Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Series

Each January, Vanderbilt’s Office for Diversity Affairs, in partnership with Vanderbilt School of Nursing, sponsors the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Series in honor of the beloved civil rights leader. We look forward to hosting this lecture series to inspire our own leaders at the beginning of each year.

Recent speakers include:

2021 - David A. Acosta, M.D.

David Acosta

David Acosta joined the AAMC from the University of California (UC), Davis School of Medicine where he served as senior associate dean for equity, diversity, and inclusion and associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer for UC Davis Health System. He previously served as the inaugural chief diversity officer at the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, where he established a rural health fellowship program for Tacoma Family Medicine, a residency program affiliated with the UW Department of Family Medicine.
Dr. Acosta received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Loyola University and earned his medical degree from the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. He completed his residency training at Community Hospital of Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, Calif., and a faculty development fellowship at the UW Department of Family Medicine.










2020 – Phyllis Sharps, Ph.D., R.N.

Phyllis Sharps

Phyllis Sharps, PhD, RN, holds the Elsie M. Lawler Endowed Chair and is associate dean for Community Programs and Initiatives and a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. Sharps is the director for two community nurse-managed centers for the School of Nursing – East Baltimore Community Nurse Centers and the Health and Wellness Program at the Henderson Hopkins Partnership School. She has published numerous articles on improving reproductive health and reducing violence among African American women. Her practice and research examine the consequences of intimate partner violence (IPV) on the physical and mental health of pregnant women, infants and very young children.








2019 – Deborah Deas, M.D., M.P.H.

Deborah Deas

Deborah Deas, MD, MPH, is the Mark and Pam Rubin Dean of the School of Medicine and chief executive officer for Clinical Affairs at the University of California, Riverside. Prior to joining the University of California, Deas was the interim dean of the College of Medicine and professor of Psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. During her tenure, she served as senior associate dean for medical education, chief academic officer, associate dean for admissions, and led the College of Medicine’s committee on accreditation by the Liaison Committee for Medical Education. Her research interests include pharmacotherapy and psychosocial treatments of adolescents and adults with substance use disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and anxiety disorders. She has published articles in several peer-reviewed journals and won multiple awards and honors for her work.









2018 – Debra Barksdale, D.N.P.

Debra Barksdale

Debra J. Barksdale is a professor and the associate dean of academic affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Nursing. Certified as a family nurse practitioner, Barksdale is an adult nurse practitioner and a nurse educator. Her research focuses on stress and cardiovascular disease in the African American community. Her former NIH-funded study, “Hypertension in Black Americans: Environment, Behavior and Biology,” explores the underlying hemodynamic determinants of hypertension. Barksdale is past president of the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and is a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows alumna. She is a member of the Board of Governors of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and recently was named an American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Wharton fellow.









2017 – David Gordon, M.D.

David Gordon

David Gordon is dean of the University of Akron College of Health Professions. Prior to becoming a dean at the University of Akron, Gordon served as dean of the University of Michigan-Flint’s School of Health Professions and Studies. He received his B.A. in chemistry from Amherst College in 1973 and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1979.







2016 – Rita Adeniran, D.N.P.

Rita Adeniran

Dr. Rita K. Adeniran is president and CEO of Innovative and Inclusive Global Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in helping health care organizations leverage the total capacity of their workforce for enhanced productivity and optimal patient outcomes.

Born in Nigeria, Adeniran received her basic nursing education at Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, earning her baccalaureate in nursing from Widener University in Pennsylvania. She holds a Master of Nursing Science and Health Care Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and received her Doctor of Nursing practice from Drexel University, Philadelphia.

A 2011-2015 member of the Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows Program, Adeniran is also a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, the highest recognition for nurses making impactful contributions to nursing, health and health care. She holds memberships in numerous professional organizations while serving on a variety of boards and committees.











2015 – James Forman, Jr., J.D.

James Forman Jr

James Forman, Jr. is a clinical professor of Law and supervising attorney at Yale Law School. Forman teaches Constitutional Law and a seminar on Race and the Criminal Justice System. He also runs a clinic called the Educational Opportunity and Juvenile Justice Clinic. He and his students represent young people facing expulsion from school for discipline violations and works to keep their clients in school and on track toward graduation.

In 1997, Forman co-founded an alternative school for children in the juvenile justice system in Washington D.C. Since its opening, the Maya Angelou Public Charter School has transformed the lives of the students. Since 2007, the program has expanded and now is operational within the D.C. juvenile prison.