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39th Annual ABWP Benefit Event Was A Smashing Success
By Dr. Lance A. Williams, Contributing Writer
Published November 12, 2020

Dr. Sylvia Gates-Carlisle, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.P., Current ABWP President (Courtesy photo)

Undaunted by the current pandemic, the 39th Annual Charity and Scholarship Benefit presented by the Association of Black Women Physicians (ABWP) maintained its anticipated aura of class and sophistication. The event paid tribute to the work of pioneering and modern-day black female physicians while conveying the all-important values of professionalism and community service.

The event, produced by Splendid Affairs, Inc., featured outstanding creative and technical work by video producer First Option Entertainment Film Works, and SuiteEvents Media Group. The producers took full advantage of the potential of video to simulate an in-person live program with a hybrid mix of on-camera narrative and performance and pre-recorded appearances by notables including key corporate sponsors, high-profile Black elected officials, scholarship recipients, and awardees.

Dr. Cozzette Lyons-Jones, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P., (Incoming) – President-Elect & Chair of the Charity Benefit (Courtesy photo)

In its 39th year of celebration, the various members of the ABWP demonstrated the wide range of achievements amassed over the years collectively as an organization, as well as highlighting individual member merit. The innovative videoconferencing format show-cased the organization’s mission and vision to great success.

From ABWP President Sylvia Gates-Carlisle to rank and file members, the sense of solidarity and air of achievement filled the event. Even the hard work of soliciting donations was delivered with class resulting in the “organization’s most successful fundraiser yet” per Sabra Waddy, ABWP Events Producer & Consultant, and President, Splendid Affairs, Inc.

ABWP Physicians & Board Members (Courtesy photo)

The cast of on-camera talent was quite impressive and demonstrated that this soiree has developed into a significant high wattage event through the collaborative work of the members. KABC7’s Leslie Sykes served as Mistress of Ceremonies. Up and coming recording artist MAJOR performed a tribute to the scholarship winners. The array of elected officials including Kamala Harris, Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, and Mark Ridley-Thomas demonstrated in their remarks and congratulatory letters how much ABWP’s deep commitment to success attained in one of the most difficult – and vital – of all professions really means.

Vice President Elect Kamala Harris (Courtesy photo)

The real stars of the evening were Dr. Gates-Carlisle, ABWP officers and board members, and the legion of women who are the core nucleus of the group. 50 women physicians founded ABWP in 1982 as a collective interested in career development and community service, and to recognize the unmistakable value of sisterhood and legacy-building. As was noted throughout the evening, ABWP has grown to approximately 500 members who share strong and enduring relationships within the medical community and allied institutions and has raised over $800,000 over the years through its philanthropic efforts.

ABWP Physicians & Board Members on Steps (Courtesy photo)

Communities of color with well-recognized health disparities, including hypertension, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, HIV, and cancer receive ABWP’s on-going attention through four signature programs. The Sister-to-Sister Mentoring Program matches medical students with caring physicians who guide these future doctors along their pre-medial and medical education journey. The Speakers’ Bureau provides the expertise of physicians to community organizations. The annual Charity & Scholarship Benefit raises money for community programs, providing scholarships to outstanding medical students of color who face tremendous financial challenges and burdens in the pursuit of their careers. The fourth signature program is The Advocacy Committee that promotes significant public health initiatives.

(First row) Zesemayat Mekonnen, Sabina Spigner, Nicole Syder, Simone Montgomery (2nd Row) Aunsha Williamson, Varina Clark, Juliana Paul, Juliana Paul, Osose Oboh, Onome Oboh, (3rd row) Jesslyn Magee, Charnise Taylor, Denise McIntyre, Allison Leggett (Courtesy Photo)

A virtual Silent Auction displayed cultural artwork commissioned by Dianne Shannon-Young. Various ABWP members extolled the virtues of the organization as a reason for giving. There were also personal testimonies from past scholarship recipients, now current members of the organization. Sponsors included an array of highly visible businesses and community entities who recognized the importance of being counted as a friend of the organization. Selected virtual program book sponsors were recognized in the video sponsor montage that played prior to the event’s opening and at various points during the event. Donor cultivation was subtle, not heavy-handed.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Anthem, Inc. was the event’s Platinum Sponsor. Anthem is the largest for-profit managed health care company in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Gold Sponsors included McPherson and Sway, The California Wellness Foundation, the Office of 2nd District Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, Charles R. Drew University, Blue Shield of California, and the BSC Black Employees’ Network. There was also a significant number of Silver and Bronze Sponsors including Molina, Cedars, UPS, Optum, the Watts Healthcare Corporation, ABWP Founding President Dr. Jesse L. Sherrod, and City National Bank. There were also virtual table sponsors and individual donors. KABC7 served as Media Sponsor.

Judy Belk, President & CEO, California Wellness Foundation, & (ABWP) Humanitarian of the Year Award Recipient. (Courtesy photo)

Following a welcome by KABC7’s Leslie Sykes and opening prayer by Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard of USC’s Cecil Murray Center for Civic Engagement, ABWP President-Elect, and Event Chair, Dr. Cozzette Lyons-Jones, gave an organizational overview of ABWP and its operations. “The work that ABWP has been privileged to do for almost forty years is just as essential now amidst the current global pandemic as essential workers contribute to the frontline efforts against the virus known as SARS-CoV-2,” she noted.

Congresswoman Karen Bass (Courtesy photo)

“ABWP has been the change we wanted to see since its inception, paying it forward by mentoring premedical and medical school students. Fundraising initiatives like today’s telecast have provided over $50,000 in much-needed scholarships to academically outstanding Black women to help defray the high cost of medical education,” added Dr. Lyons-Jones.  Elected officials spoke with conviction and sincerity that linked ABWP with the ongoing need to mentor, train, and provide financial support to aspiring young black women physicians.

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ABWP President Sylvia Gates-Carlisle saw ABWP’s role as, “The ability to punch above one’s weight; to perform or achieve or do something far beyond one’s talent, abilities, and attributes.” She cited the accomplishment of raising over three-quarters of a million dollars to support its mission and vision as ABWP’s enduring legacy. She addressed the question of why black women physicians are needed, stating, “By any measurement, black patient outcomes are the worst: infant mortality, maternal mortality, cancer, diabetes, cardiac disease. America needs a physician workforce that can engage diverse populations.”

Stewardship and giving back were key messages throughout.  Thirteen medical students currently attending the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, the USC Keck Medical Program, and the Charles R. Drew University/UCLA Medical Programs were feted. Varina Clark, a fourth-year student at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, described the story of her medical school experience as an uphill climb that would be even more arduous without ABWP’s help.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (Courtesy photo)

Treasurer and Scholarship Committee Chair Dr. LaTanya R. Hines provided a compelling case for donor contributions, stating that these students are part of a pipeline that will ease the chronic physician shortage in underserved communities. Dr. Hines, a UC Irvine medical school graduate, noted that she had received ABWP financial support twice during her student years.

The evening’s honorees were introduced with video tributes that celebrated their outstanding achievements and contributions as community leaders. Dr. Chandra Ford, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice and Healing at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, received the 2020 ABWP Lifetime Achievement Award for her role in the fight to eradicate healthcare inequities.

Chandra L. Ford, PhD, PMPH, MLIS, Founding Director, Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health & (ABWP) Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient. (Courtesy photo)

Judy Belk, President/CEO of the California Wellness Foundation received the 2020 ABWP Humanitarian Award. California Wellness awards approximately $43 million annually in grants and program-related investments that promote health equity and advocacy for communities and individuals whose lives and wellness are too often determined by their race, income, immigration status, or where they live.

In case you missed it, you can still catch the (ABWP Virtual 39th Annual Charity & Scholarship Benefit) @ https://www.facebook.com/AssociationofBlackWomenPhysicians/videos/10217511226883851/.

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