The 41st annual Association of Black Women Physicians’ event, themed “Regal and Revolutionary: 40 Years of Boldly Advocating for Health Equity and Justice,” featured speakers as varied as the Hon. Maxine Waters and actor-comedian Chris Tucker.
Distinguished award winners Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee for Lifetime Achievement, and Dr. Jerry Abraham, Humanitarian of the Year, were celebrated in the manner that previous high achieving medical professionals have been feted.
From the opening pre-event audio/visual montage teasing the events to come, to the closing appeal for financial support from the audience, the occasion was a subtle history lesson of ABWP and the profession.
Hosted by actress and radio personality Tammi Mac, the show was as entertaining as educational. Vocalist Nio Renee followed up her appearance at the 17th Annual Taste of Soul Family Festival with a powerful song of self-empowerment called, “Good Enough,” during the entertainment segment of the gala.
But the most compelling part of this event were the messages delivered by organization leaders themselves. They were the real stars of the show, offering a variety of testimonials to the importance of training and developing young African Americans as physicians.
They decried the tragedy of the difficulty in eradicating healthcare disparities experienced by Black and Brown people, as well as the chronic shortage of physicians of color working in urban communities. Black physicians are underrepresented in the medical profession, constituting approximately 5% of the nationwide total, a number unchanged for over five decades!
These pioneering physicians wore their passion about the need to eliminate health care disparities on their collective sleeves. They celebrated the women who came together to found and sustain the organization, some of whom were on hand as living witnesses.
Featured were scholarship presentations, upwards of $5,000 each, to 12 young Black women attending five medical programs. According to Dr. La Tanya Hines, ABWP treasurer and scholarship chair, the awardees included five students attending USC’s Keck School of Medicine, four enrolled at the joint CDU/UCLA program, and one scholarship each to students attending UC Riverside, the University of Pittsburgh, and Western University.
Evident throughout the program was ABWP’s ability to attract significant sponsor support from a variety of well-established organizations, primarily from within the healthcare profession. SCAN Health Plan, a multistate entity, was a Platinum sponsor. Gold sponsors included the California Wellness Foundation, Anthem Blue Cross, and David Griffin and Dr. Gerianne Dudley.
Silver sponsors included the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Molina Healthcare, Optum, and Jessie L. Sherrod, MD; McPherson and Sway, and the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine. Blue Shield of CA, Cedars-Sinai, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and Kaiser Permanente-West Los Angeles were Bronze sponsors. There were also a wide variety of sponsors acknowledged during the virtual slide presentation.
In her opening remarks, incoming President-Elect and Charity Benefit Chair Dr. Renee M. Poole thanked the attendees, celebrated the Founders, and congratulated the honorees and scholarship recipients. The teams of Sabra Waddy of Splendid Affairs Event Mgmt. and Paula Bond of First Option Entertainment, the behind the scenes duo for the past two years, praised by the program Chair, once again delivered a stellar production!
ABWP’s strategic collaborations were also cited. Various video clips saluted the organization’s ability to forge partnerships designed to heighten awareness of the need to eradicate health care disparities while leveling the playing field for Black and Brown persons with limited access to health care professionals and resources.
Amongst its most recent partnerships, ABWP has collaborated with the Transamerica Institute to promote The Soul Food Cookbook, which offers healthy food options while educating people about being selective in what they eat. Nineteen southern style recipes full of healthy ingredients are the core focus of the book.
ABWP offers four signature programs. A Sister-to-Sister program mentors aspiring medical students such as the recipients of the 2022 scholarships. A speakers’ bureau connects community-based organizations with ABWP members and colleagues representing various medical specializations. The evening’s scholarship gala was cited as another outreach mechanism; and the ABWP community advocacy committee provides advice and consultation to tackle issues such as COVID-19.
Rep. Waters was introduced as a longtime organization supporter by ABWP Membership Committee member Dr. Anastasia L. Williams. She was noted as the keynote speaker at the first ABWP banquet. Waters acknowledged the good work accomplished, particularly with the student scholarships. Dr. Valerie Williams introduced State Senator Sydney Kamlager, who thanked the organization for its great work and asked everyone to keep praying for good things to happen in the community.
Current President Dr. Cozzette Lyons-Jones acknowledged ABWP’s longtime work and indicated that one important reason for the organization’s ability to stand the tests of time is the ability to adapt to current needs. She cited members such as the first Black woman Pediatric Cardiologist in the United States, Dr. Josephine Isabel-Jones who opened doors of opportunity, as well as ABWP wading into such fights as COVID-19 and other health and healthcare disparities like Alzheimer’s dementia, Black infant and maternal health, and sickle cell disease research and treatment. Dr. Lyons-Jones highlighted how the organization has influenced action on tobacco usage and gun violence reform, as well as reproductive justice after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “There’s so much work to be done,” she noted.
SCAN Vice President of Business Excellence and Diversity Strategies, Timshel Tarbet, spoke of the health plan’s work to engage in the fight to assure that seniors also secure health equity. As a mother of two Black boys, she decried the 5% of U.S. physicians are Black figure. Additionally, Tarbet mentioned the lagging life expectancy of Black men as another reason to address the need to expand the numbers of Blacks among the country’s physician workforce.
Dr. Jessie Sherrod, ABWP’s founding president, invoked legendary legislator the Hon. Shirley Chisolm as a source of inspiration to ABWP at its inception. She paid tribute to Dr. Rhoda Marguerite Lewie and Dr. Lettie Marie Burgett as deceased pioneers who enjoyed distinguished careers that pushed history forward and inspired so many people with dreams of being a medical professional. “We have a light to shine. In liberating yourself, you liberate others,” Dr. Sherrod noted.
Immediate Past President Dr. Sylvia Gates Carlisle introduced Humanitarian of the Year Award winner, Dr. Jerry Abraham, acknowledging him as a superhero. “He has used grit and innovation to save people’s lives,” said Dr. Gates Carlisle. She noted that Dr. Abraham went to LA County for help at a time when Kedren Health, where he works, was receiving a very scant number of COVID-19 vaccines. She noted his fearlessness, and his tenacity. “He has been on a mission to achieve herd immunity and leave no dose expired.” Dr. Abraham, she said, democratized vaccine distribution in the process. With 400 volunteers and Kedren staff, 5,000 shots were put in arms each day at the height of the pandemic.
ABWP Historian and Past President Dr. NaNotchka M. Chumley introduced the Lifetime Achievement awardee, Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, as a life filled with accomplishments. Dr. Lee is a trailblazer in the field of Osteopathic Medicine, the first African American female dean of a medical school, and the recipient of nine honorary degrees. In thanking the organization, Dr. Lee noted her 5 B’s to success: Be good; there are no shortcuts. Be wise. Be kind. Be visionary; and, Be proud of who I am.
An encore presentation of the Virtual Charity & Scholarship Benefit can be found at the ABWP website via the following link:
https://www.blackwomenphysicians.org/41stannualcbgalarecap. Tune in and enjoy,