Personality: Reginald E. Gordon

Spotlight on Richmond Memorial Health Foundation board chairman

7/21/2022, 6 p.m.
Inside and outside the walls of City Hall, Reginald E. (for Equilla) Gordon is working to build a more equitable, ...

Inside and outside the walls of City Hall, Reginald E. (for Equilla) Gordon is working to build a more equitable, racially inclusive Richmond.

As Richmond’s deputy chief administrative officer for human services since 2018, it is the most recent of Mr. Gordon’s roles in city government. He first joined the city in 2016 as the director of the Office of Community Wealth Building.

Mr. Gordon also is months into his final year as chairman of the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation’s Board of Trustees, which provides funds to nonprofits whose missions align with their vision of a better city. Mr. Gordon’s decades of experience in human services has given him a unique perspective on the impact of groups seeking to assist the community and the work needed to improve the city.

“I see the connections daily,” Mr. Gordon says. “Richmond has a lot of strong partners and nonprofits that should be working together for the health and wealth of the citizens of Richmond.”

Elected to a two-year term in January 2021, Mr. Gordon’s chairmanship is the culmination of 10 years of work with RMHF, first spurred when he learned about the group’s tireless com- mitment to the community.

As board chairman, Mr. Gordon seeks to ensure RMHF’s board of trustees’actions reflect their stated beliefs about health and racial equity. He does so at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already persistent inequalities in the community, leading some to face unexpected needs for the first time in their lives or further impacting marginalized groups.

“Our community is at a critical inflection point,” Mr. Gordon says. “The pandemic has shone a harsh spotlight on the significant racial inequities that negatively impact the health and wealth of many Black and Brown people that we must address as a community and nation.”

Mr. Gordon hopes that lessons learned from the pandemic have created a greater awareness about the need to address the daily disparities faced by Richmond’s less fortunate residents.

Mr. Gordon’s term ends this December, after which he will serve as chair emeritus for a year before leaving the board and RMHF entirely. While he hasn’t decided whether he will join an organization similar to RMHF, his commitment to human services remains steadfast.

“Working together in earnest to reach equity with health and wealth for all is a moral imperative,” Mr. Gordon says. “It will take years, but we are making progress.”

Meet a tireless contributor to human services in Richmond, Reginald E. Gordon:

Volunteer position: Chair, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation Board of Trustees.

Occupation: Deputy chief administrative officer for human services, City of Richmond.

Date and place of birth: Sept. 19 in Farmville.

Education: Duke University, bachelor’s; Howard University School of Law, J.D.

Family: Wife, Dr. Rashida Gray; son, Kobie Foxx, daughter, Kya Foxx.

Richmond Memorial Health Foundation (RMHF) is: A Richmond-based entity working to foster an equitable and healthy Richmond region by engaging communities and partners to reduce health disparities. This requires collectively removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination and their consequences.

When and why founded: RMHF traces its roots to the founding of Richmond Memorial Hospital. The hospital opened in 1957 as a memorial to the Richmond men and women who died in World War II. The hospital opened its doors to people of all races and backgrounds, regardless of their ability to pay.

In 1977, the hospital board of directors created the Richmond Memorial Hospital Foundation to hold reserve funds aimed at ensuring financial stability during a period of high inflation. When the hospital outgrew its original location in Richmond’s Northside, it eventually became Bon Secours Richmond Memorial Regional Medical Center in Hanover County in 1998. The assets of the hospital were merged into the foundation. The organization was renamed the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation to emphasize its focus on community health and redefined its mission as a grant maker to foster an equitable and healthy Richmond region.

Values: Equity, learning, stew- ardship, respect, inclusion, impact and transparency.

RMHF is important in our community because: Our community is at a critical inflection point. The pandemic has shone a harsh spotlight on the significant racial inequities that negatively impact the health and wealth of many Black and Brown people. RMHF invests in partners working to address health and racial equity in the Richmond region.

When elected chairman of board: January 2021.

Why I accepted position: I fully embrace the mission, vision and values of RMHF. During my time on the board, I have had the privilege to work with insightful and talented staff and trustees who are committed and dedicated to an equitable and healthy Richmond region. I was honored to have been elected chair.

Number one goal or project as chairman: Making sure that the actions we take as a board reflect our stated beliefs about racial and health equity.

Strategy for achieving goals: First, make sure that the goal has been informed by the targeted audience, recipients or community. Then, do the research and learn from the expertise of others. Create the strategy. Finally, take action, executing the strategy, realizing that mistakes could be made. Allow yourself the grace to stop, refocus or start over if the original strategy is not working.

No. 1 challenge: Maintaining clarity of purpose when presented with credible requests for support for a wide range of needs.

Who benefits from RMHF: We invest in mission-aligned nonprofit partners so that our community may benefit from their great work.

How RMHF defines health equity: Trustees and staff define health equity: Everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy and well as possible. This requires engaging communities and partners to reduce health disparities by removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination and their consequences.

How RMHF defines racial equity: We are still thinking through our organizational definition of racial equity, but we are informed and inspired by these words from our partner, Race Forward: “... we achieve racial equity when race no longer determines one’s socioeconomic outcomes; when everyone has what they need to thrive, no matter where they live.”

How RMHF understands health disparities of our community: Inequities are deeply ingrained within the Richmond region, but few residents understand their full impact. For example, the life expectancy of an individual living in an economically struggling neighborhood can be as much as 20 years shorter than a resident of a high-income area.

Anti-racism and RMHF: We denounce structural racism that serves to devalue and imperil the lives, health and well-being of Black and Brown people. We are committed to:

• Continuing to support our partners in their efforts to apply a racial equity lens to their work

• Building the capacity of grassroots organizations and organizations led by people of color

• Investing in strategies that make the connection between civic engagement and policy and advocacy efforts.

We also continue our internal process of learning and critical self-reflection as trustees and staff of RMHF. We recognize racism is pervasive in every system of our society, and we commit to unpacking the practices and culture at the Foundation in our journey toward anti-racism.

RMHF partners with: Mission-aligned nonprofit partners, as well as other funders.

What we fund: Our new grantmaking framework — the ways we choose to invest in our partners — is made up of five main funding strategies which, based on our equity journey, we believe will be most impactful for our mission-aligned part- ners. Learn more by reading our strategic framework: https://rmhfoundation.org/grants/strategic-framework/.

Examples of organizations or projects RMHF has assisted:

• Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Racial Equity Initiative

• Market Value Analysis

• CDC Foundation initiative

• Laughing Gull Foundation collaboration

How to access RMHF: https://rmhfoundation.org/contact/, or (804) 282-6282

How I look at Richmond and its health and equity journey: Working together in earnest to reach equity with health and wealth for all is a moral imperative.

A perfect day for me is: An unscripted day of adventure and discovery with my family.

What I continue to learn about myself during the pandemic: Working from home does not work for me. I get more accomplished in the office, even if I am the only one there.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I would love to master the Argentine Tango. My wife and I have considered taking lessons.

A quote that inspires me: “Keep your head level” This idiom has been passed down from generation to generation in my family. My mother, Mary Gordon West, shares this advice about how to face life’s challenges at least once a week.

My friends describe me as: Open minded.

At the top of my “to-do” list is: Collaborate with other foundations, agencies and nonprofits to create an integrated service delivery system in Richmond.

Best late-night snack: I’m not a snacker, unless there is a chunky chocolate chip cookie around the house.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: Treat everyone with respect and compassion.

The person who influenced me the most: My dad, the late Rev. David E. Gordon.

Book that influenced me the most: “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” by Frederick Douglass.

What I’m reading now: “Radical Help: How We Can Remake the Relationships Between Us and Revolutionise the Welfare State” by Hilary Cottam.

Next goal: I want to write a story about growing up in Richmond in the 1970s. Young people thrived because of the consistent love, nurturing, support and affirmation from relatives, teachers, coaches, church families and neighbors. I would like to do what I can to replicate that energy in Richmond.