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Flint, MI— The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has granted Michigan State University $25 million to expand programs that combat racial health disparities in Flint.
MSU made the announcement at virtual press conference Jan. 26, where several community leaders spoke, including Mott CEO Ridgway White, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Congressman Dan Kildee, and MSU President Samuel Stanley.
“Michigan State has proudly worked with the Mott Foundation over many years to support the people of Flint through their schools, local government, health care and other partners. Working alongside the foundation and regional partners has allowed us to create a new model for public health right here in Flint,” Stanley said.
The funding builds upon a $12 million grant made by Mott in 2012 for the expansion and relocation of MSU’s College of Human Medicine to downtown Flint.
With the $25 million award, MSU plans to add 18 new tenure track faculty and more than eight named professorships, growing to more than 70 faculty members overall.
“We plan to engage the public health program’s partner advisory committee to help determine which public health areas should be priorities for the program’s recruiting focus,” Stanley said.
MSU’s work in Flint takes a collaborative approach and relies on community partnerships like Hurley Hospital, Mott, and the City of Flint.
“Our interrelated groups embedded in the Flint community have partnered on efforts with a community participatory public health model. We’re addressing the social determinants of health, advocating for policy reform, encouraging healthy behaviors, mitigating chronic diseases, and so much more,” Wayne McCullough, MSU interim director of public health, said.
The grant will allow C.S. Mott Endowed Professors like Debra Furr-Holden and Todd Lucas to continue their work. Furr-Holden has become a national voice on racial disparities and COVID and Lucas is studying how stress and injustice affect the health of individuals and communities.
Yvonne Lewis, founder and CEO of the National Center for African American Health Consciousness, said the partnership between MSU and Mott gives health leaders tools to educate Flint residents via a “community-driven research agenda.”
“Ensuring that the community is adequately prepared to make informed quality health and health related decisions is the foundation of my work. … My children and I along with other family members have been impacted by the Flint Water Crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, racism, and other health inequities. While personal, it’s not just about me. Flint is not just a short-term quick fix, rather a commitment that goes beyond my years,” Lewis said.
MSU has had a presence in Flint for the past 100 years. A land-grant institution, MSU was established in the early 19th century to teach agriculture, science, and arts to the industrial class, and has long impacted its surrounding community.
MSU’s Extension program and overall mission aims to help communities address issues by bringing the university’s research and resources into the public sphere.
Programs by MSU in Flint include Flint Kids Cook, a cooking series that teaches families to prepare lead-mitigating meals, the Pediatric Health Initiative, and the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, which has worked throughout the pandemic to identify racial disparities in COVID.
“This all boils down to the level of quality of life for people,” Neeley said. “We need programs like this, partnerships like this, to make sure that we can deliver a better quality of life.”