Donor Story: No water? No health. No life.
At the Aspen Ideas Festival this year, André Blackman and his team of five invited Health Scholars were joking after hours about taking a sunrise hike up one of the nearby mountain trails. Over time, the joke plan, like The Velveteen Rabbit, got loved into reality. Which is how he found himself getting out of bed at 4am one morning, in the freezing rain, to hit the trail.
Their shuttle driver expressed perhaps the most widespread opinion of their plan. “Y’all crazy,” he pronounced. “Just so you know, we do have bears and mountain lions. Just keep making enough noise and you should be alright.” Wild animals notwithstanding, they persisted.
The group of public health advocates had connected with each other. They had made a promise. And they kept it. Banding together against adversity and, well, dampness, they made it to the top in time to see the storm pass and the sunrise over the eastern Rockies.
At the top, illuminated by the clear, bright first light of day, the now ecstatic hikers formed a circle to express their gratitudes. André was grateful for the whole thing. “This was my vision: bringing together dynamic, diverse individuals from across communities to climb (symbolic and real) mountains. To see this kind of camaraderie and community, this level of resilience and be able to watch individuals open up to new experiences… it hit me hard.”
André devotes his life to improving public health, built on a foundation of a diverse and inclusive workforce that’s ready to innovate. After an early flirtation with aerospace engineering (this overachiever and first-generation American worked at NASA tracking the Hale-Bopp comet in high school) issues like affordable housing, walkable cities, and food sustainability-focused his attention on public health. Water undergirds all those concerns. No water? No health. No life.
Public health and innovation often butt heads, usually about turning a profit. The way The Human Utility marries technology with donors’ own sense of public citizenship to save poor people’s access to clean, running water reconciles that conflict. In the earliest days, that’s partly what intrigued him about The Human Utility (then the Detroit Water Project). He followed Tiffani Bell and Kristy Tillman’s work on social media, and encouraged it publicly.
But it was the direct impact (and an improvement in his own life circumstances) that turned André into a Tap member/regular monthly donor. “Life gets in the way. I just want to set it and forget it,” he acknowledged. “I do love those monthly emails and notes, not just a receipt. You’re making an impact on real people’s lives, and you can see the genuine thanks. This is something I will not turn off.”
André Blackman is the founder and CEO of Onboard Health, whose mission is to connect, equip and launch a diverse, dynamic workforce dedicated to sustainable innovation in health. André is a pioneering strategist with deep ties into the public health/healthcare, social innovation, and strategic communication landscapes. He is dedicated to building the future of health through an inclusive lens.
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