Equity and Health Fellowships


Inequities are deeply ingrained within the Richmond region, but few residents understand their full impact.

For example, the life expectancy of an individual living in an economically struggling neighborhood can be as much as 20 years shorter than a resident of a high-income area.

​In 2017, 18 Equity + Health Fellows representing leaders from the public and nonprofit sectors were tasked with developing an agenda to inform RMHF’s investments and recommending strategies to address the social, economic, and structural conditions contributing to poor health outcomes.

​In June 2018, RMHF named a second class of Fellows with a new focus on grassroots neighborhood and community-based leaders.

As part of Richmond Memorial Health Foundation’s (RMHF) commitment to fostering an equitable and healthy Richmond region, we will focus our work more intentionally on addressing the social, economic, and structural conditions that contribute to poor health outcomes.  To develop our work in an inclusive way, we created an interdisciplinary opportunity for 18 individuals to become RMHF Equity + Health Fellows. Fellows serve as strategic advisors to the Foundation, informing our equity and health agenda.

2017 Equity + Health Fellows participated in a nine-month experience to share learning and knowledge about addressing social, economic, and structural challenges and achieving equity and health. The Fellowship culminated with the presentation of recommendations by the 2017 Fellows to RMHF Trustees. Nominations for 2018 Fellows closed on February 9, 2018.

Trustee Message

In 2016, the Trustees of Richmond Memorial Health Foundation (RMHF) embarked on a process of listening, learning, and reflection as we sought to consider how we can effectively deploy our resources to foster an equitable and healthy Richmond region.

The full Board has engaged deeply in this process, and we collectively embrace and affirm the following:

It is fundamentally unacceptable that health disparities exist in our region based largely on a person’s ZIP Code.

All current and future residents should have fair access to opportunities that enable everyone to attain their full potential and contribute to the health and vitality of our region.

Working to build an equitable and healthy region is complex and ambiguous work, without clear roadmaps or guideposts. No simple or shared definition of equity exists, and work to advance equity requires thoughtful and careful analysis of race, ethnicity, class, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, geography and age.

As RMHF begins this journey, we need to deepen our internal understanding, examine our institutional practices and ways of being, build relationships with current and new partners and invite diverse perspectives to inform our strategy and investments.

Our understanding of how we pursue these aims and what is required will evolve over time.

We want to make meaningful change in how RMHF operates as we strive to realize our aims.

We aim to be transparent with our grantees and partners, sharing lessons learned in an open and accessible way.

As a first step in this process, we are pleased to announce the establishment of the RMHF Equity and Health Fellowship program. We encourage leaders from the region’s nonprofit and public sector organizations to review the online Fellowship materials and apply. We want and need the creative and critical engagement and ideas of our region’s leaders as we map out RMHF’s equity and health agenda.

Fellowship Information

2018 Fellows

Welcome to our second cohort of Health of Equity and Facilitators.

Chelsea Higgs Wise

Chelsea Higgs Wise is a clinical social worker and intercultural communicator who specializes in connecting underserved and misrepresented communities with policymakers to advocate against racism and misogyny. Chelsea is a proud Virginia graduate as she earned her Bachelor of Social Work from Longwood University and her Master’s in Clinical Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. For ten years, Chelsea worked as a clinical supervisor as well as a program manager for many mental health, Medicaid-funded programs for youth throughout Metro Richmond Virginia. She has been recognized for her outstanding leadership by her colleagues as well as invited to be a champion for mental health as well as women’s health by joining organizations such as Planned Parenthood Young Professional Advisory Board. Chelsea continued to grow her advocacy skills and network by joining the Metro Richmond Area Young Democrats and through these experiences was recently appointment to the Board of Executive Directors for Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, Richmond City Department of Social Services as well as the city’s newly formed Human Rights Commission.
After a decade of focusing on person-centered direct care, Chelsea learned the non-profit and volunteer world through her board work with Creative Mornings and extensive volunteer work through black community leaders and health programming. Chelsea then found her fit into the mezzo world of social justice by translating her clinical group skills to becoming an experienced event moderator who also offers facilitated dialogue services for topics around race, history and feminism. Chelsea now works to provide racial equity facilitation to administrations and systems as well as small group and community boards. www.chelseahiggswise.com
As an activist who helps evolve narratives and policies, Chelsea has been an instrumental voice in numerous campaigns and was recently brought on as Narrative Change Officer to the Truth, Racial Healing, Transformation Enterprise granted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and implemented by Initiatives of Change, USA. www.iofc.org/its-time-make-history. Chelsea and her colleague at IofC, USA were invited to share their presentation: “Disrupting Dominate Narratives: Racism in the United States” at the international peace-building conference, Towards an Inclusive Peace, in the summer of 2018 in Caux, Switzerland.
Chelsea a regular contributor to RVA Magazine www.rvamag.com in political and artistic commentary and co-hosts a radio show, Women and Politics on WRIR LP 97.3 FM www.wrir.org. Chelsea continues to use her voice in many media outlets to highlight the skewed and false narrative while creating space for the community to weave in with authentic Richmond stories as a Richmond Memorial Health + Equity 2018 Fellow. These stories are the driver to shaping the future for her daughter, who she is fueled daily as well as her village of family, friends and comrades in the movement.

Shekinah Mitchell

Shekinah Mitchell joined the Virginia LISC team with 10 years of nonprofit experience in youth development, fundraising and community development. Her experience ranges from database management and program development to affordable housing and quality improvement. She is currently the Neighborhood Partnerships Manager for Virginia LISC and responsible for overseeing their Financial Opportunity Center Network, small business grant programs, community engagement efforts and safety initiatives. As a Richmond, Virginia native, Shekinah also brings local knowledge and community experience to her role at LISC. Shekinah is currently pursuing her Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University and has a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Radford University.
agustin bravo

Agustin Bravo

Agustin bravo is originally from Angauan, Michoacan, Mexico, a very rural area in central Mexico. His native language is Purepecha, a language indigenous to Mexico. In Mexico, he studied through high school, but as he shares, it was not a very rigorous program, so he did not learn Spanish very well. Agustin came to the US at 17 years old, and arrived to California where his brother was at the time. He came to work and support his family, so he did not enter school at that time.

His brother went back to Mexico shortly after he arrived, and had some friends in the Central VA area, so his brother arranged for Agustin to go to Virginia to stay with the friends and to work. Agustin began to work in Buckingham County and worked in cement and tile, doing stone work. He then moved to Powhatan and worked at a saw mill for about 7 years.

In 2010, he began to attend Sacred Heart Parish and met Father Jack Podsiadlo. He began to get more involved in Sacred Heart Center programs and in volunteering at the Parish. He attributes learning Spanish to his coworkers and to his community at the Sacred Heart Parish.

Agustin began taking GED classes at Sacred Heart Center in 2016. He also participated in the Latino Leadership Institute, which is a one year leadership program, and he graduated in 2016. For his GED he has passed several of his subject matter tests and continues working to complete the requirements. Agustin’s English is self-taught.

He participated in the General Assembly sessions and advocacy every year since 2016. In 2016, Agustin also participated in voter registration drives, in order to register Latino voters, although he does not have the right to vote himself. He has done that to encourage others that can to vote for others that cannot. In addition, he volunteers at other Sacred Heart Center events and in his Parish community.

Agustin, because of his heritage, was used to homeopathic medicine in Mexico, and his grandfather used herbs and natural remedies. He currently does not have health insurance, so he has experienced challenges in securing health care. He has had good health overall, which he considers a blessing. He currently goes to Daily Planet when he has a health care need.

Max Hepp-Buchanan

Max Hepp-Buchanan loves living in Richmond, though he is not a Virginia native. He grew up in Seattle and attended the University of Washington for far too many years, where he earned a master’s degree in Urban Design and Planning and Public Administration. He moved to Richmond in 2013 to direct the Bike Walk RVA program for Sports Backers, Richmond’s active living nonprofit organization. In addition to advocating for biking and walking infrastructure for people of all ages and abilities throughout the region, he also serves on the City’s Planning Commission and Safe & Healthy Streets Commission. He has two small boys who spend a lot of time riding bikes and hiking with their dad, whether they like it or not.

John T. ``Jay`` White

John T. ``Jay`` White is a Gerontologist with an extensive background in topics related to person-centered care, culture change and diversity throughout the long-term care continuum. Previously, Dr. White worked in the non-profit and tourism/economic development fields.

Dr. White earned his Master of Science in Gerontology and Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University where he also served as the Director of Professional and Community Development for VCU's Department of Gerontology.

Dr. White serves on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Culture Change Coalition and the Senior Center of Greater Richmond. In 2016, Dr. White was appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority. He has authored and co-authored textbook chapters, articles and presented widely on topics including: Connectivity and Aging, Organizational Diversity, LGBT and Aging, Aging in Place, Nutritional Needs of Older Adults, Evaluating Depression and Dementia and Person-Centered Care and Culture Change.

Dr. White and his partner, Chris, live in Old Church, Virginia and spend much of their free time with their 8 rescue animals; 6 cats and 2 dogs.

Duron Chavis

Duron Chavis is a Richmond native with a long history of working with urban agriculture to promote equity, health, social justice and community engagement. He has fifteen years of social service and nonprofit management experience. Duron is a social change agent whose work focuses on urban agriculture and community organizing. He is highly organized producing creative events and program coordination. Duron demonstrates project management skills and is an innovative team leader. He is flexible, energetic, and skilled in multi-tasking. All of these attributes enable him to successfully accomplish his goals. His employment and volunteer services are a testament to his work as a grassroots leade3r3in the Richmond Region. He is proficient in public relations, fund development, partnership cultivation, social marketing, community engagement, print media design, and web development.

Chavis is known nationally for his leadership in urban agriculture and is an advocate for community-designed solutions to local challenges. He is a graduate of Hope in the Cities’ Community Trustbuilding Fellowship program. Duron has served a project coordinator for Renew Richmond’s Community Garden start-ups.

He has many honors and awards to include TedTalk: “Revitalizing the Hood through Urban Agriculture,” the Mayor’s Award: RISE Employee Achievement Program for the City of Richmond Award for Community service, Greater Richmond Change of Commerce: 10,000 start-up competition finalists for Richmond VA Farms, , Clear Air ambassador: Earthjustice 50 states united for clean air, and Tricycle Gardens Golden Trowel Award for Outreach Education.

He has extensive community involvement to include being a Certified AVP Conflict Resolution Training as the Alternatives to Violence Project. He is the Social Stability Committee Member for the Capital Region Collaborative. Duron was a workshop facilitator for unpacking the 2012 census.

Academically, Duron has studied mass communications a Virginia Community University. He was a provost scholar at Virginia State University.

Duron is currently employed at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden where he serves as the Community Engagement Coordinator. In this role, he strengthens the garden’s role as a coalition builder through effective communication. He continues to build and nurture relationships thorough philanthropic activities in favor of community engagement. He describes himself as a community activist and social entrepreneur.

Ryan Rinn

Ryan is the Executive Director of Storefront for Community Design which facilitates access to planning and design resources that improve the quality of life in the City of Richmond. Storefront provides pro bono design assistance and facilitates community engagement and planning with neighborhoods in Richmond. Ryan and Storefront are part of the partnership that operates the Six Points Innovation Center (6PIC) in Highland Park to serve teens from Richmond Public High Schools with ladders to career and educational success.

Ryan received his Bachelors degrees in Political Science and Rhetoric and Communication
Studies from the University of Richmond in 2004. He attained his Masters Degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to returning to graduate school Ryan spent 4 years working as the Director of Grassroots Education for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

In 2013 Ryan was named as one of Greater Richmond’s “Top 40 under 40” by Style Weekly
Magazine and in 2015 he received the MLK Drum Major Award for community service in Highland Park. In 2017 Ryan was named a “Hometown Hero” by Allen & Allen and one of VCU’s top 10 alumni to graduate within the last 10 years. During Rinn’s tenure Storefront has been named “Best in Community Development” and “Best in Urban Planning” by Richmond Magazine. He was part of the 2016 Class of Leadership Metro Richmond and currently serves on the board of directors for the Richmond Volleyball Club, Boaz & Ruth, and the Afrikana Independent Film Festival. He teaches a course called Uncovering Richmond as an adjunct faculty member in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU. He resides in the Byrd Park neighborhood with his husband, Jason Whitt, and spends his down time hiking, kayaking, fishing, and gardening.

Willie Hilliard

Willie Hilliard is the President of the Brookland Park Area Association, as well as serving on several boards supporting community and educational development.

A lifelong Richmond native, he was a graduate of RPS and studied at Norfolk State University. He started in management at a very young age, managing three restaurant businesses before the age of 26. He’s been the manager of Trent’s Barbershop for the past 15 years, so he has obvious lengthy experience in that field.

He has been a longtime advocate for the community, having served on several boards including the board of directors for the Capital Area Health Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health status within our communities. He also was co-chair of the Barbershop Advisory Council, working with VCU Masey Cancer Center on a study of prostate cancer in African American men, eventually producing a public service video to address it.

He’s recently been appointed to the Mayor’s Education Compact team. The Compact was formed as a tool to help foster collaboration between government, school officials, and the community to support shared goals, strategies, and priorities to meet the needs of the whole child.

As President of the Brookland Park Area Association, he has helped to foster collaboration along the corridor that has led to long-needed revitalization of this downtrodden corridor. He has successfully organized an annual community celebration and a Thanksgiving drive that has fed hundreds of families on the Northside. These are just two mechanisms that he has used to bring the community closer together.

As a board member for the Historic Brookland Park Collective he has helped to spearhead several initiatives including “block connectors” which sponsors cookouts and other activities to bring neighbors closer. They’ve also formed a youth development group, a seniors group, and a music team, as well as creating a community garden that helps to bring strangers together for a common goal.

He currently serves on the advisory council for the Richmond Metropolitan Day School. He is the Vice-Chair of the Northside Coalition for Children, providing backpacks full of supplies for students for the past 10 years. He’s also active in Northside strong, a collective effort of community organiatiobns and local residents seeking to create a healthier and more equitable Northside community.

Willie Hilliard is a well-recognized advocate for his city, whose sole purpose is the improvement of the health and well-being of his family and community. You can reach him on Facebook, on Twitter @whprez or at whprez@gmail.com.

Lacette Cross

Lacette Cross lives in Richmond, VA. She has over 20 years of leadership and youth development experience in school, community and faith settings. Her work with youth and adults has taken place in various community-based non-profits. She is an experienced presenter, speaker, and facilitator with diverse audiences. Lacette has participated in conferences, workshops, panels and summits throughout the country on topics of sexuality, LGBTQ inclusion, race, gender, religion and justice. She has been actively involved in the greater Richmond community as a faith leader, youth development professional, community advocate, speaker, and volunteer. She is committed to creating brave space for all persons, particularly black women and LGBTQ youth and adults, to heal and become their full authentic self.

The community work Lacette is involved in also inspired her to create organizations to fill the gap in programs and services offered in the greater Richmond area. She is the Founder/CEO of Will You Be Whole that talks sex and faith for wholeness with Black women and those who love them. Lacette is committed to inform, inspire and influence people and communities to bravely and honestly address topics of sexuality in a healthy and affirming way.

In addition to founding her business, she worked with other Black LGBTQ leaders in the Richmond area to address the gap in social supports for LGBTQ persons of color, especially African Americans. As a result of their consultation, they co-founded Us Giving Richmond Connections (UGRC), a black LGBTQ health and wellness nonprofit who executed Black Pride RVA in July 2018. This historical event was the first of its kind in Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Lacette is a recent fellow of the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship with Initiatives of Change. She is currently an Equity + Health Fellow with the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation. Her past fellowships have included the Black Theology and Leadership Institute of Princeton Theological Seminary and the Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute of the Center for American Progress. Lacette’s commitment as both a faith and community leader has motivated her to continuously build her skills and knowledge to better support her community.

Lacette holds a Bachelor of Social Work from the Catholic University of America, a Master of Divinity from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology of Virginia Union University and a Master of Theology from Union Presbyterian Seminary. She is currently a doctoral student in the Doctor of Ministry program at the School of Theology of Virginia Union University. Lacette is the pastor of Restoration Fellowship RVA, an open and LGBTQ affirming church on Richmond’s north side and is the Director of Volunteers and Outreach for Side by Side, an LGBTQ+ youth serving non-profit. She sits on the board of the Nationz Foundation and the Incarnation Institute for Sex and Faith. Lacette grounds her community and faith-based work in womanist thought and from a place of love of God, self and others in service of the collective liberation and safety of Black people and those who love them. During her free time, she enjoys hanging out with friends, trying new restaurants, watching sci-fi action movies and reading good books.

Patrice Shelton

Patrice Shelton is the founder and Executive Director of Hillside Court Partnership, Community Health Worker for Virginia Department of Health/Richmond City Health Department, and the Hillside Court Resident/Tenant Council President. She has launched more than 14 groups and teams in Hillside. She has help the community members to know their worth and rights one at time. She graduated from Louisa County High School in the summer of 1991. Ms. Shelton worked at Walmart from 1992 to 2008. Moved to Hillside Court 2010 where she does her community work today. Ms. Shelton was able to get her community rezoned to the Bellemeade/Oak Grove Elementary School thru City Council meetings.

Toria Edmonds-Howell

Known to most as “Ms. Toria,” Toria Edmonds-Howell is a lifelong resident of Richmond, Virginia and a graduate of Richmond Public Schools. She grew up in a working-class family in Church Hill and as a result of a great deal of sacrifice by her parents, she was able to attend a well-resourced, college preparatory K-12 school in Richmond, VA until the eleventh grade. She notes that her schooling experience opened her eyes to the systemic inequities that plagued her neighborhood, and this realization served as the catalyst for her desire to work within the City of Richmond to make sure all young people have full access to opportunities to thrive.

After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2011, Toria Edmonds-Howell started her professional career as a full-time college adviser at Armstrong High School through the National College Advising Corps. In this role, she worked within the school to assist students with navigating the college application process and helped to start several initiatives to change the school’s college-going culture. It was during her time as a college adviser that she knew that her life’s work would be centered on supporting Richmond Public School students in preparing for life after high school.

Having held many positions, including Assistant Director of the Armstrong Leadership Program, RPS Middle School Teacher, Program Manager of RVA Future, and now, Program Manager of the Mayor’s Youth Academy, Ms. Toria had dedicated herself to changing the negative narrative often associate with RPS by creating opportunities for young people to thrive. She is a community wealth builder and has committed to offering high-quality and meaningful programming through the Mayor’s Youth Academy, in an effort to improve the life chances of Richmond’s low-income children.

Understanding that one’s zip code shouldn’t determine their destiny, she is guided both personally and professionally by saying “you have to choose between what the world expects of you and what you want for yourself,” and she works tirelessly to help youth understand that they are in control of their future and deserve every opportunity to lice their best lives.

Maritza Mercado Pechin

Maritza Mercado Pechin is a Planner IV at AECOM. As an embedded consultant in Richmond’s Department of Planning and Development Review, Maritza is managing the update to the citywide Master Plan, which was last updated in the late ‘90s. Prior to returning to AECOM, Maritza was the Development Manager at Fulton Hill Properties, where she oversaw the development of urban infill mixed use projects. Her experience as an urban planning consultant includes private sector, municipal, regional, and federal clients, and a wide variety of project scales ranging from facilities and land use planning for the U.S. Navy to public art program management for the City of Richmond, and sustainability planning for the City of Baltimore. Maritza has conducted research on the role of anchor institutions in redevelopment, sustainability best practices, and slum upgrading in Africa. She also worked with first-time immigrant homebuyers as a real estate paralegal and taught Spanish at an inner-city charter high school.

Maritza is very engaged in the Richmond community. She serves on the board of Storefront for Community Design, teaches in VCU’s Master in Urban and Regional Planning program, and is an active participant I local chapters of the Urban Land Institute and the American Planning Association.

Maritza earned a master’s degree in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College. Originally from Puerto Rico, Maritza speaks five languages including Spanish, German, French, and Italian.


Saphira M. Baker

Communitas Consulting

Founder and principal of consulting practice working with more than 30 nonprofit, philanthropic, and public sector organizations.

Ebony Walden

Ebony Walden Consulting

Ebony specializes in coaching Changemakers (leaders in the non-profit, social entrepreneurship and local government arena) that want to create thriving communities.