Every summer, Dr. Alvin Powell’s family drove from Boston to Alabama to visit relatives. He recalled the games, singing, and conversations the family of ten enjoyed to pass the hours on the road. For meals they stopped to eat the sandwiches his mother had packed. They used the "facilities" on the side of the road—behind the bushes—girls first, then boys. They pulled into truckstops overnight, sleeping in the car. As a boy, Dr. Powell loved these trips, and thought everyone traveled this way. It wasn’t until he was older that he realized that because they were traveling into the southern United States, they brought food along because they could not go into the restaurants to eat; they used the shelter of the bushes for a restroom because they couldn’t use the public restroom facilities; they slept in the car because they were not allowed to pay for and sleep in a motel. He realized that his parents were protecting them from the indignity associated with legalized racial segregation and discrimination in America.
Dr. Powell was one of the first students of color at RL. He is now is a distinguished nephrologist and internal medicine physician in Greensboro, North Carolina. He returned to Roxbury Latin on 11 January to deliver the Martin Luther King commemoration Hall address.
With the historical backdrop of the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Powell personalized a brief history of segregation and discrimination as it related to his family, his education, and his profession of medicine—including redlining and busing in Boston in the ’60s and ’70s; taunts and racial slurs in West Roxbury streets; and, ultimately, the desegregation of hospitals in the South. In 1965, three years before entering RL as a sixie, Dr. Powell remembers holding hands and singing songs as he and his family joined their neighbors in Dr. King’s Freedom March from Dudley Station to the Boston Common.
Affiliated with Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, Dr. Powell grew up in Roxbury and earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia and his medical degree from Tufts. In 1982, Dr. Powell received a Henry J. Kaiser National Merit Award, given nationally to minority graduate students who demonstrated exceptional academic achievement. He has served in various leadership capacities in his field, both clinical and managerial. For 28 years he was a partner with Carolina Kidney Associates in Greensboro. He worked for the National Health Service Corp in Ft. Pierce, Florida, and one of his great passions is embarking on medical mission trips to Haiti and Honduras. He recently finished a project commemorating a historic, 1963 landmark lawsuit decision responsible for desegregating US hospitals.