New Positions Support Focus on Data-Informed, Mission-Driven Approaches to Race Equity

By June 23, 2020 News No Comments

St. Petersburg, FL (June 23, 2018) – Carl R. Lavender, Jr. has been appointed to the newly created leadership role of Chief Equity Officer, focused on applying a race equity lens to all the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg’s work and policy positions.

Lavender will work with President and CEO Randall H. Russell to plan, assess, and direct Foundation strategy and resources to advance race equity to achieve health equity in Pinellas County. He will serve as a resource and sounding board for staff and community partners seeking the most effective and impactful ways to build a race equity movement in the region.

“Carl’s insight and community experience is guiding Foundation leadership and staff in the highest and best use of Foundation assets in a push for race equity. The present moment brings a special urgency and clarity to this issue, and an opportunity to broaden and deepen the community of allies who are committed to the structural changes necessary to achieve this goal,” said Foundation and President and CEO Randall H. Russell. “Carl is uniquely qualified for this role as chief equity advocate, and the Foundation and community are fortunate to have him.”

Lavender’s previous roles with the Foundation included Senior Director of Programs and Chief Engagement Advocate Officer.  He has made a notable career leading nonprofit organizations in Pinellas County for the past 20 years and served in high level community advancement and fundraising positions in Chicago and Cleveland nonprofits prior to that.

Lavender holds a bachelor’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from The Ohio State University and a master’s in Human Services – Non-Profit Organizational Management (cum laude) from Springfield College in Massachusetts.

In a second new role added to the Foundation, Dr. Keesha Benson will serve as Director of Learning, guiding Foundation leadership, staff and community partners in best practices and new applications for using research and data to inform strategy, evaluate performance, and identify and communicate race and health equity priorities.

Dr. Benson was born and raised in St. Petersburg, As a sixth-generation resident of St. Pete she loves and respects the deep history of this city and understands the importance of the collective work to ensure race equity. Dr. Benson has over 15 years of experience engaging in community-level work with children and families, nonprofit organizations, and community stakeholders. Her work has crossed multiple disciplines including child welfare, public health, business, and education. Most recently, Dr. Benson served in a leadership capacity on two Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg supported projects, the Grow Smarter Initiative and Thrive by Five Pinellas.

Dr. Benson’s background includes more than 15 years of community practice, research, and higher education teaching experience with children and families, organizations, and community stakeholders. Prior to returning to St. Petersburg  she served as a faculty member at Temple University in Philadelphia. She received both her Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work with a focus in community intervention, and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Business Administration from Florida A&M University.

“Dr. Benson brings much-needed capacity to develop and manage the Foundation’s research agenda and evaluation and to communicate its impact and learnings,” said Russell. “Her blend of academic background and community experience will help to advance the Foundation’s commitment to data-informed strategies and transparency about our learnings.”


About the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is a private foundation formed in 2013 following the sale of the nonprofit Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. It is the steward of almost $180 million in assets to support health equity in Pinellas County. The Foundation inspires and empowers people, ideas, information exchange, organizations and relationships to end differences in health due to structural racism and improve population health.