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Tribute highlights Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘legacy of love, service, equality and justice’

Valerie Wedge accepts Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

February 26, 2020

The UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care community celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 32nd annual tribute on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Valerie Wedge, MSW, program director for the UMMS Employee Assistance Program, was recognized as the recipient of the 2020 Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion.

“The annual tribute compels each of us to reflect, both at the individual and institutional levels, on who we are, what we stand for and where we want to be,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins at the event, held at the Medical School. “While this year’s gathering is taking place well after the MLK holiday, it is incumbent upon us to shine a light on Dr. King’s rich legacy of love, service, equality and justice not only around the holiday that bears his name, but throughout the entire year.”

Wedge was cited for her tireless efforts to fight domestic violence; countless hours volunteering for the Committee for Equal Opportunity and Diversity; and expert consultation to local community service organizations including the YMCA, the YWCA and the Worcester Housing Authority.

“An agent for change and a champion for progress, you have demonstrated an inspired commitment to cultural competence, helping to transform the EAP into a more inclusive, welcoming and effective resource for our employees,” Chancellor Collins said. “Through education, awareness and your daily interactions, you have given prominence and permanence to cultural competence as a foundational value of our institution.”

Keynote speaker Robert L. Satcher, MD, PhD, juxtaposed how the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was ahead of its time in recruiting and training African Americans to be astronauts, a pioneering cohort of which he is a member, during the turbulent civil rights movement of which Dr. King was a central figure. Dr. Satcher, associate professor of orthopedic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and a space shuttle astronaut who walked in space, shared his “observations from orbit” as to the relevance of race, diversity and inclusion in challenging times.

Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, presented the 2020 MLK Semester of Service Awards to nine students: Cindy Le, SOM ’23; Thomas Kania, SOM ’23; John Romano, SOM ’22; Michael Wang, SOM ’23; Lucinda Chiu, SOM ’21; Elya Reznichenko, SOM ’22; Katherine Cooper, SOM ’22; Rachel Anderson, SOM ’22; and Grace Masters, MD/PhD candidate.

The MLK Semester of Service Student Award program is a community service initiative that enhances health care education for UMMS students as they expand the institution’s impact and reach in the communities that surround the Worcester campus. The four winning projects will deploy the $500 awards to implement community service programs that will help improve access to cervical cancer screening, train youth in a lifesaving emergency intervention, integrate medical health records into free medical care and expand tutoring opportunities for high school students.

The event concluded with all in attendance singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” led by the powerful voice of Maria Puliafico, administrative assistant in the Office of Financial Aid.

Related story on UMassMedNow:
MLK Semester of Service awardees will address local health and education needs