On October 31, over 300 allies, supporters and friends of RMHF gathered at the Richmond Convention Center to celebrate the Foundation’s 20th year as a funding partner in the Richmond community. The luncheon celebration, co-chaired by RMHF Trustees Judy Collins, Sheryl Garland, and Bobby Thalhimer, highlighted a number of community leaders and issues, with the overarching message that Richmond can address issues of health equity by tapping into a rich tapestry of human talent that exists here and focusing on creating solutions together.
Judy Collins celebrated the accomplishments and commitment of RMHF’s past and current grantees, including a brief video about the journey of the organization from passive funder to champion for equity and health. RMHF President & CEO Mark Constantine acknowledged the many who had contributed to RMHF’s success over the years, including founding president and CEO Jeff Cribbs, all past and current board members, the RMHF Equity + Health Fellows, and the HEArts Visiting Artists (many of whose works greeted visitors to the event).
Three live discussions brought issues of health and equity front and center.
The first was a panel conversation about the opportunities and limitations that arrive with Virginia’s Medicaid Expansion. Panelists included Michael Cassidy, president, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis; Dr. Jennifer Lee, agency director, VA Dept. of Medical Assistance Services; Dr. Lauren Powell, director, Office of Health Equity, VA Dept. of Health; Sarah Bedard Holland, CEO, VA Oral Health Coalition; and facilitator Dr. Vanessa Walker Harris, RMHF Trustee and Associate Commissioner and Director, Office of Family Health Services, Virginia Department of Health. Panelists emphasized the importance of launching a multi-agency, public-private, full-court press to enroll some 400,000 Virginians who are now eligible for Medicaid. They also noted that expansion will still leave some populations uninsured, and that not all health-related services will be covered by expansion – especially dental and oral health care. After the event, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published “As Medicaid enrollment expands, state officials say challenges remain to reach the needy.”
A keynote panel facilitated by Tom Silvestri, publisher of the Richmond Times Dispatch, featured five diverse community leaders who bring different lenses – but shared values – to the work of building a healthy and equitable community. Panelists included Tanya Gonzalez, executive director, Sacred Heart Center; Reggie Gordon, director, Richmond City Office of Community Wealth Building and deputy chief administrative officer, Richmond City Office for Human Services; Greta Harris, president and CEO, Better Housing Coalition; Damon Jiggetts, executive director, Peter Paul Development Center; and Bill Martin, director, The Valentine. The five panelists reflected on their past 20 years of experience serving and living in Richmond, and called on everyone to reconnect with the values of the country and a belief in the dignity of all humanity.
A final conversation about health equity featured Dr. Danny Avula, public health director for Richmond City and Henrico County and an RMHF Trustee, and Dr. Don Schwarz, senior vice president for programs at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The two discussed, among other things, what it has meant for Richmond to be named a Culture of Health Prize winner by RWJF, and what it means going forward.
“As I look at Richmond, I see challenges and resources similar to other capital cities,” said Schwarz. “That makes it hard to get stuff done. Richmond will have to come together and build their own power, and use that power to build a culture of health. That includes specifically talking about race – that makes for a trajectory that is positive.”
Avula agreed, adding that RMHF is working to embrace the practice of ceding power, as well as investing in the next generation of leaders to help them access networks of power and influence.
Although the topics were weighty, the mood was celebratory. Dr. Ram Bhagat, Manager of School Culture and Climate Strategy at Richmond Public Schools, along with members of Drums No Guns world percussion ensemble, opened and closed the event by presenting a montage of rhythms entitled From Health Equity to Healing Justice, featuring a step team with RPS students from Fairfield Court elementary, MLK middle, and Armstrong high schools.
“RMHF has evolved so much over the past two decades, and especially over the past two years,” said Mark Constantine. “We’re proud of the steps we’ve taken so far in a move toward equity and health, and look forward to continuing this journey with the rest of Richmond, Henrico County and Chesterfield County.”