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First African American Graduate Alvin Crawford, MD, Returns to Alma Mater for Book Signing

Dr. Alvin Crawford signs a copy of his autobiography for Mary Mitchell, a lifelong resident and community historian of Orange Mound, where Dr. Crawford grew up.

Sixty years after Alvin Crawford, MD, became the first African American to graduate from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, the mutual appreciation shared between him and the university has not faded.

Monday was a day of reminiscence, inspiration, and collaboration for Dr. Crawford as he returned to UT Health Science Center’s Memphis campus to sign copies of his recently published autobiography, meet with students, and present his research.

A renowned expert in orthopedic surgery, Dr. Crawford recently retired as the founding director of the Crawford Spine Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and he is a professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

At his book signing in the evening, guests including UT Health Science Center faculty, staff, and students, along with members of the community, lined up in the Mooney Library to greet Dr. Crawford and purchase his autobiography, “The Bone Doctor’s Concerto: Music, Surgery, and the Pieces in Between.” Published in November, the book details Dr. Crawford’s challenges and triumphs, including his humble upbringing in Memphis’ Orange Mound community, playing in jazz bands and almost pursuing a music career, traveling the world as a Navy surgeon, and becoming an influential leader in medicine.

“It was a special gift to have Dr. Crawford join us on campus and back in Memphis,” said Brigitte Grant, vice chancellor for Advancement at UT Health Science Center. “Dr. Crawford epitomizes the UT Health Science Center mission – from his dedication to service, to his passion for lifelong education, along with his decades of excellence in clinical care and research. His story is inspirational, and we are proud to be a part of his legacy.”

Dr. Crawford shares words of wisdom with students at Melrose High School.

Dr. Crawford began the day at Melrose High School, where he was a student, and was welcomed with applause from members of the senior class, seemingly proud to see the success achieved by someone who was once in their shoes. He heard from several students about their career goals and offered tailored advice to each of them. While the students’ interests—pediatric medicine, aviation mechanics, business, cosmetology, and more—were various, Dr. Crawford’s central message to never stop listening and learning applied to them all. “You can’t have too much knowledge,” he said.

One student, an aspiring orthopedic surgeon, was happily surprised to learn Dr. Crawford spent his career in that specialty. He told her there is a sparsity of women in orthopedic surgery and it is a difficult profession, but there is a pathway for her to be successful in it. “With my kids, I taught the ‘MIID’ complex; with motivation, industry, integrity, and desire, there is nothing in this life that you can’t do,” he said. “If you’re willing to pay the price in terms of digging deep down into books and being able to listen and recall, don’t even think about it – just go ahead and do it.”

Dr. Crawford also visited White Station High School to meet with STEM students taught by UT Health Science Center alumnus Chikezie Madu, PhD. Dr. Crawford spoke to the students about issues related to health disparities and inequalities and how to address those problems. Dr. Madu, who teaches an advanced biology class at White Station and is an associate professor at UT Health Science Center, said he wanted his students to see that somebody from a humble background in Memphis could overcome many challenges, as Dr. Crawford did.

“Some of my students face similar challenges, and I want them to realize that if he could do it, they also can do it and let them learn from whatever experience, both good and bad, that he had to go through,” Dr. Madu said.

On the UT Health Science Center campus, Dr. Crawford presented his research on neurofibromatosis—a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves—as part of the Vice Chancellor for Research’s Distinguished Lecture Series. He also had lunch with medical students and met with Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, UT System President Randy Boyd, and College of Medicine Interim Executive Dean Nicholas Verne, MD.

“The students Dr. Crawford spent time with during his visit are our future health care professionals. They were excited and energized by his story,” Grant said.

When speaking of his many accomplishments, Dr. Crawford does not fail to acknowledge the support he has received from UT Health Science Center, from his years as a student through his six decades as an alumnus. He has striven to demonstrate his gratitude by remaining engaged with the university and his hometown community, and by establishing with his wife the Alvin H. and Alva J. Crawford Endowed Medical Scholarship to support College of Medicine students on their paths to success.