Celebration of Excellence 2019 Vivien t. thomas medical arts academy

In 2019, Spark Media hosted two Celebration of Excellence events at the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy in Baltimore, Maryland. Supported by Maryland Humanities, the event introduced over 100 high school students to the inspiring story of the school's namesake Vivien T. Thomas, featured in Spark Media's documentary Partners of the Heart.

The two events included a screening of an excerpt from Partners of the Heart coupled with conversations with special guests prominent in the fields of medicine and science, Vivien T. Thomas' life, and to the creation of the award-winning film, in hopes of inspiring Academy students to continue on the path to medical and vocational schools or college.

"This program is built upon the things that Vivien wanted to do in his life, and to giving our students an opportunity and an early start at such a young age."

Stephanie Farmer, Principal, Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy


Following the film screening, Academy students engaged in round table discussions with our special guests, which included members of the Thomas family, medical professionals from Johns Hopkins, and members of the crew that produced Partners of the Heart.

special guests

From the Vivien T. Thomas Family: son-in-law Harold Norris, grand niece Sharon Spann, granddaughter Marcia Rasberry-Smith and her husband Eric Smith.

From Johns Hopkins University: Director of Surgery Robert Higgins, MD; Director of Heart Transplantation Ahmet Kilic, MD; and Administrator for Biophysics for Research for Baltimore Teens at the Krieger School, Siddeeqah Fichman.

From the creative team of Partners of the Heart, Director Andrea Kalin, Consulting Producer Skip Coblyn, and actor Chris Haley (who is also the Director of the Study of the Legacy of Slavery at the Maryland State Archives). Also featured in the film was journalist and author Fraser Smith.

Special guests from top to bottom: Harold Norris, Eric Smith, Skip Coblyn, Marcia Rasberry, Fraser Smith, Sharon Spann, Dr. Robert Higgins, Chris Haley, Siddeeqah Fichmann, Dr. Ahmet Kilic, and Andrea Kalin.

Andrea Kalin, director/ producer of Partners of the Heart to students of the Academy:

"You're really in a place that's very special. I think programs like this can enrich what you know and can give you that sense of the legacy that you're carrying forward in Vivien's name."
"I did not understand when I was young that my uncle Vivien T. Thomas had assisted hundreds of medical students in the cardiac field. The magnitude of my uncle's genius makes me very proud; and every time a student hears this story, it allows his story to continue."

Sharon Spann, Thomas' grand niece

Journalist and author Fraser Smith discusses the history of the Civil Rights movement in Baltimore and how the city has changed over the decades.

Dr. Ahmet Kilic offers advice to students on the steps they need to take to get to medical school and shares his personal experiences in the operating room.

Dr. Robert Higgins shares how he was personally inspired by Vivien T. Thomas, and encourages students to reach out to him personally to arrange a visit to Johns Hopkins Hospital to observe doctors and nurses "in action."

Siddeeqah Fichmann talks to students about the Biophysics for Baltimore Teens Program at Johns Hopkins' Krieger School for Arts and Sciences. The internship program offers high school students the opportunity to conduct hands-on experience in the field of biophysics.

"Year after year Spark Media brings together students from the high school with cardiac surgeons and professionals working in the STEM field serving as a bridge between hope and reality."

Siddeeqah Fichman, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins

TOURing the academy

After the event, guests were invited on a tour of the Academy, which prepares disadvantaged youth for careers in science and medicine. In their third year, students are able to select a specific track, such as nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, sports medicine, biomedical science and emergency medicine.

The Academy has specially outfitted classrooms that simulate environments in those fields, including simulated hospital wards, ambulances and pharmacies - all built with the end goal of preparing students for careers right out of school or placing them on a fast track to medical school.

The tour concluded with a stop at the permanent Vivien T. Thomas display near the entrance of the Academy, created with Maryland Humanities support in 2017.

The exhibit features archival images of Vivien T. Thomas and newspaper clippings about his work, as well as props, costumes, and behind-the-scenes photos from Partners of the Heart.

"By providing the young people of this school district with invaluable knowledge, state-of-the-art tools, and dedicated support, the Academy has established a path to success for otherwise disadvantaged students, and a foundation upon which they can build robust careers. It is a case study that should be assessed and replicated across the nation."

Skip Coblyn - Consulting Producer, Partners of the Heart


During the Celebration of Excellence event in May 2019, the Academy was presented with an official proclamation from the Tennessee House of Representatives, memorializing Vivien T. Thomas for his remarkable accomplishments and contributions to the field of medicine. This proclamation will be included in the Academy archives and displayed for all to see. Plans are underway to approach the Maryland legislature to announce a similar proclamation in the state.

students pursue passion at johns hopkins simulation center

As part of the Celebration of Excellence program, 10 exceptional students from the Academy were given the opportunity to tour Johns Hopkins Hospital, where their school's namesake worked miracles for four decades, revolutionizing cardiac surgery and helping shape the next generation of doctors and technicians.

The highlight of the tour was a hands-on demonstration at the Hopkins Simulation Center, where students interacted with the state-of-the-art equipment that makes Hopkins one of the most prestigious teaching hospitals in the world.

When touring the hospital, Academy students learned about the spirit of medical advancement that defined Johns Hopkins Hospital when Vivien T. Thomas worked there, and how that legacy will continue in the years ahead. As the tour ended, students left for home knowing they could be a part of that legacy through hard work and dedication.


"My favorite speaker was Ms. Siddeeqah Fichman because she explained everything I needed to know." - 12th grader, V.T.M.A.A.
"What better way to illustrate to them the importance of their school's namesake than by having Vivien Thomas' family being present as well as faculty from Hopkins." - Dr. Ahmet Kilic, John Hopkins University Hospital
"It was educational, relaxing, and fun!" - 12th grader, V.T.M.A.A.
"Working with this Academy which features an amazingly relevant array of equipment, professional tools and settings, imbued me with pride and an optimism about graduates from this institution." - Chris Haley, Partners of the Heart

At Spark, we believe there is no more fitting honor to commemorate the life and work of Vivien T. Thomas than to educate and inspire the next generation of students to pursue careers in medicine.

We hope that next year's events are just as successful as this year, as we can continue to foster meaningful relationships with those impacted by Thomas' incredible story.

Dedicated to Harold Norris (1934-2019). A long-time friend of Spark Media and a strong supporter of Partners of the Heart, Harold worked tirelessly to make his father-in-law's legacy known to the next generation of students.