March 04, 2020

Dean’s Message: Celebrating Black History Month and Our Diverse Community

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The past two months have been chock-full of inspiring events that celebrate diversity—particularly in relation to the African American community. On Thursday, Feb. 6, the concert documentary “Dreams of Hope” premiered at the Alabama Theatre. I was honored to serve as a co-host alongside Jeffrey Bayer, president of Bayer Ventures. “Dreams of Hope” tells the story of a historic concert at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham more than 50 years after the hate crime that killed four African American girls. Conducted by Dr. Henry Panion III, the concert performance features musical instruments that serve as symbols of hope—violins restored from Holocaust concentration camps. At the premiere, we also announced a new initiative: the Birmingham Coalition for Human Rights. The coalition will bring together organizations and leaders to partner on city-wide advocacy efforts as we work to change the perception of Birmingham. The coalition will emphasize the depth of creativity in our community through avenues such as the musical and theatrical arts.

The School of Medicine also hosted several other events to coincide with MLK Day and Black History Month. On Thursday, Jan. 17, we held an event honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I had the pleasure of speaking at that event along with Charlie Evers, president for the MS1 class; LeMario Williams, a third-year student who is also in the Medical Scientist Training Program; and Dr. Sam Sullivan, who was the first African American graduate of the School of Medicine. At the very end of January, the SOM Office for Diversity and Inclusion hosted a “Diversity Grand Rounds” featuring Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College. That same day, the SOM held its fourth annual Diversity Fair. The fair is always an extremely popular event as it allows us to gather together to celebrate our differing cultural backgrounds and also eat a delicious snack or two. I’d like to congratulate several departments for their victories in our table competition, which is judged based on creativity, presentation, and food. First place was a tie between Genetics and Microbiology. Pathology and Pediatrics took second place, and CDIB took the bronze. I’d like to thank everyone for their enthusiastic participation; this year’s Diversity Fair was even better than the last.

Finally, the School of Medicine sponsored a newly adapted production of "Porgy and Bess" at Red Mountain Theatre on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The play, which was originally written by George Gershwin, addresses the struggles of underserved communities in Charleston, SC. It tackles real-life issues like addiction and violence. A reception for the SOM preceded the event, and a panel discussion moderated by Keith Cromwell, executive director of Red Mountain Theatre, took place afterwards. The panel included Dr. Tony Jones, senior associate dean for Clinical Affairs; Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, director of the Division of Adolescent Medicine; a brave woman who shared her history battling addiction; and the entire "Porgy and Bess" cast. The School of Medicine will continue to support events in the arts to help spread our message of diversity and inclusion.

As we press forward into 2020, let us remember that diversity and inclusion are integral to our values and mission here at UAB. We know that we are stronger and more effective when we empower individuals from all backgrounds and cultural groups. I’d like to thank Dr. Mona Fouad and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion for spearheading most of these events and for leading us into an even more inclusive future in the School of Medicine and beyond.