‘HBCU Roadshow’ at Howard University aims to boost health outcomes for Black Americans

Rashad Burgess, based in Atlanta, is serving as Gilead Sciences’ vice president of Advancing Black Health and Equity. (Courtesy Gilead Sciences)


People on the campus of Howard University in D.C. for homecoming this weekend will be greeted on the yard by the Gilead Sciences HBCU Roadshow – an effort to engage students, faculty, staff and alumni with information about sexual health and breast cancer awareness.

So why is a global biotech pharmaceutical company, with a facility in Frederick, Maryland, touring historically Black universities and colleges?

Gilead’s Vice President of Advancing Black Health and Equity Rashad Burgess told WTOP that delivering hope goes beyond creating innovative therapies.

“We have to work to address social determinants of health. And that brings us to some of the work that I do in terms of advancing health and Black equity. Because we know it’s just not about the medicines, it also is about the conditions of our overall community and those social determinants of health that we are also having to fight to make a difference,” Burgess said.

Community liaisons will be on hand from Oct. 20 to Oct. 22 on Howard University’s campus to educate students about risks, testing, preventive measures, and medicines to slow the growth rate of sexually transmitted infections.

“We’re going to be partnering with a number of organizations that are going to be providing information and providing resources in which people can, for example, actually schedule mammograms,” Burgess said. “And, [we’ll be] talking about how is it that we can make sure that our sexual lives are healthy and we can have healthy sex.”

The HBCU Roadshow plans to visit 11 schools in nine cities by the end of October.

“While this is our first tour, we’ve had a number of partnerships with other historically Black colleges and universities that take a look at these health issues and these health inequities that impact Black communities disproportionately,” Burgess said, citing examples of working with Morehouse School of Medicine and Xavier University to ensure that people with HIV and AIDS have continuity in access to care.

“We now are even increasing our efforts. And really, in some ways, doubling down on our commitment to making sure that we, as a Black community, we absolutely have the information, so that we can be as healthy as possible,” he said.

The college campus visits also will include “classroom takeover” recruitment sessions, where Gilead executives and staff talk with students about available opportunities, which they are invited to explore.

“We know that in order to have healthy communities, there’s a direct correlation between wealth and health,” Burgess said. “So, the more that we can have our communities and Black communities having opportunities to work at companies like Gilead Sciences, it’s really critical. It’s really important.”

Burgess said the company benefits, as well.

“We thrive as a company when we’re bringing in diverse talent. There’s a lot of data. We know for a fact that when we have diversity in our teams and diversities in our leadership, that it has benefit for the health of the company. It also has benefit because we actually do a better job at making sure that we are reaching communities that we need to reach,” Burgess said.

The remaining roadshow tour sites are:

  • Oct. 20-22: Howard University in D.C.
  • Oct. 20-22: Morehouse College/Spelman College in Atlanta
  • Oct. 20-22: Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Oct. 27-29: Florida A&M University Tallahassee in Florida
  • Nov. 2, 4 and 5: Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans
  • Nov. 17-19: Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina
  • Nov. 26: Bayou Classic in New Orleans

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