2020 W Harrison
Chicago, IL 60612
PH: 773-753-5508 Fax: 773-753-5990
Project Brotherhood began in November of 1998 at Woodlawn Health Center,
one of the Cook County Health and Hospital’s System, on the south side of Chicago. Project Brotherhood
seeks to create a safe, respectful, male-friendly place where a wide range of health and social issues
confronting black men can be addressed. It is designed to expand the health services for black men beyond
those provided through the traditional medical model. The success of our program depends on providing
culturally competent and respectful services under the leadership of black men. At Project Brotherhood we
have created a “new” medical model in the delivering of health care to the community. Project Brotherhood
defines Health as; to be complete physically, mentally, socially, economically, and spiritually. If one of these
essential aspects of life is off, then a person is not truly healthy. This allows Project Brotherhood to also take
a “Holistic” approach to delivering Health Care, like our Qi Gong specialist.
Project Brotherhood was designed by a multi-disciplinary team including nurses, physicians, social workers,
administrators, men and women who spent time talking with Black men to determine what bothered them
about medical services and what programs would be helpful. For over a decade Project Brotherhood has
turned Thursday evenings at Woodlawn Health Center into a very different place. The entire staff from lab
techs to reception clerks wears their Project Brotherhood shirts, and the word of the evening is to show
respect to Black men. The evenings always include some food and the year provides special events from
Juneteenth and Kwanza celebrations to prostate cancer prevention programs.
Thursday evenings always have a social support group meeting where everything from unemployment,
violence, the AIDS epidemic is discussed. Nothing is off limits and the most controversial and difficult topics
are routinely discussed from violence against women to the role of gay black men in the community. Many
of the participants are part of drug rehabilitation programs; about 40% of Project Brotherhood participants
have been incarcerated. Often there are more formal “Fatherhood” or “Manhood” classes held. During these
social support sessions a Black physician is often present, not as a lecturer but as a participant. It is this
relationship of equals among brothers that encourages many participants to agree to be tested for HIV, or
agree after many years to visit our doctors in an exam room.
Every effort is made to shorten or eliminate wait times to see physicians. Men who have recently been laid
off and have no funds for their medicine, men who need a physical as part of a job application, men who
have not been to a doctor in years all a welcome to Project Brotherhood on Thursday evenings. This male
friendly atmosphere is designed for Black men; however men of all races and ethnicities are welcome and
present. Often programs around the city have nowhere to turn. Recently, several vans of men from Chicago’s
Little Village Community arrive in mass for HIV screening one Thursday night. In the midst of this bustling
time sits the Project Brotherhood barber offering free haircuts and bringing the barbershop atmosphere to the
This core Thursday Project Brotherhood programs also offer an important place to train health professional
students and serve more importantly as a mentoring and training ground for young Black men. So while
Northwestern medical students routinely spend time at Project Brotherhood, Black men in nursing, medicine
social work and a variety of other disciplines find their way to PB and volunteer in our programs. The reason
is sad; there are very few places where you can find Black male health professionals working together
providing excellent medical and social services. Perhaps the largest impact in terms of training has been on
our high school students who work in the program. These young men have Black professionals to work with,
adults who query them about grades, school attendance and life goals. More than half of these young men
have gone on to college, and four or five have entered graduate school. Their time in Project Brotherhood
has had a profound impact on their educational and career plans.
Project Brotherhood has long ago branched out from the core Thursday program. We now offer regular
programming (non-medical) at Provident Hospital and Englewood Health Center. Project Brotherhood has a
network of a dozen barbershops where the barbers are specially trained to address colon and prostate cancer
as well as HIV education. We have developed a HIV Ambassador training program which equips high school
and college students to engage in educational programs with their peers. Project Brotherhood has intensive
outreach on health issues with the oldest and largest sixteen inch softball league in the nation, which happens
to be African-American. Project Brotherhood’s social worker is employed at Cermak Health Services at
Cook County Jail and helps transition inmates leaving the facility into Project Brotherhood programs.
Whether it is on the baseball field, basketball court, or just hanging on the corner, Project Brotherhood has
become a trusted source of health information and services for men on the Southside of Chicago. Project
Brotherhood has presented its program and research at a wide variety of professional conferences. We have
been honored with the James Wright Award from the National Association of Public Hospitals and have
received numerous positive attentions from the press. Project Brotherhood has presented orally the past ten
years at a national conference called the American Public Health Association. The Center for Disease Control
has recognized Project Brotherhood as an outstanding program that can help reduce health inequities.1
Project Brotherhood was featured on the episode of CNN’s Black in America Part 2 Solutions; Today’s
Pioneers, and CNN’s & Essences “Reclaiming The Dream”, as well as CNN radio.
A seventh-grader wearing a too-big white lab coat, surgical booties, mask and vinyl gloves trundled up to Glenn Harrison, MD, on a hot, muggy September day in Chicago. After glancing down at a sheet of paper, the boy asked the doctor if he was an internal medicine physician. Dr. Harrison confirmed that he was, and that he worked at John H. Stroger Jr., Hospital of Cook County. The boy, delighted, asked Dr. Harrison to sign the paper he was holding. “I feel like a rock star,” the internist said. Dr. Harrison was one of about three dozen physicians who helped students complete a medical scavenger hunt where they had to learn medical definitions, take a physician’s pulse and find hidden medical gear. The event was part of a day-long series of activities that kicked off a new public school in Chicago aimed at helping underrepresented minority students prepare for college and eventually a career in medicine.
The Daniel Hale Williams Preparatory School of Medicine, named after the Chicago surgeon who founded the first black-owned U.S. hospital in 1891, is the first school of its kind in Illinois. But the idea is decades old. Although it’s unclear exactly how many medical magnet schools exist, experts estimate that there are several hundred programs running. Offering aspiring doctors a chance to be mentored by practicing physicians should prove invaluable, said Karl Kirby, MD, a Chicago family physician who attended the kick-off. “Unless you’ve seen people who’ve done it, then you don’t imagine it,” sad Dr. Kirby, who is black. “And if you cannot imagine it, you can’t achieve it.” Many of the physicians who participated in the event were provided by the AMA’s Minority Affairs consortium as part of its effort to improve the pipeline of underrepresented minorities into careers in medicine and eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities. Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans together make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population but they represent only 7% of physicians and 6% of medical school faculty, according to the MAC. “When people talk about disparities in access to health care,” said Julia Dyer, MD, a gastroenterologist at the MacNeal Health Care Center in Bridgeview, Ill., who sits on the school’s board of directors. “The key question is how many physicians per person you have in that community.” Minority physicians are more likely to practice in underserved areas, said Dr. Dyer, who is black.
More minority physicians also can address the related question of cultural competency and patient trust. “I’ve been in medicine long enough to know there is a difference in how minority physicians treat minority patients,” said Earl Fredrick Jr., MD, a black internist at the federally subsidized Christian Community Health Center in suburban Chicago and an event participant. “Culturally, the connection is much better, and black patients seem to have more faith in black doctors than white doctors,” he added.
Many studies tracking medical magnet school students show that they fare better than students in normal schools on grades, the SAT and college enrollment rates, according to Kevin Grumbach, MD, director of the Center for California Health Workforce Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. But, he said, most of these studies did not track a control group to isolate the school’s effect. “What’s hard to know from these studies is how much these schools attract selfselected, highly motivated students and how much does the program itself give students an extra boost,” Dr. Grumbach said. With those results unclear, the Association of American Medical Colleges recently decided to focus more of its resources on minority college students. Previously, the AAMC’s Health Professions Partnership Initiative had partnered medical schools with high schools at 36 sites across the country. “It really did make a difference in people’s lives,” Charles Terrell, PhD, AAMC’s vice president of diversity policy and programs, said of the HPPI programs. “In terms of the big picture, we didn’t feel it was making enough of a difference to justify the costs.” Both Drs. Grumbach and Terrell were supportive of medical magnet schools and called for more hard data to demonstrate their effectiveness. Meanwhile, at Chicago’s new school, student enthusiasm is high.
The inaugural class of 2011
Williams Preparatory School of Medicine is located on the city’s South Side. The public school is the recipient of a five-year, $500,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will enable it to offer a rigorous and enriched curriculum, employ better trained teachers and have a 22-to-1 student-teacher ratio, according to Principle Delores Bedar, PhD. Students who are at grade-level in reading and math are accepted on a first-come, first served basis until each 85-student grade level is filled. Students also must commit to completing the school’s six-year program, which begins with the 7th grade. The Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine has already partnered with Williams Prep to offer mentoring and internship opportunities to students. Several other Chicago-area medical schools also have expressed interest in becoming partners, Dr. Bedar said. The 85 seventh graders, nearly all of whom are black, and who ran around the school’s campus courtyard during the scavenger hunt last month, will be the program’s first high school graduating class in 2011. For now they are Williams Prep’s only students, as the school will be adding another grade each year. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in school,” said Joshua Cade, reflecting on his first week at the medical magnet school. “The work is hard, but it’s comprehendible.”
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