Purnell named ‘Person of the Year’ by St. Louis American

Jason Purnell outside the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. For his groundbreaking work with the initiative For the Sake of All, The St. Louis American has named him its 2016 Person of the Year. (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Jason Q. Purnell, assistant professor in the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and project director of For the Sake of All, the groundbreaking initiative on the health and well-being of African-Americans in St. Louis, was named the 2016 “Person of the Year” by The St. Louis American.

The historic newspaper made the announcement Dec. 29, noting: “It is better that we do what For the Sake of All is trying to do: work together to improve the health of all people by eliminating racial inequities that stifle our region’s — and nation’s — growth.”

“It’s an amazing honor,” Purnell said. “To have it come from the St. Louis American is very meaningful to me.” He recalled one of the first times he was published anywhere was as a teenager writing an opinion piece in the American in 1992, in the wake of the riots in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict.

Purnell, who has been at the Brown School since 2009, assembled the multidisciplinary, multi-university team in 2013 that began For the Sake of All. The first phase of the project culminated in a comprehensive report released in May 2014 — three months before Ferguson became a national touchpoint. The second phase, which concluded in the summer of 2016, was spent educating the community and policymakers about issues raised in the report.

Wrote the American: “Before the Ferguson uprising exposed to the world the race-based inequities in the St. Louis region, there was For the Sake of All, a research project based at Washington University with an admirably simple, yet profound and visionary, mission: ‘We work to improve the health of all people by eliminating racial inequities that stifle our region’s growth.’”

The newspaper cited Purnell’s work taking on added importance after the emotion and controversy stirred up by the 2016 presidential election. “For his prescient vision, solid evidence-based data and the sane steadiness of his mission, we celebrate Jason Q. Purnell as the St. Louis American’s 2016 Person of the Year,” the American noted.

Purnell was humbled by the honor. “It certainly brings visibility to the work, and that’s the most important thing to me,” he said. “We’re just going to keep pushing forward until we’ve implemented the strategies that were recommended in the report.”

 Even if that means an uphill battle as 2017 looms. “I’m hopeful,” he said. “I think we’re really going to see the power of local communities responding to the needs of their residents, which makes this work more important than ever.

“We have a lot of work to do. But I’m optimistic because of the many people in our region who are committed to doing the work that needs to be done.”

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