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MLK lecture celebrates values of diversity, inclusion

Jan. 18, 2018, 9:40 AM

Attendees at Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture sang “We Shall Overcome” at the close of the event. (photo by Anne Rayner)

André Churchwell, MD, greeted those gathered in Light Hall for Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture with a reminder that his father, Robert, gave the first such lecture at Vanderbilt 17 years ago.

“It was his personal vision of a 75-year-old man’s journey in the South, and living in Nashville, Tennessee, from lynchings to seeing his sons become important members of the faculty here at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine,” said Churchwell, Chief Diversity Officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). “We use this day as a stopping point as our first true diversity inclusion intentional pause…to reflect on a life given and compelled to push the boundaries of creating a diverse and truly inclusive culture and nation — the life of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Jana Lauderdale, PhD, RN, presented the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr., Award to Terrell Smith, MSN, RN, director of Patient and Family Engagement.

“Terrell has worked passionately to advocate for all patients and families, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual identity, cultural background, language or nationality,” Lauderdale said.

Smith accepted the award and took a moment to share what it meant to her.

Terrell Smith, MSN, RN, center, received the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Award at Monday’s event. Presenting the award were André Churchwell, MD, and Jana Lauderdale, PhD, RN. (photo by Anne Rayner)

“I was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when it was deeply segregated. I went to an all-white school. I was a teenager when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led that Selma-to-Montgomery march. It was a very scary time for us. A year later, the first black person enrolled in my junior high school … and landed in my homeroom. We didn’t know what to do, and so we decided we would just ignore the situation and we would not speak to this person. This went on for months until we finally came to our senses at the Christmas party.

“We realized this person was alone, eating her cookies, and drinking her Coca Cola. We invited her to come into our circle. This was after we had ignored this child for months, and she responded to our invitation with a kindness and graciousness that none of us deserved. Thus, she was able to start our education on the value of diversity.

“Never underestimate the power and influence a kind person can have in the world,” Smith said.

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and School of Nursing, in conjunction with the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Series, presented Debra Barksdale, PhD, FNP, professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Nursing, as the keynote speaker.

Barksdale is an adult nurse practitioner and a nurse educator. Her research focuses on stress and cardiovascular disease in the African-American community.

Her former NIH-funded study, “Hypertension in Black Americans: Environment, Behavior and Biology,” explored the underlying hemodynamic determinants of hypertension.

Debra Barksdale, PhD, FNP, professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Nursing, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Barksdale is past president of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and is a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows alumna. She is a member of the board of governors of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and recently was named an American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Wharton fellow.

Barksdale’s speech, “Rise — An Instance of Becoming Higher,” addressed guiding principles that have accompanied her from a childhood that began in poor, rural America, and saw her through an education at the University of Virginia to become the only nurse appointed to the PCORI board of governors.

“We are called on this holiday not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equity, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood that Dr. King so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America. We are called to service today and in the days to come to rise above our situations and circumstances and fears and to become higher instance by instance.”

Barksdale’s father, George, was a sharecropper with a third-grade education, and her mother, Dorothy, completed high school, and together they raised five children in a 900-square-foot house.

Prior to moving into this house, they had no running water and they cooked on a wood-burning stove.

“That was my reality. I grew up during a time when it was not unreasonable for us to have to face situations where we were guarding ourselves against the KKK. Imagine a young child sleeping with a weapon under the pillow just in case they came by. That is what happened not so long ago in these United States.

“The fact that I stand here before you today with four degrees, having held national offices and being the only nurse appointed by President Obama to PCORI as part the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is nothing less than a miracle. I know that miracles do happen and miracles can happen to you.”

The United Voices of Vanderbilt choir opened the noon event, and George Hill, PhD, emeritus professor of Medical Education and Administration and Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, closed it by leading the audience in “We Shall Overcome.”

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