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A $5.6 million gift from Leonard Riggio (left) and his wife Louise (center) establishes a scholarship for Black medical students with financial need, which is named in honor of Dr. Kevin Holcomb (right). Photo Credit: John Abbott.
A $5.6 million gift from Leonard Riggio (left) and his wife Louise (center) establishes a scholarship for Black medical students with financial need, which is named in honor of Dr. Kevin Holcomb (right). Photo Credit: John Abbott.

A new scholarship will aid medical students with financial need who are Black

Leonard Riggio, founder of Barnes & Noble, along with his wife Louise, recently donated a $5.6 million gift to the Weill Cornell Medicine to establish the new…

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With the numbers of Black students in medical schools and Black physicians across the nation severely lacking, Leonard and Louise Riggio are playing a big part in helping address this. 

On Dec. 14, it was announced that the couple have made a $5.6 million gift to Weill Cornell Medicine to establish a scholarship for medical students with financial need who are Black. 

The Holcomb-Riggio scholarship is named in honor of Dr. Kevin Holcomb, associate dean for admissions and professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology, and will be rewarded to two enrolled students each year, covering the full cost of attendance for all four years of medical school.

“This scholarship is a little drop in a huge ocean. But we’re hoping that other people will see what we're doing and say, ‘That's a lovely idea. We'd like to join,’ or ‘We'd like to do this ourselves,’” said Riggio, in a press release.

The scholarship aims specifically to increase the number of Black doctors in Black communities, and ultimately help to decrease health disparities that have plagued communities of color, especially recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to 2019 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, just 5% of active physicians in the U.S. are Black or African American. The lack of Black physicians in Black communities has proven to have dire consequences.

“The underrepresentation of Black physicians is a critical factor in the increased burden of disease seen in the Black community,” said Dr. Holcomb. “The Riggios and I realize this is not a matter of altruism — it’s a matter of life and death.”

Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, dean of the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, noted that the multi-million dollar gift will provide the school with the means to provide superior medical training to a diverse group of students, with the goal of eliminating healthcare disparities and improving quality of life.

“Diversity and mentorship are tied together inextricably in this scholarship, illustrating the strength of what we can do when we come together as a community,” he said.

This scholarship, which is part of Weill Cornell Medicine’s debt-free scholarship program for financially eligible medical students, will cover the full cost of attendance for all four years of medical school. The Riggio scholarship replaces that portion of the scholarship package that the student would receive regardless of race and increases the overall pool of funding available to the debt-free scholarship program.

This adds to Riggio's longtime commitment to social justice, equity and diversity, advocacy and philanthropy.

“If you’ve got a leg up, give somebody else a leg up. Pay it forward,” said Riggio. “There is nothing more noble than saving lives, and when you’re a doctor, you’re not only saving lives — you’re making lives better.’’

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