African American graduates of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine recently gathered in Memphis for their second reunion weekend. The event brought together alumni from across the country to reconnect with classmates and friends, tour campus facilities, engage with College of Medicine leaders, support current and future students, and pay tribute to fellow African American physicians.
The gathering culminated with a celebratory banquet honoring the legacy of Dr. Beverly Williams-Cleaves, MD, ′69, one of the first female African American graduates of the college and a longtime Memphis internist/endocrinologist and clinical associate professor. In addition to mentoring and teaching many of the alumni in attendance, Dr. Williams-Cleaves was remembered for touching the lives of countless patients in Memphis, her kindness and humility, and always putting her patients first.
In 2011, Dr. Williams-Cleaves, a graduate of Manassas High School and a North Memphis native, opened the Comprehensive Diabetes and Metabolic Center of Excellence in Memphis. The center is a one-stop shop for patients with diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Dr. Williams-Cleaves passed away in 2020.
Alvin Crawford, MD, ‘64, the first African American graduate of the College of Medicine was honored at the inaugural African American Alumni Reunion in 2019 and returned to recognize Dr. Williams-Cleaves, presenting an award to her daughter, Marinda Anderson. Following the events, Dr. Crawford stayed in Memphis to visit with college students and leaders.
Since Dr. Crawford, a distinguished pediatric orthopedic surgeon, graduated in 1964, more than 400 underrepresented students have graduated from the college. The reunion also aimed to help that number continue to increase.
The reunion was an opportunity to raise funds for the UTHSC College of Medicine Diversity Scholarship Endowment that is designed to make medical school more accessible to underrepresented students.
After all the weekend events, generous alumni, along with the family of Dr. Williams-Cleaves, committed more than $38,000 in gifts to aid future medical students.
The College of Medicine Diversity Scholarship Endowment reached the $25,000 minimum endowment threshold over roughly the past year and is now producing earnings. However, a fundraising goal for the reunion and future gatherings is still to grow this endowment and encourage diversity scholarship support.
A significant part of this year’s African American Alumni Reunion program focused on expanding opportunities for students from backgrounds underrepresented in the medical profession and enhancing support for these students already in medical school.
Held April 14-16, the reunion included a reception at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, a breakfast and luncheon on campus in the Mooney Library, a tour of the Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Simulation on the Memphis campus, and a reception and banquet at The Peabody Skyway honoring the legacy of Dr. Williams-Cleaves. Ryan Mire, MD, Class of ’98, and Jessica Minor-Ruffin, MD, Class of ’00, were the event co-chairs for the successful event, and Dr. Crawford was the honorary co-chair.
The inaugural African American Reunion was held in April 2019. The second reunion was planned for 2021 and 2022 but was postponed because of the pandemic.