Bubbling Up

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On December 14, during Missouri Foundation for Health’s annual dinner hosted by its Board of Directors, Dr. Jason Purnell will accept the 2016 Dr. Corinne Walentik Leadership in Health Award. Purnell is an assistant professor at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work and project director of For the Sake of All, a multi-disciplinary project on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis.

The Walentik award, now in its fourth year, was created to honor the late Dr. Walentik’s commitment to serving vulnerable populations. Each year the award presented to a health leader in Missouri who exemplifies the passion, dedication, and energy that Walentik brought to her work. Purnell will receive a personal award and, per his direction, $25,000 will go to the Sarah & Arteria King Memorial Scholarship to benefit graduates of Loyola Academy of St. Louis.

Dr. Purnell, PhD, MPH, is trained in both applied psychology and public health. His research focuses on how socioeconomic and sociocultural factors influence health behaviors and outcomes, along with how to mobilize community action on the ways our environment and society shape health. He has led the For the Sake of All project for nearly four years, and oversaw the publication of a final report from its first phase in 2014. For the Sake of All’s work continues, now focused on community engagement and implementation of recommendations.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized with this award,” said Purnell. “Unfortunately, I never had a chance to meet Dr. Walentik, but I have heard of her dedication to the health of the most vulnerable in our region, and to be associated with that kind of passion and spirit of giving is both humbling and inspiring.”

For the Sake of All has assistance from a Community Partner Group, with representatives from public health, health care, business, education, civic organizations, and media groups. In early 2016, the project convened more than 100 stakeholders for a meeting called “Evidence into Action: Next Steps For the Sake of All, Part II.” Participants discussed plans for implementing eight strategies to reduce health disparities for African Americans and improve overall community health in the St. Louis region.

“Dr. Purnell is an impressive researcher, leader, and change-maker. His drive and commitment to improving our region is remarkable,” said Robert Hughes, president and CEO of the Foundation. “I’ve watched For the Sake of All develop under his leadership, and it’s been immensely satisfying to see it gaining traction. His ability to focus on practical community problems, engage all community sectors, and maintain academic rigor is truly remarkable. Dr. Walentik would be proud to have her name associated with him and his work.”

Though thankful to receive the award, Purnell remained pragmatic and unwilling to take all of the credit. He explained that, “we’re not nearly finished with the work that must be done to ensure health equity in St. Louis, and this award belongs to so many more people beyond me. Neither of these observations are meant to diminish the work we have done on For the Sake of All so far; but it does remind me that the unfinished Scott Joplin song that we named our project after continues to signal unfinished progress toward true opportunities for health and well-being for everyone in our region. And nothing that we have achieved or will achieve can be done alone.”