Health care disparities advocate, organizer praised and remembered | MUSC

Health care disparities advocate, organizer praised and remembered | MUSC

David E. Rivers, a professor in MUSC Academic Affairs Faculty and director of the Public Information and Community Outreach Initiative (PICO) program in the MUSC Libraries, died at his home on Feb. 4.

A U.S. Army veteran who grew up in Charleston, Rivers joined MUSC’s faculty in 1995, serving in multiple capacities that focused on promoting partnerships between academic institutions, government agencies, elected officials, business industry, faith-based groups and community activists to build healthier communities.

He was co–principal investigator (PI) of the EXPORT Center on Metabolic Syndrome in Minority Health, a collaboration between MUSC and South Carolina State University, a program to foster partnerships between majority- and minority–serving institutions.

Sabra Slaughter, Ph.D., interim director of the MUSC Center for Health Disparities Research and co–PI of the EXPORT Center, was a longtime colleague, collaborator and fellow health care disparities advocate.

“At MUSC, David was dedicated to broadening access to health care to all the citizens of South Carolina, especially the underserved. He used his phenomenal community organization, policy making and networking abilities to achieve this goal. David was both an esteemed colleague and, more importantly, a friend. His creative leadership was fundamental to the success of the center’s programs,” said Slaughter.

Rivers directed the EXPORT Center’s Outreach program that coordinated the creation of the educational video package, “Our Health Programs,” in collaboration with South Carolina State University and South Carolina Education Television. That series reached more than 25,000 households throughout the state, Georgia and North Carolina.

Under Rivers’ leadership, the PICO Initiative conducted nationwide community leader institutes to address the impact of health disparities and environmental justice issues in low-income ethnic-minority communities and other underserved populations.

The success of the institutes garnered statewide, regional and national attention through South Carolina Education Television. In recognition for his work on climate change and its impacts across the United States, Rivers received a Bronze Telly Award for highest viewership of a televised program produced by Educational Television.

Rivers led, for nearly two decades, the planning and execution of the National Conference on Health Disparities, which provided a national dialogue to share progress in building healthy communities. The conference explored social determinants of health, including the impacts of environmental justice, poverty, educational attainment, housing quality, public safety, as well as mental health, substance use and human trafficking, as public health issues.

Prior to joining MUSC, Rivers held leadership positions with the City of Atlanta government, Georgia State University, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Human Services in the District of Columbia.

He was board chairman of the National Urban Fellows and also chairman of the James E. Clyburn Research and Scholarship Foundation. He also served on the boards of multiple community boards in Charleston, South Carolina, and California.

Rivers earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in urban affairs, political science and public administration at Georgia State University. He was a graduate of the National Urban Fellows Program in Public Administration at Yale University and the Riley Institute Diversity Leadership Program at Furman University. He was a charter member of Georgia State University’s first black Greek organization, Alpha Phi Alpha.

Remembrances for David E. Rivers:

“At MUSC, David Rivers was dedicated to broadening access to health care to all the citizens of South Carolina, especially the underserved.  Recently, I participated in a Zoom call with a group of David’s loving admirers from across the country. We were asked at the end of the call to share one word to describe him. I chose the word “real.” David knew himself and was comfortable in his own skin. He acted according to his values. He was true to himself and others.”
—Sabra C. Slaughter, Ph.D.
MUSC Center for Health Disparities Research

“I worked alongside Dr. David E. Rivers for 12 years as well as being a mentee under his leadership. As a mentor, he was tough but understanding. He was a master at identifying strengths in those
that worked with him, and he trusted you to operate in that space with his highest expectation. In the moments he pushed you to higher greatness, he would always add a teachable lesson. One of the lessons I cherish learning is his principle of the 4C’s (Communication, Coordination, Cooperation and Collaboration). He credited this principle back to his time spent under the late and great Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson. This is a huge loss, and he (Dr. Rivers) will be missed, but so many of us will continue to carry his legacy and lessons with us forever.”
—Monique Hill
MUSC Libraries

“Dr. Rivers led the National Conference on Health Disparities (NCHD), which was initiated by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and former U.S. Rep. Donna Christensen. He was a passionate supporter of training activities for students. Through the funding support provided by Dr. Rivers, the NCHD Student Research Forum focuses on enhancing high–quality biomedical research, research presentation capacity and career development training for undergraduate and graduate professional students. Between 2011 and 2018, 407 students from 29 U.S. states, as well as the U.K. and Germany, participated in the NCHD Student Research Forum, which had a significant impact on the career paths of several participants. Dr. Rivers planted seeds of career growth in students all over the country and internationally, and the seeds will continue to sprout and bear fruit for many years to come.”
—Marvella E. Ford, Ph.D.
Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities and Office of Community Outreach and Engagement
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center

“I do not know of another faculty member at MUSC who contributed in the range of ways that Professor David Rivers did to the education of the public and academic communities, as well as to the education of students at every level and from diverse backgrounds … before they ever arrived to MUSC, once they got here and after they were graduated. He also used his position on the Academic Affairs Faculty to help people who are not well-represented among us. That is a wonderful testament to paying it forward, sideways and “beyond,” as our mission encourages.”
—Tom G. Smith, Ph.D.
MUSC Academic Affairs Faculty

“In the 18 years I worked alongside Dr. David E. Rivers with MUSC’s Public Information and Community Outreach Initiative, I observed Dr. Rivers’ transformational leadership style, his ability to move the needle in eliminating health disparities in the underserved communities, via the vast number of national conferences on health disparities, community leaders institutes and technical assistance workshops, “Our Health” documentaries, and his business acumen were second to none. He was one of a kind, and we are committed to continuing his legacy.”
—Latecia M. Abraham-Hilaire, DHA
Public Information and Community Outreach

“David was a tremendous colleague — sincere in his purpose and committed to resolving issues that impacted lives across diverse communities. His vision and support were instrumental to MUSC’s long–standing and productive partnership with South Carolina Educational Television. He brought a lot to this campus. He will be missed.”
—Rich Jablonski

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