Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., UVA Health System Award Winners Honored

January 24, 2024 by

MLK UVA Health Awards Recipients 2023

Rose Emily Gonzalez, Mesha Jones, Donna Nkurunziza, Morgan Allen, Jeanne Alhusen, and Alfred Wilson (pictured left to right)

Established in 2013, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. UVA Health Award is presented annually to a student, faculty, or staff member of UVA Health who embodies Dr. King’s values and teachings in cultural competence, healthcare disparities, or fostering an environment of inclusiveness, in accordance with the institution’s mission and values.

This 2023 awardees, Jeanne Alhusen, Morgan Allen and Donna Nkurunziza, Rose Emily Gonzalez, Mesha Jones, and Alfred Wilson, were honored at a ceremony on January 18 at the Rotunda. The keynote speaker for the event was the Honorable Juandiego Wade, Mayor of Charlottesville, who was introduced by Wendy Horton, PharmD, Chief Executive Officer, UVA Medical Center.

Wendy Horton Tracy Downs Melina Kibbe and Juandiego Wade

(lt to rt): Wendy Horton, Tracy Downs, Melina Kibbe, and Juandiego Wade

Tracy M. Downs, MD, Chief Diversity & Community Engagement Officer, UVA Health and Sr. Associate Dean, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, UVA School of Medicine, provided opening remarks to the more than 60 attendees.

Melina Kibbe, MD, Dean, UVA School of Medicine and Chief Health Affairs Officer, UVA Health; Marianne Baernholdt, PhD, Dean, UVA School of Nursing; and Marquita Taylor, PhD, Associate Director Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, UVA Cancer Center extended personal greetings and congratulations to the honorees.

Congratulations to all the recipients! Enjoy the photos below and read more about the winners’ efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion across UVA Health. Nominations for this award are accepted annually in the fall. Contact the UVA Health Diversity and Community Engagement Office for more information.

Learn About the Awardees

Jeanne Alhusen, PhD, CRNP, RN, FAAN
In their nomination letter, Marianne Baernholdt, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor and Dean, UVA School of Nursing, and Melissa Gomes, PhD, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FNAP, FAAN, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said, “Jeanne is a nurse scientist with more than $8.5 million in research grants, a celebrated mentor to nursing students and junior faculty, and a source of inspiration and support to her colleagues and peers. A nationally lauded scholar and a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, she’s also an award-winning professor, community-, and thought-leader. Her foundational research — she was the first scientist to demonstrate the link between exposure to violence during pregnancy and infants’ risk of being born small-for-gestational-age — is included in the U.S. Preventatives Services Task Force’s recommendations on screening for intimate partner violence and its guidelines to prevent perinatal depression. She is well-known, well-funded, and well-regarded here, among her healthcare peers, and across the country.”

Morgan Allen and Donna Nkurunziza
In their nomination letter, Marianne Baernholdt, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor and Dean, UVA School of Nursing, and Sarah Craig, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, CHSE, CNE, Associate Professor, UVA School of Nursing, said this of the Founders of the Black Student Nurses Alliance (BSNA), “Thanks to the creativity, organization, and energy of its student leaders, especially founders Morgan Allen (president) and Donna Nkurunziza (vice president), along with Elizabeth Zeleke, Amia Graham, Niyah Harris, Elize Nganou, and Mya Johnson, BSNA has been both extraordinarily active and effective. The group executed Thanksgiving card drives to thank UVA Health nurses and delivered dozens of handwritten cards with sweets they bought and baked to five hospital units on Thanksgiving Day. Through bake sales at the School of Nursing, on the Corner, and at UVA football games, they raised funds to do meaningful good: in 2022, they donated funds raised to the Birth Sisters of Charlottesville, a doula collective for diverse women (who experience higher maternal and infant mortality rates), and, in 2023, raised funds to purchase 1,500 bilirubin strips for a NICU at Winneba Municipal Hospital in Ghana, a device that detects the liver disease that causes jaundice in infants.”

Rose Emily Gonzalez, PhD
In their nomination letter, Stephanie McNerney, CPNP, Division of Neurobehavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, and Matthew Thomas, ScM, CGC, Genetic Counselor, Department of Pediatrics, said, “Dr. Gonzalez’s level of engagement and integration for DEI and clinics work offers a vibrant and meaningful example of our current state. At this point, most individuals in higher education and medical professionals can talk the talk for DEI, whereas Dr. Gonzalez has the rare gift of being able to see and hear the invisible messages, power dynamics, and perspective of privilege that mark our decisions, planning, connections; calling out our best intentions with astute observations. She speaks up often and continues to hold our group accountable. She has the respect of her colleagues because she is a consistent example of praxis and integration.”

Mesha Jones, MSN, RN
In her nomination letter, Ashley Apple, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, Assistant Professor of Nursing, said, “Mesha started her healthcare career as a patient care tech at UVA hospital. With the support and encouragement of her family, friends, and colleagues, she enrolled in an accelerated associate degree nursing program and fulfilled her dream to become a nurse. She went on to earn her BSN and MSN, and she’s now an absolute powerhouse in nursing leadership, mentorship, and advancing equity and inclusion in healthcare. … Earlier this year, Mesha had an opportunity to attend an event with President Biden — so of course she took a UVA nursing student along with her. That’s just the kind of person she is — she leverages her position and success to lift others up and bring them along in the journey. What an amazing experience to share with a student!”

Alfred Wilson, Corporate Paralegal
In her nomination letter, Anne Bachmann, General Counsel, UPG, said, “While his work habits are certainly to be commended, it is his service to our community beyond his work here that truly supports his candidacy for this award. I don’t know where he finds free time, but when he has it, he spends it in the service of others. There are many examples of this. First, following the horrible events that happened in our community in August 2017, Alfred founded Heather Heyer Foundation and obtained 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. The purpose of the foundation is “to support the education and empowerment of individuals dedicated to creating positive social change.” Through the foundation, he has provided scholarships to individuals seeking to further their education in “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Studies, Education, Law, Paralegal Studies, Social Justice, and Social Work, and who would use their education to promote positive social change.”

Previous award recipients

  • Mariana Araujo; Perry Bradford, MD; Cathy Campbell, PhD, RN; Jacqueline Carson; and Richard Merkel, MD (2022)
  • Juliana Bueno, MD, A. Rashard Dacus, MD; Akua Nyarko-Odoom; Timothy Pierce, PharmD, MSHA; and David Simmons, RN (2023)

Article written by Brian Murphy and Jennifer Aminuddin. Photos by Coe Sweet. 

Filed Under: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Featured, Honors & Awards