University of Virginia Medical School

May 17, 2022 | Travel Stories

One of the main reasons we went to Virginia last month was to attend University of Virginia’s inaugural Black Medical Alumni Weekend. It originally had been scheduled for June 2020, and my adoptive father, Bill Womack, had been invited as alumni. But it was postponed due to the pandemic, and then he passed away at the end of that year. ⠀ I was invited to attend the rescheduled event (April 8-10, 2022) and told that they would be honoring him at a recognition ceremony. It was also the start of the new William M Womack MD Scholarship, now in place for Black medical students attending @uva . ⠀ My dad’s experience becoming a doctor is why he is one of my heroes. The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling ended racial segregation in public schools, allowing his admittance in 1957 to the University of Virginia Medical School. He was one of the first Black medical students to attend UVA. ⠀ Despite the fact that he wasn’t allowed to eat at Charlottesville restaurants, and was ostracized and antagonized by white students and faculty, he made the Dean’s List his first year. He persevered and received his medical degree in 1961 at the age of 25. ⠀ It was an emotional yet uplifting weekend. I cried through my unplanned speech at the recognition ceremony, but was so happy that @uvamedalum had placed a brick on campus in his honor. We explored the beautiful and historic university, but couldn’t ignore its dark history of being built and served by slaves, and designed by slave owning Thomas Jefferson. ⠀ But I loved meeting so many wonderful, accomplished alumni and students, and making new friends. I felt a part of the UVA family. And I felt my dad’s presence all weekend, as we honored him and his amazing life.

Photos:  1) 1961 graduating medical class, 2) sitting on the same steps, 3) graduate dorms where my dad lived, 4) the famous Rotunda, 5) alumni at the weekend’s gala, 6) listening to Dr. Vivian Pinn, a famous graduate of UVA & my dad’s high school, 7) with Dr. Ed Wood, the first Black medical student to attend UVA, 8) with cousins Scott & Phil Branford, 9) brick honoring my dad.

 

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I’m Lisette Austin, travel podcaster. I am currently traveling to where my ancestors are from – across North America, over to Europe and finally to Africa.

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