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‘The Heart of Why We Do What We Do’

Terp CEO Named to Fortune's 40 Under 40 Working to Raise Diversity in Public Health

By Sydney Clark M.Jour. ’21

André Blackman’05

Portrait by University of Maryland; background by iStock

André Blackman’05 was named to Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 list this month for his work addressing representational disparities in health care through his company, Onboard Health.

André Blackman ’05 was an aerospace engineering major, but a public health elective sent his life on a different trajectory when he learned how tuberculosis disproportionately sickened Black communities.

“Didn’t we eradicate tuberculosis like 5,000 years ago; why is it still a thing?” he recalled wondering. “The other question is, why for this particular community?”

Those questions about public health and representation gaps in medicine spurred him to change his major at the University of Maryland to behavioral and community health, and then became his life’s work. Earlier this month, he was named to Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 list for his work addressing such disparities through his company, Onboard Health.

Blackman launched an earlier venture, Pulse + Signal, a blog and digital branding communications consultancy focused on the health care landscape, in 2007. As he worked in the realm of start-ups and health care innovation, he noticed a trend: Companies were handling public health issues impacting communities of color without having a person of color on their team.

After giving the Spring 2016 commencement address for the UMD School of Public Health, he started thinking about the future of the public health workforce, particularly in terms of the representation of racial, ethnic and sexual minorities necessary for effective work with a broad array of communities.

“How can we build a more diverse and inclusive workforce to power the future of health, especially as we start to see things mixing with technology, mental health…, food sustainability and how that has changed what people are considering health?” he said.

The next year, he turned his words into action and founded Onboard Health, a specialized executive-level recruiting and strategic advisory firm that partners with companies including the American Medical Association and the Louisiana Public Health Institute to build an innovative, sustainable, equitable and inclusive future of health.

As CEO, Blackman works with a network of roughly 6,500 Black, indigenous, people of color and LGBTQ+ professionals with backgrounds in data science, technology, design, communications and research.

Blackman said “access and acceleration” encompass Onboard Health’s work. Forming a community where people feel seen is key, and he emphasized that representation matters in health care, especially in company boardrooms. At every level, the company is helping the health care workforce ecosystem grow, Blackman said.

“Onboard Health represents my passion for people and getting them connected to the resources that could help bolster their careers and impact,” he said.

This year has presented unique challenges with COVID-19 and societal upheaval following police killings and shootings of unarmed African Americans, forcing racial disparities in public health and the justice system into the spotlight. It has made Onboard’s work all the more crucial, and provided an opportunity to get to “the heart of why we do what we do,” Blackman said.

Robert Gold, professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health and a mentor to Blackman, said the young CEO has made “tremendous strides, so many contacts and engaged in so many collaborations and recognized the importance of ‘onboarding support’ around the future of public health.”

Since 2017, Blackman has served on the School of Public Health’s Dean’s Council, a group that advises Dean Boris Lushniak on strategic directions for the school. Lushniak called Blackman’s Fortune recognition “well-deserved.”

Professor Donna Howard, whose class sent Blackman into a life in the public health arena, called her former student a “Terp hero.”

“I’m constantly inspired by his persistent hard work, personal/professional integrity and determination to do good and make important contributions to public health and the communities we serve,” she said.




Schools & Departments:

School of Public Health

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