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Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Levi S. Kirkland Sr.

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In the late 1950s, baseball legend Jackie Robinson was harassed for sitting in the waiting room at Greenville Municipal Airport. Many schools were still segregated. It was in this climate that a friend, classmate and contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther  King Jr. made history in South Carolina. 

Dr. Levi S. Kirkland Sr. became the first African American surgeon in Greenville in 1961. Kirkland’s legacy continues to lead the way for African American physicians through the action of the Levi S. Kirkland Sr. MD Society. The society has partnered with the Foundation to create a scholarship in his name to support minority students in achieving high-quality medical education and training at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. Since minority patients are 19 to 26 times more likely to seek care from a physician of their own race, these doctors have the potential to increase access to medical care for minority patients throughout South Carolina.

In May 2020, the first two recipients of the Kirkland Scholarship graduated. Scholarship recipients Amber Frazier and Zegilor Laney have juggled  clinical rotations with their studies, preparing for graduation and their next steps in beginning their careers as doctors. 

Originally from Kershaw, Laney will move his family to Charleston for his residency. He is passionate about going on to practice pediatric medicine in South Carolina. He spoke with pride about being the first class of Kirkland scholars.

“My wife and I have three children, so not having the enormous loan burden that so many of my classmates have is what made medical school possible for me,” he said.

Following in Kirkland’s footsteps, Laney wants to leave behind a legacy as a doctor that honors his community. “In the part of the state I’m from there aren’t a lot of opportunities to see a doctor without driving an hour or two in either direction,” he said. “I want to be the doctor who is local and familiar in a community like that.”