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If necessity is the mother of invention, she certainly had a hand in the formation of the Old Dominion Pharmaceutical Association more than 70 years ago.

A group of black Virginia pharmacists — barred from joining the state’s longstanding professional pharmacist association due to segregation — united their visions and resources to create the association, which functioned as a network of support and resources for minority pharmacists for 40 years.

The group went dormant in the 1980s, but now a new generation of pharmacists of color are relaunching the association, with revamped goals: mentoring and supporting pharmacists of all backgrounds in all stages of their careers and enhancing the quality of care they provide to patients in the commonwealth.

“In many southern states, black pharmacists couldn’t belong to the state pharmacy associations,” says Dr. Leonard Levi Edloe, a part time community pharmacist in Richmond and president of the association. “This didn’t happen only in Virginia.”

Edloe is the son of Dr. Leonard Lacy Edloe (now deceased), a pioneering African-American pharmacist who owned and operated Harrington’s Pharmacy in Richmond for decades. Born in 1907 in Staunton and educated at Howard University, the elder Dr. Edloe cofounded the ODPhA in 1947 with African-American pharmacists from Richmond, Petersburg, Newport News, Hampton and South Hill.

The association was designed as the state branch of the National Pharmaceutical Association, founded the same year by the dean of Edloe’s Alma mater, Dr. Chauncey Cooper.

The ODPhA’s founders were “medical professionals simply striving to improve themselves in their calling,” says Edloe. “When they were not permitted to do that by joining the existing pharmacist association, they persevered and created an association that was inclusive and that met their needs as minority doctors of pharmacy.”

It was truly a homegrown effort, says Edloe, who recalls as a teen “riding all over Virginia” with his dad to meet with ODPhA members.

“Sometimes we’d meet in homes of the members,” says Edloe, “sometimes restaurants; wherever we could meet and sit down and talk openly.” They always talked about “helping people go to school, black people who were interested in pharmacy,” says Edloe.

Also up for frequent debate at ODPhA’s former gatherings: the unique healthcare needs of communities of color — and how pharmacists of color could help address and navigate them. It’s a topic that the relaunched association plans to keep in the forefront of its mission.

“We plan to address health disparities in the African-American community and other communities of color in the state,” says Dr. Starr Shands, a community pharmacist and Hampton University School of Pharmacy graduate based in Dinwiddie, and the ODPhA’s treasurer. In Virginia, “We’ll have events to promote awareness about health disparities and make sure it’s known that it’s a priority for our organization.”

Health disparities and inequities are “rooted in the reality that socioeconomically, racially/ethnically, and geographically diverse populations do not have the same opportunities to live long, healthy lives,” the Virginia Department of Health found in its 2012 Health Equity Report.

“Factors such as food security, perceived neighborhood security and racism are statistically associated with poorer self-reported health among Virginians,” the report found.

Additionally, “individuals and families that experience poverty, along with racial and ethnic minorities (regardless of income), are more likely to live in neighborhoods that lack various resources and opportunities to be healthy such as full-service grocery stores and safe and affordable places to be physically active, health care providers and pharmacies.”

Ultimately, health disparities and inequities can be a matter of life and death. “African Americans in Virginia, on average, live three to five fewer years than whites,” the report stated.

Improving the health of Virginia’s underserved patient populations and amplifying their access to quality health care is a driving force of Dr. Kalyann Kauv’s work as a clinical pharmacist with Anthem, Inc. in Virginia Beach. A 2017 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Pharmacy, Kauv is the ODPhA’s secretary and helped galvanize its reorganization earlier this year.

Kauv joined the student branch of ODPhA’s progenitor, the National Pharmaceutical Association, in college. A group that works “toward the improvement of the health, educational, and social environment of minority communities,” the Student National Pharmaceutical Association resonated deeply with Kauv, the daughter of Cambodian genocide refugees who fled to the United States in the 1980s.

“My parents lost everything except their lives; they had to start over completely and work low-wage jobs to survive,” says Kauv, whose uncle was killed during that era, marked by the brutality of the genocidal, totalitarian Khmer Rouge regime. “So, I come from humble beginnings. SNPhA was the first organization I’d ever seen that specifically helps people like me, like my parents who are immigrants, and other underserved groups.

Edloe, Kauv and Shands all emphasize that though it was founded by and for black pharmacists, today’s ODPhA is open to any licensed Virginia pharmacist and pharmacy students.

‘This chapter is going to serve as a resource, through materials and mentorship, for pharmacy students,” says Shands, “and a way for new practitioners  to connect, and for licensed pharmacists to network and collaborate with each other.”

After an initial interest meeting at Howard University in February, the ODPhA’s membership rank is small but growing.