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King's Feast 2018: The need for vigilance, action, leadership

Dr. Brandon Gordon

Cheryl Quiney

From left, SNDA president Carl Buchanon, Quenton and Winston Quiney, Dean Laurie McCauley and Dr. Todd Ester, Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

From left, SNDA President Carl Buchanon, Dean Laurie McCauley, Pattie Katcher and Dr. Todd Ester, Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

Dr. Art Johnson holds a gift presented by dental students (from left) Blake Bufford, Sheri McCormack and Brittany Brown.

Members of the U-M Student National Dental Association.

Celebrating the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 2, 2018 -- Steadfastly confronting racial injustice in America remains as important today as it was during the transformative civil rights movement of the 1960s, speakers said Saturday, Jan. 27, during the School of Dentistry's annual King's Feast.

More than 100 members of the dental school community -- current and prospective dental students, faculty, staff and alumni -- gathered at the Ann Arbor Sheraton hotel to celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The University of Michigan Student National Dental Association (SNDA) organized the 37th annual event, extending the theme of "The Fierce Urgency of Now" that was used during the university's campus-wide celebration of MLK Day last month.

Keynote speaker Dr. Brandon Gordon noted that much has changed for the better in the last 50 years, yet the nightly news continues to report on people being singled out and sometimes dying because of the color of their skin. King and his supporters overcame prejudice and overt violence -- police dogs, clubs and fire hoses -- with peaceful marches and rallies, ultimately succeeding in drawing Americans of all races into a movement that changed the world, he said. Yet racism and violence survive today, most visibly at KKK rallies and during fatal confrontations between police and African-Americans. The current calls to action -- The Fierce Urgency of Now; Black Lives Matter; White Lives Matter; All Lives Matter -- are reminders that vigilance and action must replace complacency, Gordon said.

"We have to fight, we have to unify, we have to press on," he said. "What makes us great is our willingness to stand up for our neighbors on the right, our willingness to reach out to our neighbors on the left, our willingness to march forward and lead on, our willingness to keep others from being left behind."

Gordon, a 2007 graduate of the School of Dentistry who has returned to work on his prosthodontics graduate degree, said his generation has benefitted from the civil rights movement, but new leaders must emerge. He suggested that his fellow dental school alumni, and those about to become alumni in coming years, must lead the way by mentoring and working on problems such as changing the face of education in the inner cities, improving access to dental and medical care, and advocating for greater diversity in higher education.

"(Dr. King's) dream of a better America for the African American community has become a reality today, for my generation and those that follow," Gordon said. "But now we must continue to dream for a better America for those generations that are yet to be born.  The fierce urgency of now demands that we quit pointing out the differences and work to solidify our futures. Now is the time to help, now is the time to love, now is the time - because tomorrow may be too late."

The SNDA presented two awards of appreciation to School of Dentistry staff members for their work in diversity, equity and inclusion - to Cheryl Quiney, a patient care coordinator who has worked at the school for 26 years, and to Pattie Katcher, the admissions director who has worked at the school since 1991.

Quiney was cited for her work in helping establish and co-chair the Multicultural Affairs Committee, which was created 20 years ago to coordinate numerous annual events, publications and programs that highlight the diversity of students, faculty and staff.  As patient care coordinator, she works closely with students and faculty to ensure the efficient operation of clinical care. Dr. De'Avlin Olguin (DDS 2000, MS perio 2004)) said Quiney cared enough about individual students to teach them life lessons "that had absolutely nothing to do with teeth." Dr. Olguin, now a periodontist in Chicago, remembers that Quiney spoke to him about how people perceive each other, including making assumptions based on how a person is dressed. That led Olguin to reconsider his student wardrobe and improve it, a lesson he has passed on to his children. "It's about life lessons, and that's the impact, the power, that Cheryl has. She has been a surrogate mom," Dr. Olguin said.

Quiney was unable to attend because of illness. Two of her four children, sons Winston and Quenton, accepted the award on her behalf, praising their mother for "making Dr. King's dream a reality" by highlighting the positives of diversity. "As your children, we thank you, Mom, for teaching us the importance of diversity by illustrating that, yes, people of different colors exist, but that doesn't mean we have to let it create a divide. You taught us to embrace our cultural differences and educate others about them through sharing art, food, literature, music and even faith. You have a flame of compassion inside of you that burns so brightly."

Dr. Kristi Thomas, a 1999 graduate, helped present Katcher's award, citing her work when Thomas was among the first group of students in the Profile for Success program while she was an undergraduate at U-M. The ground-breaking program, then coordinated by Katcher, brought a cohort of prospective dental students from around the country to give them insight into dental school and prepare them for the Dental Admission Test. The summer enrichment program is now in its 23rd year of providing support for students who are disadvantaged educationally, socially or economically, or who have shown a demonstrated commitment to improving the health of underserved populations.

Thomas said Katcher was unfailingly supportive throughout her years with PFS and during dental school. "Pattie has always been a strong force within the dental school," Thomas said. "Her smile has always been warm. Most of the conversations we had were not about dentistry, they were about life, about being positive, matriculating through the school. Overall, she is just a breath of fresh air." Katcher said she is immensely gratified by her work and the many students she has worked with over the years. "I'm so thrilled to see all these faces in the audience today - those who came before, some of whom have been around for a while, and some who are about to enter the program.  It just makes my soul happy," she said.

Also receiving an award was an alumnus, Dr. Art Johnson (DDS 1993), an Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon from California. He was recognized for his work in helping to establish the SNDA Jamaica outreach program. Dr. Johnson helped sponsor students to attend the Jamaica program beginning in 2006. The program has continued to grow and for the last eight years it has been under the faculty leadership of Dr. Elliott Hill and Dr. Kyle Pullen; this year, 18 dental students participated. 

Dr. Todd Ester, the school's Director of Diversity and Inclusion, noted the strength of the alumni community that returned to Ann Arbor for the King's Feast, coming from California, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Ohio in addition to Michigan. Current and future students will develop those same bonds with each other, the school and the profession, Ester said, and it is worth celebrating, particularly at a time when the country seems especially divided. "What we're dealing with in life right now, sometimes you feel like it is the worst of times," he said. "But in this room tonight if you just look around and you hug somebody and you see a smile, it feels like it is the best of times. … There's something special about when we come together - not about identity, not about what we look like -- just because we care, because we're human beings."

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The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation's leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu.  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at dentistry.communications@umich.edu, or (734) 615-1971.