Trailblazing pediatrician saluted for his service
(pictured above: Greg Davis and Wanda Starke share a laugh with Dr. Kennedy (right).)
Former patients of retired pediatrician Dr. Charles “Charlie” Kennedy helped to fill a banquet hall at the Holiday Inn University Parkway Saturday.
Kennedy, who was the city’s preeminent African American pediatrician for decades, was honored during the Outreach Alliance for Babies, Inc.’s annual fundraiser.
In a videotaped message played for attendees, Kennedy’s daughter, Dr. Stacy Kennedy, said it was hard to not run into her father’s patients whenever the family went out to eat.
“It’s an interesting experience because there’s always someone working there or eating there who were one of his patients. They always come in and they come up to him and they update him on their educational status or they update him on their careers,” she said.
A Charlotte native, Dr. Charlie Kennedy attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville after graduating from Johnson C. Smith. He told the crowd that he could not afford to get from Charlotte to Tennessee for the first day of med school. A local grocery store owner gave him money for an airline ticket, just in time for him to be on hand for the first day’s roll call.
The financial support he accepted from the state required that he return to North Carolina to practice medicine for two years in a town with 15,000 people or less. Instead of following that path, he borrowed money from the Winston-Salem Foundation to pay off the state. Untethered, he decided to train at the newly-integrated Wake Forest Medical School, becoming the first African American to do so.
“Doing my training over there, it was almost unreal how it went,” he said. “I didn’t have not one iota of difficulty, disrespect or anything over there; it was almost unreal how well things went for me.”
For half of his more than 40-year career, he was the city’s only black pediatrician. He also became the first and only African American chief of Pediatrics at Forsyth Medical Center. Kennedy had a personal connection to his patients and was emotionally affected by those who lacked financial resources. He was driven even more to help those in need.
“If I would take myself and go far enough in the past, I could’ve been that child sitting on that bench,” he said. “I made it, but I didn’t do it by myself.”
Kennedy became the local chairman of the United Negro College Fund, annually hosting one of the organization’s signature fundraisers, the Kennedy Evening of Elegance, which raised $2 million over 10 years.
He also made sure to practice compassion towards the patients he saw at his practice.
“No one walked out of that door without being treated, money or no money,” he said.
Outreach Alliance for Babies has a similar attitude. The nonprofit supports babies and their families in need by providing clothing, blankets, wipes, bottles, bibs and other baby supplies. The organization works with 26 community agencies, including Legal Aid, the Forsyth County Department of Social Services, Salvation Army and the Downtown Health Plaza, to identify families who need help.
“I felt like it would really be good just to give parents a positive start, as well as the baby, by giving them some new items,” said Phyllis Sample Bonds, a former pediatric nurse who started the organization in 2005 after she retired.
Initially, she had planned to just give away one basket of supplies a month, but her mission grew as community donors and the number of clients in need increased. Over the years, the agency has helped 1,975 families get what Bonds calls an “uplifting start in life.”
She is appreciative of the community’s generosity. In 2010, donors filled a truck with supplies for babies affected by the earthquake that ravaged Haiti. The fundraising banquet annually brings in about $5,000, which goes a long way for the all volunteer organization, and donations of supplies steadily come in from baby showers that church and civic groups host for the organization. The Downtown Marriott recently wrapped up its Outreach Alliance for Babies supply drive.
Outreach Alliance Board Chair Linda Hege said the families who receive help from the agency are grateful.
“It’s so amazing to see the gratitude and emotions that they have,” said Hege, a retired nurse.
WXII’s Wanda Starke and attorney Greg Davis were the hosts of Saturday’s banquet, which included an appearance by Mayor Allen Joines, who delivered a proclamation declaring “Outreach Alliance for Babies Week” in the city. The event also included a dance tribute by Jacora Lane and Nevaeh Graham, two of Kennedy’s former patients.