RWJF Award for Health Equity

Honoring leaders who are changing systems and showing us that solutions at the community level can lead to health equity.

Honoring leaders who are changing systems and showing us that solutions at the community level can lead to health equity.

Information for Nominations

RWJF has funded nine national membership organizations representing varied sectors to administer the awards program over seven years (2016–2022). Visit the FAQs for more information.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Award for Health Equity celebrates individuals who have changed systems and policies at a local level to increase the chance that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. The program supports national membership organizations from public health, health care, social justice, civic leadership, community development, education, planning, and philanthropy in recognition of their important work in the field. Those organizations find and select changemakers in their community who are improving wellbeing for the people they serve.

2021 RWJF Award for Health Equity Celebration

RWJF celebrated the individuals who are helping to reduce health disparities in their communities. Watch the video to learn more and get inspired by the work of these health equity champions.

Meet the 2021 Winners

These champions are working across sectors to ensure that everyone has opportunities where we live, learn, work and play.

Read the news release ->

Brenda Flowers

Brenda Flowers, Founder and CEO, Rising Against All Odds

Winner selected by AIDS United

Based in DeLand, Florida, Rising Against All Odds name reflects Flowers' own life experiences. She works in the trenches to bring health and social services to hard-to-reach communities where many are living with HIV and/or AIDS while experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and substance-use disorders. Her work forges pathways to people, rather than hoping that those who don’t trust or know how to navigate the system seek treatment for themselves. Rising Against All Odds is an indispensable pillar of the city’s social and care services. Through a lens that centers on the needs of those most in need, Brenda’s focus is that of system change.

Dr. Joyce Javier

Dr. Joyce R. Javier, Filipino Family Health Initiative

Winner selected by Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus for Public Health

Dr. Joyce Javier addresses the mental health of Filipino youth, who disproportionally experience serious and fatal mental health problems within a community where mental illness is highly stigmatized. Javier believes that intervening early can help Filipino families and young people thrive through adolescence and into adulthood. With the goal of reducing mental health disparities among Filipino youth, she spearheaded the Filipino Family Health Initiative (FFHI), a nationally recognized program. FFHI delivers the Incredible Years, a program directed to Filipino immigrant families as a prevention tool for the development of mental health problems in adolescents. Informed by community-based participatory research, Javier implements systems change approaches to the mental health issues that plague young people in the Filipino community.

Javier Alegre and Teresa Molina

Javier Alegre and Dr. Teresa Molina, Latino Behavioral Health Services

Winners selected by Community-Campus Partnerships for Health

Dr. Teresa Molina and Javier Alegre are fundamentally re-engineering mental health services for the culturally and linguistically diverse Latino community in Salt Lake County, Utah. Their work shifts the focus on mental illness to a holistic concern for the individual, family and community. The Latino Behavioral Health Services designs culturally responsive mental health services within a community-based context that connects people to resources for housing, employment, citizenship, and nutrition, among so many other needed offerings. Collaboration is central to their work of systems change. Latino Behavioral Health Partnership and Services work in collaboration with multiple institutions and organizations. Among them are the University of Utah Health, Salt Lake County, University Neighborhood Partners, the University of Utah, the state, cities, and many other local community organizations. Through the lens of social and economic justice, they are shifting the mental health model in Utah in significant ways, undertaking the work of systems change to affect mental health outcomes in culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Susan Rubio Rivera

Susan Rubio Rivera, MUJER, Mujeres Unidas en Justicia, Educacion, y Reforma

Winner selected by Hispanics in Philanthropy

Susan Rubio Rivera is shifting approaches to services for those who experience domestic and sexual violence with the goal to help victims become survivors and ultimately thrive. Susan has a 27-year track record as a leader in health equity by advocating for domestic violence and sexual violence survivors and their families. MUJER, Mujeres Unidas en Justicia, Educacion, y Reforma is a one-stop domestic violence and sexual assault center that offers a holistic approach to healing and protecting the safety and wellbeing of victims of domestic and sexual violence. Serving predominantly Hispanic lower-income residents, MUJER brings culturally aligned services to Miami-Dade County and the rural and agricultural communities across South Florida. MUJER empowers individuals through advocacy and access to information on how to report sexual or domestic violence and seek protection. MUJER helps victims become survivors and thrive despite the traumatic effects of abuse. MUJER’s wide-ranging efforts include individual and family counseling, therapy, advocacy and emotional support; legal services and immigration services for battered immigrants; crisis counseling, a 24/7 helpline; and victim’s compensation application filings, among other services. This client-centric full-scope approach to supporting survivors of domestic and sexual violence is a model of systems change to advance health equity.

Erica Thrash-Sall

Erica Thrash-Sall, Executive Director, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan-McFarlan Villages

Winner selected by LeadingAge

With the mission to help adults live independently as long as possible, Erica Thrash-Sall's work is grounded in the work of systems change. Erica, Executive Director, Presbyterian Villages of Michigan-McFarlan Villages, has developed a hub of support for older adults with limited resources through comprehensive affordable housing services centered on dignity, autonomy, and wellness and psychological resilience. Adamant that people aging in poverty cannot afford to neglect their health, McFarlan Villages in Flint, Michigan, focuses on helping residents manage chronic conditions like diabetes with the understanding that catastrophic outcomes for these conditions are not inevitable. Erica has created a continuum of care to maximize the quality of life for residents aging in poverty with significant physical and behavioral health needs.

Ilana Steinhauer, Volunteers in Medicine

Ilana Steinhauer, Executive Director, Volunteers in Medicine, Berkshires

Winner selected by the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics

Ilana Steinhauer is the Executive Director of Volunteers in Medicine (VIM) Berkshires, a free clinic in which 80 percent of the 1,300 patients are from Latin American and Brazil. Steinhauer and VIM Berkshires’ model of healthcare focuses on clinical care and the social determinants that are fundamental to health. Volunteers in Medicine Berkshires has a small paid staff and over 70 volunteer health care providers and 100 volunteer interpreters, drivers, and other support personnel. The clinic’s services address language barriers and other circumstances experienced by immigrants that impede their visiting the clinic, seeing specialists, and complying with medical instructions. An example of Steinhauer’s holistic approach to health service includes her promoting, with success, the need for liaisons with the immigrant community in the local schools which relieves stress on parents and helps them advocate for their children’s health and education. The clinic’s success is demonstrated by a steadily growing patient base and an increasing number of visits, and by the fact that there have been no patient hospitalizations, deaths, or housing evictions during the pandemic. Ilana and VIM Berkshires are pioneering an equity-based healthcare model designed to drive better outcomes and give clients equal opportunity to achieve good health.

Melissa Robinson, President, Black Health Care Coalition

Melissa Robinson, President, Black Health Care Coalition

Winner selected by the National Civic League

Melissa Robinson, President, Black Health Care Coalition (BHCC), is focused on improving birth outcomes for Black and poor infants through an innovative community approach that builds awareness, increases prenatal care, and educates and empowers mothers, fathers, and families. The BHCC HOME conducts Community Baby Showers with great effect in improving healthy birth rates and reducing infant mortality. This holistic community-based, case-management approach addresses all of the social determinants of health. Based in Kansas City, Missouri, the mission of the BHCC is to eliminate health disparities through advocacy, access to care and health promotion activities. As a champion for health equity and a strong advocate for the inclusion of people most impacted, Melissa works to change systems by centering Black experiences in the design of health solutions. Acting with the urgency of now to address health inequities, Melissa works to re-establish National Black Health Week throughout the United States.

Emilie Harmeyer, ShreveCorps AmeriCorps Program at Shreveport Green

Emilie Harmeyer, Program Director, ShreveCorps AmeriCorps Program at Shreveport Green

Winner selected by the National Recreation and Park Association

An estimated 16,000 children in Caddo Parish, Louisiana are food insecure, and Emilie Harmeyer, Program Director of the ShreveCorps AmeriCorps Program at Shreveport Green is confronting the issue of food deserts through groundbreaking approaches to community gardens, nutrition education and community engagement. Emilie’s efforts has resulted in the creation and revitalization of 23 community gardens, the dissemination of a comprehensive nutrition and gardening curriculum to thousands of children, and introduction of innovative ways to make fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to everyone in Shreveport. Shreveport Green’s Mobile Market program, a mini farmers’ market, serves an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 food insecure people living in Shreveport’s food deserts. The mini markets have cultivated partnerships with more than forty community organizations from local restaurants to civics groups to eldercare and healthcare providers to bring fresh produce to the people of Shreveport’s food deserts. Since 2016, ShreveCorps has served more than 600 children annually. Emilie has transformed the traditional garden into vital community resources for nutrition, health education, improved academic performance, and richer civic engagement and social connection. Through her leadership, Shreveport Green is systematically diminishing the inequities perpetuated by food deserts.

 Sanjana Buddi and Anagha Talluri

Anagha Talluri and Sanjana Buddi, Pure Youth Femme

Winners selected by Youth Move National

Anagha Talluri and Sanjana Buddi, through the organization they lead called Pure Youth Femme (Pure Charity - Youth - PUREFemme) are addressing the stigma of menstruation and eliminating the struggle of period poverty—a consequential issue for girls and women in the U.S. and worldwide. Girls and women who do not have access to affordable and effective menstrual products, hygiene education or safe sanitation facilities are experiencing “period poverty." Menstrual products are costly in the U.S., which creates affordability issues for teens and can contribute to missed time in class. Pure Youth Femme works to dismantle social stigmas and taboos, provide menstrual hygiene products to students in impoverished schools, empower young women, provide menstrual hygiene products, and stop the devaluing of the biological process of menstruation. They work for equality of access to menstrual supplies and sponsor initiatives to provide water tanks, sinks, toilets, etc. Anagha and Sanjana have taken on a serious issue steeped in centuries of misunderstanding, layers of misinformation and historical and present-day inequities. They are working to change a deeply ingrained system of health inequity that limits the full potential of girls and women and society at large.



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Have a question about the RWJF Health Equity Award?

Catherine J Malone, M.B.A.

Contact the RWJF Program Officer:

Catherine J. Malone

Achieving Health Equity

As health disparities in the United States continue to grow, RWJF's health equity toolkit provides resources, data, and examples of communities working to achieve better health for all.

Browse the toolkit