Keynote Speech by Civil Rights Luminary, Ambassador Andrew Young, highlights Meharry's 138th Fall Convocation

Andrew Young at Convocation

Meharry Medical College held its 138th Annual Convocation Monday, October 14, 2013, with civil rights luminary, Ambassador Andrew J. Young as the keynote speaker and recipient of an honorary doctorate degree.

"Andrew Young is one of the finest public servants this country has ever known," said Dr. A. Cherrie Epps, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College. "We are honored to have him join us to formally launch our new school year and welcome students to this new academic year. His work, fighting for equality in the United States and across the world, has spanned decades and we know that his remarks will inspire our students to reach for the same monumental goals, particularly in alleviating health care disparities."

Under President Jimmy Carter, Young became the 14th, and the first African-American, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He also served two terms as a U.S. Congressman from Georgia and eight years as mayor of Atlanta.  Known for his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Young was arrested on two different occasions for his involvement in non-violent protests and played a major role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Young reminded Meharry students of their "call" to the medical profession and how they may possibly bring about change. "You're in one of the most exciting professions on the face of the planet," Young said when speaking on the vocation of health care. He told students that "God has blessed you to be born at such a time as this."  The son and brother of dentists, Young told Meharry's dental students that Congress should have addressed dentistry in the Affordable Health Care Act. "But it's not too late," he said. "The fun hasn't started yet. Nobody ever thought that President Obama could get that [Affordable Health Care Act] passed and then when he got it passed, they never thought that he could get re-elected and he's done that. And, they can't figure out what to do next."

The Convocation ceremonies also recognized the life-time accomplishments of five prominent leaders whose public service and other work have helped promote quality health care especially for the underserved:

  • Rueben C. Warren, D.D.S. ’72, M.P.H., Dr.P.H., M.Div., Professor and Director of the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care at Tuskegee University and former Dean and Associate Professor of the Meharry School of Dentistry, received an honorary degree.
  • Dorothy Burton Berry, the first African-American female to hold the offices of Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Personnel, Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner of the Department of Personnel in the state of Tennessee, was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Medal.
  • Arikana Chihombori, M.D., ’86 FAAFP, President and CEO of Bell Family Medical Centers and Chair of both the African Union African Diaspora Health Initiative and African Union Diaspora Africa Forum Americas, received the Axel C. Hansen, M.D. '44 Distinguished Physician Award.
  • William B. Butler, D.D.S. ’73, M.S., FACP, former Dean of the Meharry School of Dentistry, received the Fred C. Fielder, D.D.S. '60 Distinguished Dentist Award.
  • Byron Ford, Ph.D. ’95, Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and the Director of the Neuroprotection, Neurorepair and Stroke Program at the Morehouse School of Medicine, received the Harold D. West, Ph.D. Distinguished Biomedical Scientist Award.

A formal portrait was unveiled during the ceremony in honor of the presidency of Henry Wendell Foster Jr., M.D. who has dedicated his career fighting for health care equality for disadvantaged populations and improving the quality of life for women and children. Dr. Foster is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and former Dean of the School of Medicine.  He served as Acting President of Meharry Medical College during the 1993-1994 academic year.

Following Convocation, Meharry marked the rededication ribbon cutting ceremony and open house of Hulda Margaret Lyttle Hall which once served as home to Meharry's School of Nursing until its closing in 1962.  One of the oldest buildings on Meharry's campus, Lyttle Hall was built in 1930.  In 1998, the National Park Service (NPS) of the United States Department of the Interior listed the structure on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building, which now houses office space, has been renovated, in part, with funds from the NPS and President Barack H. Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus grant for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

"Meharry is an institution growing to better serve the city of Nashville and communities across our nation," said Dr. Epps. "Our students, faculty and alumni share a dedication to serving and treating those whom no one else will.  Convocation is a time for us to recognize their dedication and accomplishments and demonstrate our appreciation for their service to their communities."