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The Rev. Alex Gee

The Rev. Alex Gee, founder of Madison's Nehemiah Community Development Corp.'s Justified Anger initiative, said a $1 million grant the organization has received from the Wisconsin Partnership Program with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health will help reduce poor health outcomes among African-Americans by bridging the social isolation associated with being black in a predominantly white city and state.

In an effort to promote health equity among African-Americans in Wisconsin, a local organization will get $1 million to bolster social connections, which can reduce stress-related health problems.

The Wisconsin Partnership Program with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health announced four $1 million grants Thursday, one of which was awarded to Nehemiah Community Development Corp., a Madison organization focused on reducing racial inequities, and its Justified Anger initiative.

Madison’s Supporting Families Together Association also was awarded a $1 million grant to implement intervention strategies in early childhood education to address and prevent school expulsions.

The two other grant recipients are Milwaukee’s Sixteenth Street Community Health Center and Employ Milwaukee.

African-Americans in Wisconsin, as in much of the country, face higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, premature births and maternal deaths than whites in the state. These health effects can be positively or negatively influenced by a person’s social and community life, according to the Partnership Program.

Justified Anger’s efforts to promote personal and professional networks among African-Americans through leadership training, to educate white allies about systemic racism and to build relationships among people of different races helps reduce those poor health outcomes by bridging the social isolation associated with being black in a predominantly white city and state, said founder the Rev. Alex Gee.

Whether a person feels welcomed or included in their neighborhoods, communities and workplaces is a determining factor in a person’s physical health, said Andrea Dearlove, a senior officer with the Partnership Program.

“Public health experts ... realize an individual’s health is not determined only by what happens in the doctor’s office,” Dearlove said.

African-Americans from all economic backgrounds face stressers from both systemic and implicit racism, Gee said. By providing leadership training and networking opportunities, he said, Justified Anger can help African-Americans support each other and help white people identify and counter the racism that leads to feelings of social isolation.

“If we can help our white allies to dismantle racist systems on their side ... while we build networks in the black community, we can reduce this stress that’s causing health problems,” Gee said.

Nehemiah will use the funds to build upon its existing programs to expand in scope and participation, Gee said. With the grant funding, he said, community members who have been engaged in discussions with Nehemiah on how to make Madison a more equitable community can be brought on as staff to implement solutions. More people can also be trained through its leadership programs and history courses.

The grants will be distributed over five years, during which time recipients will work individually and together to address structures that predominantly affect people of color and contribute to poorer health in those communities, Dearlove said.

Sixteenth Street Community Health Center will help its primarily Latino patients and community members who live below the poverty line find stable housing.

Employ Milwaukee’s work will better coordinate re-entry systems for people who had been incarcerated and help those people find and retain employment.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.