African American, next-gen Milwaukee philanthropists lead $2 million campaign for health equity research

The former Gimbels and Schuster’s Department Store building at the southwest corner of Garfield Avenue and King Drive is being redeveloped for the new home of the MCW/GMF partnership. Rendering: Engberg Anderson Architects
The former Gimbels and Schuster’s department store building at the southwest corner of Garfield Avenue and King Drive is being redeveloped into the ThriveOn King project. Rendering: Engberg Anderson Architects
Kevin Newell

When it comes to the outcomes that the ThriveOn Collaboration is aiming to see – the elimination of health disparities in a historically underinvested part of Milwaukee – Kevin Newell says he’s “all in.”

Newell, president and CEO of Royal Capital Group, which is developing the collaboration’s new home on King Drive, has been involved in the real estate side of the project since it was announced over two years ago.

But in a demonstration of his personal commitment to the project, he recently contributed $100,000 to a fundraising campaign in support of ThriveOn’s inaugural endowed chair in health equity research. Dr. Leonard Egede, a professor of medicine, chief of the division of general internal medicine, and director of the Center for Advancing Population Science at the Medical College of Wisconsin at MCW, has been awarded the endowed chair appointment, ThriveOn partners recently announced.

Newell is among a group of African American and next-generation philanthropists to back the campaign, which is being spearheaded by Generation Growth Capital, Inc. managing director Cory Nettles and community leader Jackie Herd-Barber, and has raised over $2 million to date.

For philanthropists like Newell, Egede’s work – which focuses on reducing the burden of chronic disease and eliminating health disparities in high-risk communities of color – has energized their commitment to the project.

“I am deeply, deeply, deeply invested and excited about the work that Dr. Egede is leading and has been leading,” Newell said. “I think his approach to social determinants is innovative, thoughtful, intentional and compassionate, which is a combination that leads to great results for the people in the community. I’m very fortunate to be able to support his work that I believe in that much.”

Egedes’s body of research, which has won funding from National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explores access to health care, quality and cost of care and the social determinants of health and how they intersect to create disparities and influence the overall health of the region. Much of his work has centered on diabetes, focused on identifying, understanding, intervening, reducing and eliminating discrepancies within the disease.

Those areas of study are also key priorities for ThriveOn – a partnership of MCW, Greater Milwaukee Foundation and Royal Capital – as the collaboration works to improve health outcomes on Milwaukee’s north side. Its priority areas include increasing safe and affordable housing, investing in early childhood education, increasing access to health and wellness facilities and healthy food options, building positive social and business relationships and supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Greg Wesley

ThriveOn leaders said it’s meaningful that the campaign to support Egede’s endowed chair has been spearheaded by a group of African American leaders in light of the disproportionate impact health disparities have on communities of color.

“Given the fact that the African American community in particular has some of the worst health outcomes and health disparities in this community, we wanted to send a message of investment with financial resources and also symbolically (that) African American leaders are paying attention and participating across the full spectrum,” said Greg Wesley, senior vice president of strategic alliances and business development for MCW.

The campaign also received a lead $1 million gift from Herb Kohl Philanthropies.

Campaign leaders say the $2 million benchmark is a major milestone toward an overall goal of $5 million, which would provide Egede with a source of reliable and consistent funding for his work.

Construction work is on track to begin this spring for the collaborative’s home, ThriveOn King, which is being developed in the former Gimbels-Schuster’s building at 2153 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the Halyard Park neighborhood.

The $100 million redevelopment project – which will include offices, early-childhood educational programming, health and wellness space and affordable apartments – is slated to be completed in time for a spring 2022 opening.

The development will be home to some of MCW’s community-facing programs and GMF’s new office.

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