Zahra Alisa and Milania Harris MLK Awardees
From organizing dialogues to establishing a new nursing pledge, Harris and Alisa were instrumental in and leaders of the School's anti-racist efforts.

Most years, the committee that reviews nominations for UVA Health's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award receives dozens of nominations, and selects just two individuals to receive the distinguished award.

2020, of course, was hardly a normal year.

Among the 11 awardees to earn the 2021 MLK Award from UVA Health were two third-year BSN students, Milania Harris and Zahra Alisa, who were integral to the School of Nursing's response to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, along the way becoming inventors of a new vision for a student group and champions of anti-bigotry efforts, dialogues, and learning for their peers, for School faculty and staff.

Recalled Theresa Carroll, senior assistant dean for admissions and student services at the School, in the days "after George Floyd was murdered, Milania and Zahra contacted faculty to ask how the School was planning to respond to what was going on in our country. … They suggested we consider coming together as a community, even though we were scattered [due to the pandemic], and even though we were not in session.

"From the very start, their goal was to use the School as a platform for change.”

"From the very start, their goal was to use the School as a platform for change.”

Theresa Carroll, senior assistant dean for admissions and student services, and Alisa and Harris's nominator

Across the summer months, dozens of nursing students, faculty, and staff joined in the anti-racism efforts, which included dialogues, readings of the book White Fragility. Ultimately, four work groups were formed to discuss and establish recommendations to forge meaningful change to "transform our good intentions into meaningful, substantive action," said associate dean for diversity and inclusion Susan Kools, another leader in the effort: 

  • implicit bias
  • integrating LGBTQ+ content into curricula
  • training in how to have uncomfortable conversations with people with different perspectives
  • ways to confront racism and bias in clinical settings with patients, peers, and healthcare colleagues

Alisa and Harris also established a new student group - called Advocates for Medical Equality - and developed what they called "ABIs": easy-to-read infographics and lessons across a variety of topics in the domain of equity and inclusion that are particularly salient for student clinicians-to-be, including: 

Alisa and Harris were also responsible for creating a new nursing student pledge for the School's 2020 #HoosInclusive campaign, an effort that urges individuals across the nursing community and within the School to transform their good intentions into action. The pledge - which remains emblazoned on a banner in McLeod Hall, surrounded by dozens of signatures - reads:

We acknowledge our complicity in perpetuating the unfortunate history of medical inequality, and are working to build an environment of true inclusivity and cultural humility. UVA School of Nursing does not tolerate racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or discrimination of any kind. We pledge to abide by this statement.

A full list of the awardees of the 2021 MLK Award are:

  • Zahra Alisa, 3rd-year School of Nursing student
  • Taison D. Bell, MBA, MD, Assistant Professor, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine
  • Rudy Beverly, Manager, Patient Logistics & Support Services
  • Ebony Hilton Buchholz, MD, Associate Professor, Anesthesiology
  • Mark Fleming, MD, General Surgery Resident
  • Milania Harris, 3rd-year School of Nursing student
  • The Housestaff Council on Diversity & Inclusion
  • Sana Syed, MD, MS, Assistant Professor, Pediatric Gastroenterology
  • Tiana Walker, 3rd-year School of Medicine student
  • Bryant Cameron Webb, JD, MD, Assistant Professor, General Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care
  • Leigh Ann Webb, MD, MBA, FACEP, Assistant Professor, Emergency Medicine