Inaugural Satcher award
MSM's Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice stands next to Dr. David Satcher presents Dr. Barney Graham an award as KPMG's Todd Ellis watches. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The Atlanta-based Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) made yet another leap in the world of global health on Sept. 14 when it announced it was establishing the David Satcher Global Health Institute.

MSM also announced it had received a $2 million donation from the Croel Family Foundation, founded by Jon and Donna Croel, to establish the institute and to endow the position of the director of the institute, Dr. Barney Graham.

The announcements were made at the inaugural Dr. David Satcher Global Health Equity Summit, held at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (NCCHR) and hosted by MSM and KPMG.

Todd Ellis, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, Dr. Barney Graham, Dr. Mandy Cohen, Dr. David Satcher, Donna and Jon Croel at Global Health Equity Summit. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

“You can only hope for moments like this,” Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, MSM’s president, said towards the end of the day-long program.

The Summit convened global health equity leaders across health care, academia and technology, and it explored the intersection of policy, innovation and scientific discovery in advancing global health equity and explored ways to eradicate health disparities.

“You have just witnessed the magic of the Morehouse School of Medicine,” Graham said during the middle of the day. “You can’t say health equity without thinking about the Morehouse School of Medicine.”

Graham became part of the magic when Dr. Rice convinced him to come out of retirement to join MSM in May 2022 and to be the inaugural director of the Satcher Institute. Graham, a renowned clinical trials physician and scientist, was part of the National Institutes of Health research efforts that were critical to developing vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, HIV and other emerging viruses.

In announcing his foundation’s $2 million gift to MSM, Jon Croel spoke of the challenge Dr. Graham made while visiting him in Los Angeles. “Young man, do something with your life,” Dr. Graham told Croel.

“Well, you answer the call,” Croel said at the Summit. “This is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.”

In addition to the $2 million gift, Croel said he and his wife “are also committing to help raise an additional $18 million” to help launch the institute, and he pledged to “cajole” and “browbeat” all his wealthy friends to contribute.

Dr. Graham then spoke of the Institute’s ambition to build an endowment of $150 million in order to provide student scholarships, conduct research, build out the lab space and establish partnerships with other entities.

Two CDC directors
CDC director Dr. Mandy Cohen shares a moment with Dr. David Satcher as Dr. Barney Graham and his wife Cynthia watch. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

One such partnership has already begun with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Graham said MSM has signed a memorandum of understanding with the CDC.

“Our students are our primary asset,” Dr. Graham said after a panel with a trio of young researchers who were involved with the NIH efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. 

They worked alongside Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, who is now at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health after six years at the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center working with Dr. Graham. The Summit had a video from Dr. Corbett congratulating Dr. Graham, who she described as a mentor.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the relatively new director of the CDC, attended the Summit despite getting caught in a thunderstorm while coming to the NCCHR.

After recognizing Dr. Satcher for an “incredible legacy of leadership,” Dr. Cohen hit the perfect note when she said NCCHR was “a perfect venue, a perfect backdrop” for a discussion on global health equity. “We know it’s going to take all of us to improve health equity,” she said. “We need to eliminate health disparities.”

One of the more touching moments was when Dr. Cohen stood side-by-side with Dr. Satcher, who was the first — and only — African American CDC director. Satcher was also the first African American U.S. Surgeon General.

After the announcement that the Institute would be named after him, Dr. Satcher made brief remarks.

“I’m deeply honored, and I hope to continue to live up to your expectations and appreciation,” Dr. Satcher said. Later, he welcomed Dr. Cohen as the new CDC director. “Welcome to the Morehouse School of Medicine,” he said. “We hope we can be helpful at any time.”

The need for the Institute was reinforced when Dr. Graham presented a slide on the level of vaccinations around the world — showing the incredibly low vaccination rates across the continent of Africa.

Dr. Rice hit the point home when she said the success of the Institute will be measured when the needle has moved enough to improve the health inequities that exist both in the United States and around the world.

It was a theme repeated by Todd Ellis, a principal at KPMG, which co-sponsored the inaugural summit. Ellis summed it up by saying, “Thank God for the Morehouse School of Medicine.”

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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