Health+Commerce teams with Temple University on diversity initiative

The firm will provide career-development stipends to students in the Black Public Relations Society and a scholarship fund for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

LeiLani Leaston (center) attended an event for scholarship recipients at Temple University with Tori Hill (left) and Krysta Pellegrino of Health + Commerce
LeiLani Leaston (center) attended an event for scholarship recipients at Temple University with Tori Hill (left) and Krysta Pellegrino of Health + Commerce

PHILADELPHIA: Growing up in Plainfield, New Jersey, LeiLani Leaston didn’t realize public relations was a field she could enter because she didn’t see many people who looked like her.

Leaston is Black and was raised by a single mom with little income who managed to obtain her college degree when Leaston was five years old. 

“The hard times that we had really motivated me to become the person that I am today,” said Leaston, who studies PR at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Leaston hopes to start a public relations firm aimed at athletes of color and athletes who are underrepresented — and to become a role model for young Black girls. 

Health+Commerce, a healthcare public relations agency, has a similar goal. The company, whose East Coast office is in Philadelphia, recently launched a diversity initiative with Temple.

Health+Commerce will provide career development stipends to students in the Black Public Relations Society and a scholarship fund for students from backgrounds underrepresented in public relations. Its staff members will also speak at Temple about healthcare public relations.

“You hear: maybe clinical trials aren't diverse enough or about certain groups of people who maybe have, justifiably, trust issues with the medical system,” said Krysta Pellegrino, Health+Commerce's chief client officer. Getting more diverse voices in healthcare public relations is important “because we're the ones giving information to the public and defining what the messages are and what companies are doing. You need those diverse voices to address some of those broader issues.”

Almost 90% of the country’s public relations and fundraising managers are white, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

In recent years, some Health+Commerce employees raised concerns with leadership about whether the firm could do more to encourage diversity in the industry, said Pellegrino. 

“We were trying to recruit diverse candidates, but we weren't being all that successful…one person, two persons here and there,” said Pellegrino. “That was really the spark for why we went to Temple.”

The school has been described as Philadelphia’s “diversity university.” Forty-five percent of the class of 2025 are students of color, according to the school. 

Pellegrino, a white Temple alum, spoke with a professor who said that many of its students must work to pay for their tuition but also want to participate in internships, which often are unpaid. 

“If you're a student and it's a choice between waiting tables for money or taking an unpaid internship, you have to take that job waiting tables because you have to pay tuition,” said Pellegrino.

The agency hopes to help by providing $500 stipends to students in the Black Public Relations Society for conferences, networking and other career development opportunities. The firm will also provide $5,000 scholarships to four Temple students, totaling $20,000. 

One of the first recipients is Leaston, who is entering her senior year. 

“When it comes to school, I have a 4.0 GPA. I have no problem with classes, making friends. The only problems I have are financially, so this will help me be able to focus on maintaining that 4.0 without having to work extra jobs,” said Leaston, 20. “The scholarship will be able to cover that for me, so that I'm able to complete my degree and just make a better life for myself.”

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