The Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville presents a check for $15,000 from its Racial Equity Fund to Hudsonalpha's Information is Power
06 Jul 2023

Closing The Health Equity Gap: The Community Foundation Racial Equity Fund

The Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville supports HudsonAlpha’s Information is Power initiative with a $15,000 grant from the Racial Equity Fund


By Lillie Mermoud


In 2023, around 30,730 individuals in Alabama will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 10,600 will die. Significant advances have been made to detect cancers earlier, such as monitoring family health history and yearly screenings. For cancers like breast cancer, which is the most common cancer for American women, a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes dramatically increases someone’s risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers. Early detection of these mutations through genetic testing is one of the most reliable ways to improve a patient’s prognosis.

Though genetic testing for cancer risk and early screenings can save lives, not everyone has the same access to those critical resources. African American women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than European American women. Due to socioeconomic disparities, African American women are often diagnosed later in the progression of their cancer. They are also less likely to be offered genetic testing, even when they have a strong family history of cancer.

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is working to close the gap in health equity in North Alabama through a partnership between the Institute’s Information is Power initiative and Alabama A&M University, a public historically black college or university (HBCU) in Huntsville, AL. The Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville has joined HudsonAlpha in the fight against cancer and health disparity by supporting this partnership through a generous grant from the organization’s Racial Equity Fund.

“Systemically, information on legal, medical, financial, or educational matters is not readily available to certain populations,” said Nancy Vaughn, Chairperson of the Community Foundation’s Racial Equity Fund Grants Committee. “Increasing access to that information is critical to closing that gap and offsetting those barriers. Information is Power is doing exciting, phenomenal work towards that goal.”

Addressing the health equity gap in North Alabama

In 2020, the Community Foundation established the Racial Equity Fund as recognition of the need to address a systemic gap in equity based on race in the Huntsville community. The fund provides grants to nonprofit organizations working to close the equity gap in the areas of education, health and wellness, economic opportunity, and neighborhoods and communities. It also maintains an endowment to provide lasting support for this mission. 

In an effort to reduce health disparity, the Community Foundation’s Racial Equity Fund Grants Committee recently awarded HudsonAlpha a $15,000 grant to support Information is Power. The grant will allow Information is Power to invest even further in the program’s partnership with Alabama A&M, with the ultimate goal of increasing minority enrollment.

“We are very passionate about making cancer testing available to the community in a way that is equitable and reduces barriers as much as possible,” said Dr. Cooper. “This grant allows us to expand our partnership with Alabama A&M and invest even more in educating young people about their genetic risk for common cancers.”

Building impactful relationships

Information is Power is a project that provides genetic testing for cancer risk to thousands of Alabamians. Led by HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Sara Cooper, PhD, the program screens individuals for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, as well as other gene mutations associated with breast, ovarian, colon, prostate, pancreatic, and other cancers. Since its launch in 2015, Information is Power has administered more than 6,200 tests, imparting life-changing information to those who have participated.

When Information is Power was established, it was initially designed to serve residents of North Alabama and has now expanded to aid diverse populations across Alabama. Relationship building has been key to the program’s expansion, helping to establish local support, engagement, and trust in the initiative. As the program continues to grow, an important area of focus is HudsonAlpha’s home community in North Alabama. Partnering with Alabama A&M has helped double minority enrollment in Information is Power. 

“Receiving the Racial Equity Fund grant is important to our work to achieve health equity in the state of Alabama, which entails taking an inclusive approach to engaging minority populations,” said Darrell Ezell, PhD, HudsonAlpha’s Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Breaking down barriers to access

At Alabama A&M, the Information is Power team has provided 150 free tests to students and alumni, as well as educated hundreds more about understanding their genetic risk for cancer through awareness events, and meetings with campus leaders, clubs, and medical professionals. Through the Racial Equity grant, the program aims to enroll 45 more individuals in genetic testing and reach 200 more through educational awareness events.

Because of the partnership with the student health center, every Alabama A&M student can participate in the program. Dr. Cooper and Kristy Bell, Information is Power Program Coordinator, recruited student ambassadors to build awareness among the student body. To reduce barriers and streamline access to testing, Information is Power has also provided an iPad to the student health clinic for patient intake, as well as developed a webpage exclusive to the university’s students.

Information is Power is accessible to all Alabama residents, though at different costs based on your location. Learn more about the program and find out to determine your own risk for cancer.