Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is giving $100 million to four historically Black medical schools in an effort to increase the number of Black doctors and improve the health of Black communities, The New York Times reports. The announcement marks the first investment by the billionaire’s philanthropic Greenwood Initiative—named after Greenwood, Oklahoma, the historical site of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, where a thriving Black community was decimated by white rioters.
“More Black doctors will mean more Black lives saved, and fewer health problems that limit economic opportunity,” the once-presidential candidate said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. Just 5 percent of practicing medical doctors and 7 percent of medical school graduates are Black; in contrast, 13 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Black.
Easing debt and barriers to medical practice
The gift includes $34 million for Meharry Medical College in Nashville; $32.8 million for Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.; $26.3 million for Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta; and $7.7 million for Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.
These schools “tend to have higher graduation rates of Black students than medical schools overall—in part because increasing diversity in medicine and offering medical services for communities most in need are ingrained in their mission, so they provide more support to ensure students overcome obstacles and graduate,” Bloomberg wrote in a CNN op-ed, co-authored by the presidents of the four schools.
The gift will provide grants of up to $100,000 to approximately 800 students graduating between 2021 and 2024. Bloomberg hopes that by reducing medical students’ debt—which averages $285,000 for students graduating from historically Black medical schools—students will have the freedom to take less-lucrative positions in medically underserved communities.
COVID-19 highlighting health disparities
Bloomberg said the gift reflects a growing awareness of the disproportionate impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on Black communities. “The pandemic has underscored just how urgent the need for more Black doctors is, and we can’t afford to wait for the economy to recover to increase support for the universities that most effectively enroll and graduate them,” Bloomberg and the university presidents wrote in their CNN op-ed.
Leaders at the four historically Black institutions also hope Bloomberg’s latest gift will increase awareness of their schools’ role in strengthening Black communities. “These funds are really going to shout to the world that historically Black medical schools are not just there, but that they’re there in a big, meaningful way,” said Dr. David M. Carlisle, president and chief executive of Charles R. Drew.