With Stephen Thomas Ph.D, and his top staffers having departed the Center for Minority Health at the University of Pittsburgh for Maryland more than two months ago, one of the center’s key community-based initiatives, the Healthy Black Families project at the Kingsley Association is being discontinued.
Not only does its loss leave a $130,000 void in the Kingsley’s budget, it also leaves a health service void in the heart of several Black communities.
The project was begun, according to its website, to implement:
“Interventions designed for the HBFP are focused on a geographic space called the Health Empowerment Zone: East End neighborhoods, including—East Hills, East Liberty, Homewood North, Homewood South, Homewood West, Larimer, Lincoln-Larimer, and Wilkinsburg—with a high percentage (average 79.1 percent) of Black residents and a high percentage (average 25.7 percent) of residents living below the federal poverty line.”
Malik Bankston, Kingsley’s executive director, said he was notified that the plug would be pulled in July.
“I was notified last month that they were going to break their lease based on the fact that (Thomas) was going to the University of Maryland,” said Bankston. “It’s my understanding that (Pitt) will no longer be involved in that work because whatever grant money was underwriting it, left with him.”
Bankston said, so far, the project staff is still on site and providing family wellness services and instruction, but the lease will be terminated effective Sept. 30. So Bankston has less than two months to find an alternate source of funding for the program or another tenant whose mission aligns with Kingsley.
“The timing could not have been worse,” he said. “Over next several weeks, I’ll be meeting with local funders who may be able to, at least, put together a transition plan to move this forward. We’re doing some outreach to see if there are compatible uses for that space, synergistic uses. We don’t want to be just a landlord. But I’m also looking at possible cuts to other programs because of this budget hole, but have not drawn any conclusions on that yet.”
Angela Ford, executive director for the Center For Minority Health referred comments about the future of the project and the center to Graduate School of Health spokesperson Clare Collins.
After conferring with School of Public Health Dean Dr. Donald S. Burke, Collins released a prepared statement confirming Bankston’s.
“The departure of the former director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Minority Health resulted in the transfer of grants to another institution. Due to the loss of these funds, the Graduate School of Public Health will be ending its lease at the Kingsley as of Sept. 30.”
Asked what the future is for the Healthy Black Families Project, Collins said it is up in the air. However, the Center for Minority Health is not in danger of closing.
“Under the leadership of Angela Ford, they are continuing to develop projects, and it will continue in its mission,” she said.
Bankston said he has been in contact with Thomas since his departure and that Thomas was committed to seeing that grant money he secured for the Healthy Black Families program stayed with it. Calls to Thomas were not returned by New Pittsburgh Courier deadline.
Still, said Bankston, Kingsley can’t rely on promises and that a new funding model needs to be put in place.
“A lot of nonprofits are hurting in these tough financial times,” he said. “We have to get smarter and better, and other public and private organizations have to think about the community bedrock that Kingsley is, and step up so we’re not lurching from one financial crisis to another.”
Calls to state Rep. Joe Preston Jr., D-East Liberty said he was blindsided by the news that the Healthy Black Families Project was being discontinued.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone from Kingsley about it. I plan to see if the county is looking for space,” he said. “I know of some entities looking for space; executive offices for a charter school and some digital providers looking for customer service space, but whether or not that can work remains to be seen.”
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