A Look Back as We Move Forward: Recognizing the legacy of Black alumni in the Department of Health Administration

February is Black History month, which recognizes and honors the achievements of Black Americans. Alongside the many exciting and interesting activities & events celebrating Black History Month around Richmond and on campus, we have taken this opportunity in the Department of Health Administration to explore our department’s own Black history.

Phillip D. Brooks (MHA ‘71), Brenda Williams MHA ‘76 (pictured with William Clinton, MHA '15, and Ciara Jones MHA '19, during a November 2018 panel), and Dr. Michael Pyles (HSOR PhD ‘90)
Photo caption: A few of the firsts: Phillip D. Brooks (MHA ‘71), Brenda Williams MHA ‘76 (pictured with William Clinton, MHA '15, and Ciara Jones MHA '19, during a November 2018 panel), and Dr. Michael Pyles (HSOR PhD ‘90). Not pictured are Dr. James A. Rollins (MSHA ’92 , HSOR PhD ‘02) and Judy Hartman (MHSA ‘02).

The contributions of our Black students to both the department and the field are numerous. As a way of history, the VCU MHA program started in 1949, the MSHA program started in 1988, and HSOR PhD program was established in 1982.  There are 2,109 MHA, MSHA, & PhD graduates listed in the department records, and of these,129 are Black graduates, representing 6% of all HAD alumni. Sixty-three percent of our Black alumni are women. The many achievements of our Black alumni rest on the shoulders of the students who came first in their programs, and their groundbreaking accomplishments:

  • The first Black male MHA student was Phillip Brooks. He started the program in 1968 and graduated in 1971. Mr. Brooks is currently the President of Norfolk Community Health Center. 
  • The first Black female MHA student was Brenda Williams. She started the program in 1973 and graduated in 1976. Ms. Williams spent the vast majority of her career at Orangeburg Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg, SC, her last formal role was VP of Strategy and Compliance at the Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.  Ms. Williams passed away in 2021.
  • The first Black male MSHA student was James A. Rollins. He started the program in 1990 and graduated in 1992. Dr. Rollins went on to complete his PhD in HSOR in 2002. Dr. Rollins held several roles within CMS as a director and medical officer. 
  • The first Black female MSHA student was Judy Hartman. She started the program in 2000 and graduated in 2002. Ms. Hartman served as a Nursing Supervisor at Henrico Doctors' Hospital, and the Director of Emergency Service and OT at Retreat Hospital (HCA) in Richmond.
  • The first Black PhD student was Michael Pyles. He started the program in 1985 and graduated in 1990. Dr. Pyles is a teaching assistant professor at VCU in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences.

Many of our VCU Black alumni are in C-suite and senior executive positions making positive and important contributions in their organizations and communities. Some examples include:

  • Denise Williams, MHA ’77. Retired Hospital executive
  • Phyllis Wingate-Jones, MHA ’81 Retired Division President, Carolinas Healthcare, NC
  • Sheryl Garland, MHA ’88, Chief of Health Impact-VCU Health, Richmond, VA
  • Clifton Porter II, BS '89. Sr VP of Government Relations, American Health Care Association. Washington, DC.
  • Abraham Segres, MHA ’91, VP Quality & Patient Safety, VHHA, Richmond, VA
  • Georgia Harrington, MSHA ’99   COO, Centra Health, Lynchburg, VA
  • Kim Bell, MHA ’00 Exec. Director of Enterprise Operations, Piedmont Healthcare, Atlanta, GA
  • Verlon Salley, MHA ’02, VP, Community Health Equity, UAB, Birmingham, AL
  • Carlos Brown, MHSA ’02, Executive Director of Support Services, VCU Health, Richmond, VA
  • Dr. Robert S.D. Higgins, MSHA’ 05   President of Brigham and Women’s Hospital-Boston, MA
  • Michael Elliott, MSHA ’07 Senior VP, Centra Health Lynchburg, VA
  • AJ Brooks, MHA ’09 Asst VP Operations, Wellstar Health System, Atlanta, GA
  • Roberta Tinch, MHA ’09, President, Inova Mt. Vernon Hospital, Alexandria, VA
  • Andrea Gwyn, MHA ‘10, President, Bon Secours Perrysburg Hospital, Perrysburg, OH
  • Dr. Joe Wilkins, MSHA, ‘11 President, Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center, Richmond, VA (also an alumni of VCU School of Physical Therapy) 
  • Chernelle Hill, MHA ’12, VP Operations (eff. 3/1/22) Sentara Obici Hospital, Suffolk, VA
  • Sheronica Barcliff, MSHA ’13 Founder and CEO, The Barcliff Group, Consulting, Atlanta, GA
  • Dr. Algin Garrett, MSHA, ‘13 Retired Chair of Dermatology, VCU Health Richmond, VA
  • Will Clinton, MHA ’15, Executive Director, Ortho Virginia, Richmond, VA
  • Dr. K.C. Ogbonna, MSHA ’17, Associate Dean, VCU School of Pharmacy
  • Antoine Ransom, MHA ’18, COO, Community Health System, Sarasota, FL

Another first in the department is our first full-time Black faculty member, Dr. Stephan Davis. Dr. Davis is an assistant professor teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses in health administration and serving as Executive Director of Inclusive Leadership Education for HAD and Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the College of Health Professions.  On Feb. 25th, Dr. Stephan Davis will launch VCU's Inclusive Leadership Education Program by hosting and moderating a national webinar titled “Black and Golden: Leveraging Black Identity as an Asset in Healthcare Leadership,” featuring prominent Black healthcare leaders, including VCU alumna Kim Bell. All are invited to attend this virtual event, and can register here.

The accomplishments mentioned above are truly impressive, however, we still have much work to do in increasing Black representation at the highest levels of the organization. As a department and program, we are committed to developing diverse and inclusive healthcare leaders who reflect the voices and experiences of the communities they serve. This is a top priority for our department as a diverse and inclusive workforce is critical to effectively addressing the healthcare needs of all. Reviewing our department's Black history has given us an opportunity to reflect on where we started, where we are, and importantly, the history we want to create.

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