The University of Minnesota will launch a program in anti-racism health research with a $5 million donation from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity will be led by Rachel Hardeman, an associate professor in the School of Public Health.

"As a Black child growing up in Minnesota, it was clear to me from a very young age that not everyone was afforded the same opportunities to achieve optimal health and well-being," Hardeman said. "I saw very real examples of racial health inequities in my own family and within the broader community."

The center will focus on research and education and serve as a resource on anti-racism to address long-standing health inequities. Minnesota has some of the widest gaps in health outcomes between its white and nonwhite populations.

Black and Indigenous babies in Minnesota are more likely to die before their first birthday, where death rates per 1,000 births range from 9 to 10.5. By comparison, the death rate for white babies is 3.8.

Hardeman, a nationally known reproductive health equity researcher, said that anti-racism research focuses attention on systems and institutions, including health care, that lead to health inequities.

"This isn't about individuals, it is about populations," she said. "It is really about the systems that individuals and communities and families live within that have not afforded folks the opportunities to gain health and well-being."

The center will reach out to community members to set priorities.

"People of all different levels of training can be involved in research," she said. "We will have some intentional listening sessions with community members to hear where the focus should be."

Blue Cross, which also has funded an endowed professorship for Hardeman, said it was making an investment in the center to create change.

"In 2020, we saw Minnesota become a national epicenter for racial injustice, under some of the most tragic and heartbreaking conditions imaginable," said Craig Samitt, chief executive at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "In order to transform our state, inspire change and improve health, we can't just say the right things — we must do the right things."

Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192

Twitter: @GlennHowatt