Centennial Celebration: An Albion Birthday Bash for Dr. James Curtis
May 27, 2022
Albion College recently celebrated with esteemed alumnus Dr. James L. Curtis, ’44, as he marked his 100th birthday in Upper Baldwin with his family, friends and members of the community.
The event was a tribute to a life well lived in service to others. Every member of the audience had a story to tell about how Curtis impacted them in their lives and how profoundly it changed them. The evening was filled with laughter, love and tears — along with blues music and vanilla cupcakes (Curtis’ two requests for the evening).
“In planning this event with and through Dr. Curtis, I continue to be inspired by his vocation, advocacy and principles,” said Dr. Ashley Woodson, dean of the School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement (SPP). “He is committed to higher education access for diverse students, a guiding feature of the mission of SPP. He is my favorite part of my job!”
Several proclamations and resolutions were read aloud during the ceremony — from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer; a musical tribute from alumnus Jontaj Wallace, ’20; Albion’s Interim President Joe Calvaruso, ’78, who read the Board of Trustees resolution; Curtis Institute for Race and Belonging Faculty Director Dr. Dominick Quinney; and Mayor Victoria Garcia Snyder, who read a proclamation from the City of Albion. Albion NAACP Chapter President Robert Dunklin’s resolution was read by Albion professor emeritus of history Dr. Wes Dick; Talmon Butler read the resolution from Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity; and Lisa Harris, ’89, gave remarks from the family.
The Albion College Board of Trustees resolution celebrated and honored Curtis’ life work in the areas of scholarship, medical practice and mentorship of countless youth. His dedication and steadfastness are hallmarks of the Albion College community.
“As a Board, as an institution and as individuals, we wanted to honor Dr. Curtis with a lasting document that acknowledged not only his academic and career achievements, but his outstanding contributions to society,” said Calvaruso, who is also a trustee for Albion College. “Dr. Curtis spends every moment of his day looking for ways to help youth and their experiences. He is inspirational to all of us. It is truly an honor to interact with Dr. Curtis and to learn from him.”
Curtis was born in Jeffersonville, Ga., April 27, 1922, the son of parents Will and Frances (Hall) Curtis, who instilled the values of education, positive racial identity, personal resilience and collective struggle in him. As he has throughout his life, Curtis surmounted significant racial and socioeconomic hurdles to earn his high school diploma from Albion High School in 1940, his B.S. in biology from Albion College in 1944 and his M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1946.
Over the next five decades, Curtis established himself as an expert in the recruitment, retention and development of diverse students in the health and wellness professions as a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, the associate dean of Cornell University Medical College and director of psychiatry at Harlem Hospital Center. He has also authored three books that continue to inform best practice at Albion College, and across disciplines in the fields of medicine, history and Black studies.
Curtis is a beloved and awarded alumnus of Albion College, receiving — among other recognitions — the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1968, an honorable Doctor of Science degree for contributions in the field of medicine in 1992, and the Service Award from the Black Student Alliance and Office of Intercultural Affairs and Mackinac Leadership Award from President Mauri Ditzler, both in 2018. In 2020, Curtis lent his name to the James L. Curtis Alumni Leadership Award for Black alumni who have made significant contributions of time and effort to Albion College and its students.
Curtis’ vision for equity and excellence in education inspired him to lend both his name and resources to establish the James L. Curtis Institute for Race and Belonging. This experiential learning institute has as its mission to integrate and model hope, reparation and community as guiding principles for justice-driven experiential education, with an emphasis on inclusive science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
Curtis is the living embodiment of Albion College’s mission and values, namely by promoting excellence in the liberal arts tradition, demonstrating a learning-centered commitment, maintaining a future-oriented perspective, advancing work to improve the human and global condition, and continuing as a skilled architect of societal change.
Marc Newman, vice president for institutional advancement, said, “Dr. Curtis is someone everyone in the community and at the College reveres. He has been dedicated throughout his life to ensuring that scholarship, education and mentorship were always at the center of the conversation. And with the establishment of the Curtis Institute for Race and Belonging, he is making sure that continues and is the focus for years to come. His forward thinking has always set him apart, and we are thrilled he is a part of our Albion family.”
To contribute to the Curtis Institute for Race and Belonging, please visit the Giving website.