Reflections on 20 years at the Association of Black Cardiologists

Cardiology Review® Online, June 2007, Volume 24, Issue 6

Reflections on 20 years at the Association of Black Cardiologists

The following remarks were delivered by B. Waine Kong, Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Black Cardiologists, at a March 2007 dinner honoring his 20th anniversary at the helm of this organization.

I am humbled and thankful to all of you for such an outpouring of affection and appreciation. I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it makes me feel to have been honored in this way. I am touched by all that has been shared.

To my dear wife, you are my inspiration. Thank you, my children, for sharing this important day with me. I am blessed to have happy, successful children who have increased the quality of my life with 4 beautiful grandchildren. I am so pleased that they know their grandfather.

Reader's Digest

I am lucky to still have my dear mother, who worries that, as a lawyer, I will not get into heaven. At 85 years old, my mother still has the energy to fix me dinner once a week and to share her stories with me. I always start my daily calls by asking how she is doing and she invariably replies, "I am still above the ground and taking nourishment."

I am most thankful for the Association of Black Cardiologists' (ABC) staff. You are a talented lot that cares deeply about the ABC. I might add that Ms Cassandra McCullough has served with me for 10 of my 20 years. To our founders, your vision created this organization and your shoulders are the ones on which we have stood these last 34 years. We have progressed from an itinerant organization to one that has surpassed even your lofty ambitions. The proof of your greatness stands at 5355 Hunter Road in Atlanta: our International Library, Research, and Conference Center.

I especially wish to thank Dr Elijah Saunders, my friend, the best man at my wedding, my mentor, and the person who was primarily responsible for hiring me as chief executive officer (CEO) 20 years ago. Thanks to my friend Dr Joe Hargrove, one of the most unselfish men I know; to my new sister (her father adopted me last year!), Dr Elizabeth Ofili, whose support is unwavering. She is both tough and regal. To my friends and supporters, Dr Jesse McGee, if I ever had to go into battle, I want you with me; Dr Malcolm Taylor, who served wonderfully as master of ceremonies, I believe we all benefited from what you shared with us in your inaugural speech years ago: "If you have God, family, friends, and the ABC, you may stumble but you will never hit the ground."

I have now served 10 presidents who have all been dedicated and passionate about the ABC. Dr DeVaughn, I thank you for your confidence in my leadership and for the generosity of your family. Very early in his tenure as president, I was having dinner with him and his wife, Pam. I said, "Pam, you should consider buying a grand piano for the ABC auditorium. "Without much contemplation or even consultation with Dr DeVaughn, she simply said, "OK." In a few weeks, a beautiful grand piano was delivered. We are all grateful to Dr DeVaughn and Dr Pam Hoffman-DeVaughn for their generous spirits. I obviously can't thank everyone that has been instrumental in molding me into the CEO who is being honored today. Many of you have supported me and invited me into your homes and families. You all have been extremely kind. Thank you all for sharing your lives with me.

We have shared many triumphs, sorrows, and joys over the years, but there may still be a few things about me that you don't know. For example, that my father migrated to Jamaica after the Japanese invaded China and my mother was a country girl who met my father when she went to Kingston looking for a job. I was actually raised by my grandmother in Woodlands, Jamaica; a very poor hamlet where the average annual income is still less than $500. My first introduction to medicine was at the knee of my grandmother, Ms Rosy. She gave us cerasse tea to cure a stomachache or a fever, used chickweed to heal our wounds, and, once a year, gave us the dreaded cod liver oil and senna tea to rid us of worms. I had my first tooth extraction by the local shoemaker with a pair of pliers after they gave me a shot of rum. I was a vegetarian before it became popular. We had no radio,TV, library, newspapers, running water, sewage, electricity, or paved roads, but, to me, it was still the most ideal environment to raise children. I never missed a day of school, Sunday school, or church. Whenever we had company or visited others, it was the children's responsibility to entertain. We were encouraged to be very creative. Notwithstanding my humble beginnings, I consider myself blessed.

Now, for 20 years, I have been blessed to have had the best job in the world. The ABC is truly a family. For those of you who are new to the ABC, it must seem odd that there was so much hugging and kissing among members who genuinely love and are glad to see each other. I take the privilege of dancing with Dr Edith Irby Jones every chance I get. Stephanie and I have taken many trips to Boston at the bid whist table. I have been able to work in and enjoy more than 100 countries and have had the honor and privilege of working with many celebrities including Phylicia Rashad, Robert Guilliame, Maya Angelou, and James Earl Jones. In 1979, we even paid Oprah Winfrey $500 for 4 hours of work, sitting together in a recording studio in Baltimore narrating a slide presentation about the church blood pressure control program we pioneered.

I am also, however, troubled by something I am picking up on in society and, in some measure, at the ABC. I feel a little sad that as much as we have benefited from the civil rights struggle, folks are just not as proud of their membership in the National Medical Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, or the ABC as we once were.

Over the past 15 years, the ABC has awarded more than $1 million in fellowships; but, so far, only 3 recipients have made a contribution back to the organization now that they are prospering. We successfully help numerous people who are unfairly treated, but even those members who directly benefit from our intervention develop amnesia. Something insidious is going on here. I don't understand it; I don't like it; and it is obviously adversely affecting the ABC. Although we have $15 million in assets against a $7 million loan, we are not receiving the support we were hoping for. We need your support.

Let me ask you something. If not for the ABC:

  • Who would advocate for improved cardiovascular disease treatment in our communities?
  • Who would rally for more training slots for our fellows?
  • Who would honor our heroes and sheroes?
  • Who will tell our story and house our archives?
  • Who will champion the advancement of our magnificent scholars and leaders?
  • Who would sensitize the medical community on the unique needs of our patients?
  • Who would empower our patients to live longer, healthier lives?

Ladies and gentleman, if you cannot build a lighthouse, at least light a candle. Help us to achieve prosperity. You need the ABC; but right now, even more, the ABC needs you. You can vote for the survival of the ABC by giving generously or you can vote for our demise by withholding your support. Please remember that one finger has very little impact but fingers working together can be a mighty weapon. The potential for the ABC to change health care and to engineer solutions to our health care system is awesome but we must rally together at this important point in our history. Let's keep our promise to usher in future generations of heart-healthy and stroke-free citizens.

Someday, we will also celebrate the end of health care disparities and an end to heart disease and stroke as a threat to our grandparents. What a day of rejoicing that will be! In the meantime and in the immeasurable words of Dr Taylor, all we need is God, family, friends like you, and the ABC.