Posts tagged with "Deborah Riley Draper"

illustration by Samantha Miduri for use by 360 Magazine

Celebrating Black Descendants from Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Last week at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium, Ad Council COVID Collaborative Black Coalition Against COVID-19 JOY Collective The Legacy: Tragedy to Triumph, featuring descendants of The U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee speaking about the impact of the study and its relationship to present day’s COVID-19 vaccines.

The Legacy: Tragedy to Triumph is an extension of the It’s Up To You COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative that the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative developed to help consumers get the facts about COVID-19 vaccines, with a focus on Black and Hispanic/Latino communities. Many of the descendants who participated in the film were keen to stress distinctions between the study and the pandemic, highlighting that unlike the case for their relatives in the study, the COVID-19 vaccines are being offered to all Americans and not withheld from specific communities.

The event included a screening of the short documentary, followed by panel conversations about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Black populations. Esteemed Director Deborah Riley Draper the first discussion with five descendants, where they shared how they first learned about family members involved in the study, their experiences filming the documentary, and a call to public service that compelled them to share their stories. The following descendants participated in the screening event: 

  • Lillie Tyson Head, daughter of Freddie Lee Tyson and President of the Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation. Head is a retired high school teacher and education consultant. 
  • Carmen Head Thornton, granddaughter of Freddie Lee Tyson. Thornton is a Howard University graduate and currently serves as the Director of Research, Grants & Workforce, and Interim Director of Development at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 
  • Dr. Kimberly Carr, the great-great-granddaughter of John Goode. Dr. Carr received her Ph.D. in Integrative Biosciences in 2020 from Tuskegee University and currently works as a Community Resource Specialist at the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center. 
  • Omar Neal, nephew of Freddie Lee Tyson and Former Mayor of Tuskegee. Neal was born in the same hospital ward where the Tuskegee Study took place. 
  • Leo Ware, whose two grandfathers were both part of the study. Ware is a business owner and is active with the Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation. 

The second panel discussion explored the science of vaccines and data related to current levels of vaccine adoption in the Black community and the need to keep this important yet painful history top of mind. 

  • Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor for Equity White House COVID-19 Response Team. 
  • Dr. Reed Tuckson, co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID-19
  • Howard University School of Medicine medical students Micah Brown and Jasmin Thompson 
  • Descendants Dr. Kimberly Carr and Carmen Head Thornton 

Additional Participants Included: 

  • Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, sharing remarks on behalf of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser 
  • CEO of the Howard University Hospital Anita Jenkins discussing the imperative to center the needs of the Black community given the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic. 
  • Sherry Thompson, Coalition Lead, Ad Council COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative 
  • Kelli Richardson Lawson, CEO of JOY Collective, moderated the event by sharing with guests that the impetus for the project came from an article in The Washington Post Magazine about the  It’s Up To You campaign. 

About the Film 

Directed by award-winning director and head of Coffee Bluff Pictures Deborah Riley Draper, the film follows members of six descendant families as they discuss how the study connects to the present-day pandemic and why they encourage Black Americans to learn the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones. Accompanying the film are five 60-second PSAs that together comprise the film. Each of the PSAs and the full documentary film are available online here.

For many Black Americans, the recurring theme over the last 16 months has been about Tuskegee and the collective distrust of both the medical field and government. The Ad Council and COVID Collaborative launched the It’s Up To You COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative earlier this year in full acknowledgment of the vaccine hesitancy among some members of the Black community that is often driven by The U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, commonly referred to as the Tuskegee Study. 

Connections to COVID-19 

For descendants of the men in the study, sharing the truth about what happened during the study is an opportunity to move from tragedy to triumph. 

In addition, details released from the study sparked a wave of public health and clinical research reforms and protocols that continue today, including the creation of institutional review boards in the U.S. to ensure that every study conducted on human beings is examined; and informed consent requirements, not just for clinical trials but for medical procedures as well.

In between the two panels, Washington, D.C.-based artist and muralist, Candice S. Taylor presented a special painting she created in honor of the film and descendants of the study who participated in the campaign, for whom she will provide individual prints of the new artwork. Following the panel discussions, R&B singer and songwriter Raheem DeVaughn, also hailing from the Nation’s Capital, gave a special performance of his chart-topping hit song,  Woman.

The event celebrating  The Legacy: Tragedy to Triumph film was streamed live via Roland Martin Unfiltered and is now available on YouTube and clips will be available on the NAACP’s YouTube

To learn more about the It’s Up To You campaign, The Legacy: Tragedy to Triumph film, and the descendants of The U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study At Tuskegee, visit

The Ad Council

The Ad Council has a long history of creating life-saving public service communications in times of national crisis, starting in the organization’s earliest days during World War II to September 11th and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. Its deep relationships with media outlets, the creative community, issue experts, and government leaders make the organization uniquely poised to quickly distribute life-saving information to millions of Americans.

The Ad Council is where creativity and causes converge. The non-profit organization brings together the most creative minds in advertising, media, technology, and marketing to address many of the nation’s most important causes. The Ad Council has created many of the most iconic campaigns in advertising history. Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk. Smokey Bear. Love Has No Labels.

The Ad Council’s innovative social good campaigns raise awareness, inspire action and save lives. To learn more, visit, follow the Ad Council’s communities on Facebook and Twitter, and view the creative on YouTube

COVID Collaborative 

COVID Collaborative, a project of UNITE, is a national assembly of experts, leaders, and institutions in health, education, and the economy and associations representing the diversity of the country to turn the tide on the pandemic by supporting federal, state, and local COVID-19 response efforts.

The COVID Collaborative is co-chaired by former Governor and U.S. Senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID) and former Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) and led by CEO John Bridgeland and President Gary Edson. COVID Collaborative includes expertise from across Republican and Democratic administrations at the federal, state, and local levels, including former FDA commissioners, CDC directors, and U.S. surgeon generals; former U.S. secretaries of Education, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services; leading public health experts and institutions that span the country; the Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the NAACP, UnidosUS and the National Congress of American Indians; the Skoll Foundation, The Allstate Foundation, and The Rockefeller Foundation; and associations representing those on the front lines, from the American Public Health Association and Association of State and Territorial Health Officials to the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools. Tim Shriver is Chairman of UNITE. To learn more, visit, and follow the COVID Collaborative on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Film Premiere illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

Twenty Pearls Premiere


Comcast NBCUniversal is excited to announce the exclusive premiere of the documentary film “Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated”, arriving Friday, March 26 on its newly launched Black Experience on Xfinity Channel, available on X1, Flex, and on-the-go with the Xfinity Stream app.

From award-winning filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper, produced by Coffee Bluff Pictures, and narrated by Phylicia Rashād, Twenty Pearls closely examines the founding and legacy of the first Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, which is now regarded as one of the most significant and influential Black organizations in historyThe documentary tells a powerful story of sisterhood. In 1908, nine Black women enrolled at Howard University made one decision that would change the course of history. These college students created Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. For over 113 years, the sorority has influenced many of the most famous watershed moments in history.

Through narration, interviews, and rarely seen archival materials, the audience will see the sorority’s impact on World War II, NASA, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) culminating in the historic election of America’s first Black and South Asian woman Vice President. Twenty Pearls features interviews with members of the sorority including Vice President Kamala HarrisMiss Universe Ireland 2019 Fionnghuala O’ReillySmithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch III, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Fierst, great-granddaughter of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, International President and CEO of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated Dr. Glenda Glover and many more.

Watch the Twenty Pearls trailer hereTrailer

“This is an extraordinary time to look back at our past to serve our future,” added filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper. “A future where Black women are centered. Helming this documentary love letter to the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the generations of women that followed in their footsteps, and to all Black women everywhere is an honor. This is an important history for all of us to know and understand.”

“We’re thrilled to work with award-winning filmmaker, Deborah Riley Draper, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority to bring this exclusive premiere to the Black Experience on Xfinity channel, furthering our company-wide mission of investing in and showcasing authentic Black stories and culture,” said Keesha Boyd, Executive Director, Multicultural Video & Entertainment, Xfinity Consumer Services. “We launched this channel to help facilitate the discovery of stories like Twenty Pearls while providing a platform for emerging Black content creators.”

“Telling our own story is essential to preserving our history and uplifting the culture,” said Alpha Kappa Alpha International President and CEO Dr. Glenda Glover. “Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated’s remarkable 113-year journey which began on the campus of Howard University is punctuated by stories of history makers, ceiling breakers, public servants, and ordinary women who have changed the course of American history.  Through this beautifully written and narrated odyssey, this film highlights in undeniable ways the vision, courage, tenacity, determination, and power of Black women while putting to bed the age-old questions about the relevance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Divine Nine sororities and fraternities.”

Black Experience on Xfinity is a first-of-its-kind destination of Black entertainment, movies, TV shows, news, and more. It features high-quality content from many of Xfinity’s existing network partners, at no additional cost, while investing millions of dollars in fostering and showcasing emerging Black content creators. The channel is the only one of its kind endorsed by the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), the world’s largest group of Black film critics that gives annual awards for excellence in film and television. Available at home on Xfinity X1 and Flex, and on-the-go with the Xfinity Stream app, the Black Experience on Xfinity will entertain, educate and uplift, featuring Black actors, writers, producers and directors. At home, Xfinity subscribers can visit channel 1622 or simply say “Black Experience” into the Voice Remote to instantly enjoy the ultimate in Black storytelling.

Visit Xfinity to learn more about the Black Experience on Xfinity and other Black programming available on X1, Flex, and the Xfinity Stream app. Visit Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated to learn more about Twenty Pearls, which premieres on March 26 on Xfinity and is free for subscribers, and will be available nationwide, on-demand, starting on March 30, 2021.