January 21, 2016

MLK lecturer highlights the power of perseverance

As a child in Africa, Rita Adeniran, DNP, R.N., had never heard of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. lecturer Rita Adeniran, DNP, R.N., center, with Vanderbilt’s André Churchwell, M.D., and Jana Lauderdale, Ph.D., R.N. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

As a child in Africa, Rita Adeniran, DNP, R.N., had never heard of Martin Luther King Jr.

It wasn’t until she was an adult that she learned of his teachings and used them to inspire her to be a strong, successful black woman. She shared her story during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) on Monday, Jan. 18.

“How can an African girl, born in a patriarchal society with almost no rights because of her gender, who grew up in a remote village, never saw a car drive down the street until age 11, or used a telephone until age 20, have the opportunity to discuss health and health care issues with accomplished health care leaders and dignitaries in more than 15 countries and with a U.S. state governor and current U.S. Secretary of State?

“I mention these accomplishments not out of individual pride or egotism,” Adeniran told the audience. “But as a testimony to the power of what is possible when individuals persevere amidst insurmountable odds in life.”

Adeniran is president and CEO of Innovative and Inclusive Global Solutions Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in helping health care organizations leverage the total capacity of their workforce for enhanced productivity and optimal patient outcomes.

Brenda Merriweather, MSN, R.N., smiles after receiving this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award from Jana Lauderdale, Ph.D., R.N. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

She said her story is an example of what is possible when the traditions of inequality are challenged.

She urged listeners to review the words of the Declaration of Independence outlining the inalienable rights of all citizens, which King championed.

“As a growing nation, cutting edge institutions, individuals, politicians, clinicians and leaders of our great country, the responsibility of upholding the principles of our founding fathers lies on our shoulders,” she said.

“It was MLK’s message — he worked passionately to help us create a just and equitable nation. We must reflect on our own response to his call for justice and use his words and actions as a model.”

Throughout her career, Adeniran said she learned that “lives that are defined by maintaining the status quo often result in mediocrity, while every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, struggle and taking risks to make things better.”

Born in Nigeria, Adeniran received her basic nursing education at Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, earning her baccalaureate in nursing from Widener University in Pennsylvania. She holds a master of Nursing Science and Health Care Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and received her doctorate of nursing practice from Drexel University, Philadelphia.

A 2011-2015 member of the Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows Program, Adeniran is also a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, the highest recognition for nurses making impactful contributions to nursing, health and health care.

She holds memberships in numerous professional organizations while serving on a variety of boards and committees.

“Regardless of who you are, where you were born, or where you started, I would like you to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty and take charge of your life,” she said. “Nowhere else is my story possible but the United States of America. I am here today, and most of the boys I grew up with are not.”

During the event, Brenda Merriweather, MSN, R.N., a case manager in the Vanderbilt-Meharry-Matthew Walker Center of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease, was honored as the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Award recipient. Each year the award is presented to a VUMC faculty or staff member who emulates Dr. King’s principles through his or her work.

The annual event is presented by Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing and School of Medicine.