Hendricks honored with ACC UNITE Award

Photo of Connie Hendricks

By Amanda E.H. Pritchard

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing alumna Constance Hendricks, PhD, RN, FAAN (BSN 1974, MSN 1981), has received the Atlantic Coast Conference UNITE Award for her impact in the areas of racial and social justice.

A pioneer for championing racial equality, improving policies, practices and systems, Hendricks has helped pave the way for future nurses through innovative programming and fostering health care partnerships that unite individuals from diverse backgrounds to focus on a common goal.

“Throughout my life’s work, there’s been threads of social justice,” Hendricks said.

One thread began in Hendricks’ freshman year in the 70’s at UAB when she integrated the sorority of Alpha Sigma Tau.

“I saw a sign in my dorm elevator about rush that read, ‘All are welcome,’ I considered myself to be all, so I went. I was one of two black women there and the only one in nursing. We both were invited to join and when I was a senior, I was the President of our chapter for Alpha Sigma Tau,” Hendricks said.

After completing her studies at the UAB School of Nursing, Hendricks was encouraged to get her terminal degree. That led to her become the first African American to earn a PhD in clinical nursing research from Boston College.

Hendricks served as an ambassador for her hometown of Selma this past summer when approximately 200 student athletes from the Big 10, ACC and Big 12 visited to immerse themselves in the town’s rich history.

“I greeted the ACC students at Selma’s historic First Baptist Church in my BC alumni shirt and my shirt caught the ACC Commissioner, Dr. Jim Phillips’ eye, so he asked me, ‘what do you know about BC?’ I told him in 1992 I earned my PhD in nursing and that sparked interest and conversation amongst myself and the students,” Hendricks said.

Because of the connections she created and engagement she had with this group of students, they went back home, researched Hendricks’ accomplishments and decided to nominate her to receive the UNITE award.

“The acknowledgment of the students from Boston College was a humbling experience,” Hendricks said.

A third-generation doctoral graduate, Hendricks always wanted to be a nurse.

“Since I was a little girl—I never wanted to be anything else,” Hendricks said. “My mother’s best friend was a nurse and daddy’s sister was a nurse. Nursing was all around me and I admired nurses.”

Hendricks is now retired but was on the frontlines of innovative health care throughout her career. She served as one of the first student nurses at the VA Hospital in Birmingham, walked alongside UAB cardiovascular surgery pioneer Dr. John W. Kirklin on the Hillman Hospital unit floors with Kirklin during her pre-operative and post-operative patient visits, and served as dean of nursing at several universities, including Tuskegee University, where she helped establish an educational partnership with the UAB School of Nursing.

She also is member of the School’s National Advisory Council, which serves in an advisory role to the dean, is the first African American to establish an endowed scholarship at the School, and remains at the forefront of creating open lines of communication for diverse groups to reach common ground and realize all people are more alike than different.

“The outcome of the Human Genome Project says we are 99.9 percent alike. It’s such a minute difference, so we just need to be willing to learn each other. We have a lot of work to do. It’s not just about color. It transcends economically, the whole insider/outsider differences, so we have to keep talking and be willing to keep communication open.”

Trailblazing with the knowledge she gained at the UAB School of Nursing, Hendricks said, “I appreciate the opportunities and what I learned. UAB was where I needed to be.”

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