Two Spelman College students are the first recipients of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., Scholarship. Sophomores Chablise Davis and Cylantra Dees will each receive renewable $25,000 scholarships. The self-identified LGBTQ advocates were selected because of their academic achievements and their ability to emerge as courageous leaders at Spelman and in the LGBTQ community.
“Chablise and Cylantra have already begun to embrace their role of scholar activists,” said Cynthia Neal Spence, Ph.D., associate professor and director of both the Social Justice Fellows program and the UNCF/Mellon program. Dr. Neal Spence was chair of the selection committee. “A review of their applications revealed students who have reflected upon the complexities associated with understanding and valuing the diverse identities and experiences of members of the LGBTQ community.”
Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., a Spelman honorary degree recipient, helped open the door to hundreds of students of color at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Watkins was the first surgeon to successfully implant an automatic heart defibrillator in a human. The influential civil rights activist was the first Black student to graduate with a medical degree from Vanderbilt University in 1970. He went on to become the first Black chief resident of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and later became a professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Dr. Watkins was also a member of Spelman’s Women’s Research and Resource Center’s National Advisory Board from its establishment in 2008 until his death in 2015, and a generous donor to its endowment campaign. The WRRC program places an emphasis on Black feminist theory, women’s health, digital media documentation stories of women’s lives, and activism.
Dr. Watkins’ cousin, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, C’66, Ph.D., is the founding director of the WRRC and the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies. She created the scholarship to honor her cousin and continue his legacy.
“The center of my collegiate career so far has been balancing my engagement with social justice advocacy while maintaining academic stability,” said Dees. “To me, the honor of the Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. Scholarship means embracing that balance.”
The comparative women’s studies major has maintained a 3.73 grade-point average while being a persistent defender of LGBTQ rights. “The lasting impact of the scholarship will help me advocate as a queer student for queer students and reach my goals of campus-wide support for scholars like me.”
The scholars program and lecture series were launched with a pledge of $100,000 from the Levi Watkins Jr./Beverly Guy-Sheftall Charitable Trust.
Beginning in 2018, the program will include a companion lecture series at Spelman that will explore contemporary issues of race, gender and sexuality.
“It is the greatest blessing to be able to continue to advocate for the LGBTQ community on this campus,” said Davis. Davis is majoring in psychology and plans to use her degree to impact the lives of others.
“This is only the beginning of my legacy at Spelman College and I am looking forward to thriving personally and professionally now that I know the financial aspect of my education is taken care of,” said Davis.