January 16, 2015, Allison Kalloo ’83 took to the stage to share her story for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day All School Meeting.
As founder and CEO of Clinical Ambassador LLC, Ms. Kalloo advocates the need for better and broader participation in clinical trials. She is a second-generation graduate (with honors) from North Carolina Central University (an HBCU), where she was a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Minority Access to Research Careers and National Science Foundation fellowship awardee. Ms. Kalloo also earned a Master of Public Health degree from Yale University.
In her address to students, Ms. Kalloo explained that Madeira and Martin Luther King represent one degree of separation – her mother. Her mother met Martin Luther King, Jr. and was the reason Ms. Kalloo attended Madeira. She explained that it was her mother who loved Lucy Madeira’s mission and vision of preparing young women to be agents of change in their communities. She cited that beyond reading, writing and all the other academic skills gained at Madeira, she learned that one person can make a change stating, “I came away with an assurance that I alone am enough to have an impact. Even more than that, my unique talents and passion are supposed to be of service to the world.”
She shared much of her mother’s story: that she grew up in the segregated south, participated in the Civil Rights Movement, met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and that she eventually became lead virologist for the District of Columbia Department of Health, an expert on swine flu, rabies, and smallpox, and was a frequent consultant to the Centers for Disease Control. She told of how in a tragic set of events, led to her mother’s death, and how her mother’s participation in clinical trials inspired her to see the importance of such trials. Now her life’s passion, Ms. Kalloo intends to affect the cultural competence and practices of academic research, commercial drug development by the pharmaceutical industry, and the federal policies that govern the way studies are designed, conducted, approved, and promoted through her organization Clinical Ambassador.
Though we have come such a far way since the Civil Rights Movement, the fact that racial and ethnic minorities have failed to achieve equal health care or equal health outcomes still shows there is still work to be done. Despite guidelines put into place by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), minority and women participation in clinical trials has traditionally been lower than that of white men. “If we’re relying on medicine that is not really evidence-based across all populations taking it, this means we are taking for granted that one size fits all. In too many instances, current diagnostic and therapeutic decisions that affect patients’ wellbeing and health outcomes are based on data gathered in patient populations not representative of the patients who will bear the consequences of these decisions.”
Closing her speech, Ms. Kalloo gave Madeira girls a call to action:
“Don’t think for a moment that you can rest on this Madeira pedigree, or your heritage, either. Whether you come from material wealth or material poverty, we each have a grave social responsibility, a role to play, and a vested interest in moving this culture forward. You may not have realized this when you became a Madeira girl, but you signed an oath to advance our society. By virtue of Lucy Madeira’s legacy, you were granted admission because the empowerment of women means something and produces change makers.
For generations of Madeira girls past, present, and future, the sacred unspoken pledge means that you don’t get to be here, to do this, to wear the Madeira crest on your chest—without doing something significant. You have an obligation to do more than just dream. You have to challenge the status quo for the greater good.
I’ve learned that legacy is not only something that remains after you have gone–either into the next realm or into the next room. Legacy is what you create daily. It’s what you’re building now. All of what you do pays homage to those who’ve invested in you. And for some who paid the ultimate price. You are the dividend.
So, may it be for us today and always, that the best way to respect our time here at Madeira, and to salute Martin Luther King’s principles—and that of our ancestors—is to do something of service to humanity. Do something that matters. Pay it forward.”Student Life Leadership Alumnae