November 16, 2008

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to improve health care over the past 40 years, made an excellent choice in selecting Stephen Black as one of 10 winners of its Community Health Leader Award.

Black heads the University of Alabama’s Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, which is involved in many innovative programs within the UA community and in the state at large.

It was one of those outreach programs, FocusFirst, which Black started in 2004 to bring eye care to rural and poor areas, that garnered him and his program recognition from the Princeton, N.J.-based foundation and $125,000 to enlarge the scope of the program.

Black said he started the program with two missions in mind – to screen children before they entered public school for vision problems and to get college students to take their social responsibilities seriously.

In the 2004-05 school year FocusFirst screened 4,600 children at day-care centers, Head

Start classrooms and schools for eye disease and other vision problems. Last year the program, which also arranges for children to receive free surgery and free glasses where there is a need, reached 13,500 children and Black is hoping that as many as 16,000 children in every county in Alabama can take advantage of the program this year.

“The greatest thing about the award is it will let us hire staff and screen more children,” a modest Black said when his program was nationally recognized.

In announcing the award to FocusFirst, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation noted that Black is the grandson of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, one of the most distinguished Alabamians and a man who fought relentlessly for the ideas on which this country was founded.

In other words, one could say Stephen Black comes by his own social responsibility naturally.