As CEO of the Community Health Center of Buffalo Inc., Lavonne Ansari, PhD ’03, is the driving force behind its expansion. What started as a single site in 1999 on the grounds of Erie County Medical Center has blossomed into a soon-to-be five-site, multi-county, multi-service organization, with Ansari behind the steering wheel since 2006.
Today, the center cares for more than 20,000 patients annually who speak 17 different languages, thanks to its commitment to serving patients regardless of ability to pay and its patient-centered approach to medical care.
“I love community engagement and community advocacy,” she says. “I love working to build a better quality of life for all of us that are underrepresented.” In her mind, the greatest success anyone can have is to give back to people, and to also raise children who will give back to society as well.
Her foresight, dedication to community, and her ability to visualize possibility are what made her an ideal candidate to co-chair the Buffalo Together Community Response Fund (BTCRF). The fund was created in response to the May 14, 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, with the goal of building a more just and equitable community. “My team was one of the first on the ground after it occurred. First thing Monday morning I had my medics, my MDs, nurses and staff on the ground with the community, because we are the community,” she recalls.
Since the fund began, Ansari has been working with a steering committee to identify and address critical issues that have led to historic disinvestment, by utilizing a wide lens approach to development as well as forming a comprehensive financial model. The fund’s focus is to ensure protracted improvements in quality of life. However, Ansari notes that this is not typical foundation work. This is an anti-hate movement fund offering a plan beyond the immediate sweeping wave of urgency.
Ansari’s work with the fund has presented challenges; she says it has come with many candid conversations about domestic terrorism, racism and anti-hate. “This came out of an experience of hate. Therefore, the fund cannot be viewed with any superficiality. It represents a history that Buffalo will always have,” she says.
Ansari’s tenacity, paired with her philosophical world view, is pushing her to see the work of the fund as a journey and an opportunity for growth. This is a mindset she partially attributes to her time as a student at UB. “All my professors there helped me to discover who I am. All of them helped me understand how to self-reflect,” she says.
Her community-based work has demonstrated to her that the best way to continue this cycle is to provide support for African Americans and people of color in academic settings. She notes that institutional racism must be interrupted, and more inclusive roads—to spaces that have traditionally had structural barriers—must be built.
She also advises students to take advantage of the microcosmic nature of UB. She says UB stands out for its history, its position as a pillar in the academic scholarship community, and for its opportunities. “You have veteran faculty. You have youth. You have administration, you have activities, so you have a comprehensive experience at a university. How do you utilize it?”
Published July 5, 2023