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The CDC Foundation launches scholarship fund for descendants of Black men in the untreated syphilis study at Tuskegee

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation contributes $1 million matching donation


By Black Headline News


ATLANTA, Ga. -- The CDC Foundation announced at the beginning of this month a new endowed scholarship program, Voices Today for Change Tomorrow, for descendants of the Black men who were part of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Study of Untreated Syphilis at Tuskegee and Macon County, AL, 1932–1972. The study represents one of the most well-known, large-scale medical ethics violations in U.S. history. As part of the new scholarship program, the CDC Foundation is striving to raise a $5 million endowment to support the current Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation scholarships, which will grow to provide $100,000 in merit scholarships annually to the study's descendants. To help meet the funding goal for the scholarship program, the CDC Foundation is announcing a $1 million lead gift by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


November 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the USPHS Study of Untreated Syphilis in which 625 Black men were denied treatment while being observed as their illness progressed. In recognition of the gravity of this anniversary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborated with Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation, renowned historians and senior government officials to present Recognition, Remembrance, and Reflection: The Untreated Syphilis Study at Tuskegee and Macon County. The 50th anniversary event underscored the need to build a better future, upholding the parting requests of the unwilling study participants: to always remember and never repeat. CDC and the CDC Foundation are dedicated to honoring the memories of the men in the study as well their lives.


"By making a commitment to honor the legacy of these men, we are working to provide a stronger foundation of support for the next generation to build change," said Judy Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. "These scholarships are intended to amplify the voices of the next generation, allowing them to honor the life experiences of their ancestors while pursuing innovative solutions across their fields of study."


For the scholarship program, the CDC Foundation is partnering with Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit membership organization comprised of the descendants of the individuals in the study. Voices For Our Fathers works to change the narrative of the USPHS Study of Untreated Syphilis—reminding the world of the people profoundly affected by the unethical medical and scientific practice and the community impact.


"Descendants of the 625 African-American men dehumanized and unethically treated for 40 years are moving forward with generational healing, working to bring good from the United States Public Health Service Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. Our purpose is to transform the legacy of the longest-lasting, non-therapeutic study in U.S. medical history from shame and trauma to honor and triumph," said Lillie Head, president, Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation. "We believe this scholarship endowment fund and partnership demonstrate a new and lasting commitment to improving a health care system that provides everyone fair and equal medical care regardless of their racial and social status. We have enormous gratitude for the support for the annual scholarships for future generations of descendants."


The Milbank Memorial Fund made the first institutional commitment to the scholarship fund in 2022. Milbank's financial contribution to the scholarship fund and its ongoing partnership with Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation originated in a 2021 decision by its board of directors to acknowledge its involvement in the USPHS Study of Untreated Syphilis, and the generational trauma created by it, while learning from and remembering the experience to ensure it is not repeated.


"Our partnership with Voices For Our Father Legacy Foundation following our apology for the Milbank Memorial Fund's role in the study has underscored the importance of publicly recognizing past harms and working toward healing—and ultimately building trust in our health system and improving health outcomes for everyone," said Milbank Memorial Fund President Christopher F. Koller. "We are gratified to see others join Voices in these efforts."


Voices Today for Change Tomorrow scholarships represent an intentional commitment to move future generations forward while remembering past inequities to continually improve. This initiative contributes to changing the legacy of the 625 men by making a pledge to their direct descendants. Together, we can lift new voices to create a tapestry of hope, healing and trust to build a brighter future.


"This scholarship is a step toward correcting an inexcusable violation of medical ethics," CDC Director Mandy Cohen said. "It seeks to uplift the descendants of the Untreated Syphilis Study at Tuskegee and takes steps toward rectifying a difficult part of our public health history."


In addition to providing annual scholarships to descendants, the fund will provide administrative support as needed for the Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation and the scholarship program. Recipients of the merit-based scholarships will be encouraged, but not required, to attend a historically Black college or university (HBCU).

"We are proud to support the Voices Today for Change Tomorrow program and to join the Milbank Memorial Fund in their commitment to healing and reconciliation from one of the most egregious public health violations in our nation's history," said Julie Morita, MD, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "By investing in this next generation, they can lead the way to a healthier, more equitable future." 


The fund serves as a living memorial to inspire and support change. The CDC Foundation is actively seeking funding partners to join in the effort to build an endowed fund to support future generations. Please contact us at herenberg@cdcfoundation.org to discuss ways we can partner together on this important legacy scholarship program. Additional information, including ways for individuals to support the scholarships, can be found here: www.cdcfoundation.org/voices-scholarship.


About the CDC Foundation: The CDC Foundation helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) save and improve lives by unleashing the power of collaboration between CDC, philanthropies, corporations, organizations and individuals to protect the health, safety and security of America and the world. The CDC Foundation is the go-to nonprofit authorized by Congress to mobilize philanthropic partners and private-sector resources to support CDC's critical health protection mission. Since 1995, the CDC Foundation has raised over $2 billion and launched more than 1,300 programs impacting a variety of health threats from chronic disease conditions including cardiovascular disease and cancer, to infectious diseases like rotavirus and HIV, to emergency responses, including COVID-19 and Ebola. The CDC Foundation managed hundreds of CDC-led programs in the United States and in more than 90 countries last year. Learn more at www.cdcfoundation.org.


About CDC: CDC works 24/7 protecting America's health, safety and security. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are curable or preventable, chronic or acute, or from human activity or deliberate attack, CDC responds to America's most pressing health threats. CDC is headquartered in Atlanta and has experts located throughout the United States and the world. Learn more www.cdc.gov.


About Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation:

Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation was organized in 2014 as a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization by descendants of the 625 African American men dehumanized and unethically treated in the United States Public Health Service Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male at Tuskegee and Macon County, Alabama at the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health care Tuskegee University. The Foundation is dedicated to fostering education, social justice and public health research. For more information about Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation visit the website; www.voicesforfathers.org.


About Milbank Memorial Fund:

The Milbank Memorial Fund works to improve population health and health equity by collaborating with leaders and decision makers and connecting them with experience and sound evidence. Founded in 1905, the Milbank Memorial Fund advances its mission by: identifying, informing, and inspiring current and future state and local health policy leaders to enhance their effectiveness; convening and supporting state health policy decision-makers to advance progress in selected areas, including primary care and sustainable health care costs; and publishing high-quality, evidence-based publications and The Milbank Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal of population health and health policy. Learn more at www.milbank.org.


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, we are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

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