Dr. Lisa Lewis

“When I think about my co-Bland Fellow awardees, one in GSE, I think about education and levels of education — how we know that those who have lower education tend to have poorer health outcomes, and we know this even from birth, believe it or not,” Dr. Lewis said. “Then my other colleague in SP2, when you think about the social issues, someone who can’t afford to pay a copay for their meds — they can’t take their meds, right? They have to worry about putting a roof over their family’s heads. Managing their blood pressure is going to be very low on the totem pole.”

“What I see is going to be very useful for me is tapping into their expertise around education and health and teasing that out and thinking about the ways in which we could consider those other factors [in each others’ work].”

The fellowship’s namesake, Calvin Bland, is an alum of both Penn and the Philadelphia public school system, and is the former chief of staff at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the former president of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. He is also currently a research professor at Rutgers University and a member of the SP2 Board of Overseers. A $2 million endowment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation enabled the fellowships, which each last for a five-year term.

Dr. Lewis said she’s had many causes for excitement at being included in the program, but in part she was excited about its namesake.

“Mr. Bland himself, he’s like a rockstar, the work he’s done, his commitment to help disparities and help equities in general,” she said. “I think we’re all just so excited to be named in his honor, because of the work that he’s done in the past 20, 30 years. I’m still on the high of that.”

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