The Not Alone Foundation hosted its sixth annual Diamond Awards at Morehouse College’s Ray Charles Performing Arts Center in Atlanta this past weekend, honoring more than 20 trailblazers for their excellence in service, leadership, and entertainment.

Morehouse alumnus Mark Dodd founded the non-profit organization in 2006 to provide financial assistance, educational and medical resources to kidney transplant patients. 

After being diagnosed with renal failure himself, Dodd said he discovered that potential organ recipients from impoverished and middle-class backgrounds were required to raise $5,000 just to make the transplant list.

This finding inspired Dodd to found the foundation, further urged to share his personal story with Georgia patients whose financial statuses would’ve otherwise prevented them from receiving list placement. 

Dodd soulfully shared his testimony with the audience after thanking the Atlanta University Center, the foundation’s board of trustees and local sponsors for their assistance. 

“You see? Just 10 years ago I was going through these halls here at Morehouse College,” Dodd said. “At my campus center, I fell into a group talking about they didn’t’ have any insurance, couldn’t afford any copay, just could walk here and go to school. 

“But a man heard that I was in need by the name of Dr. William Cleveland,” he continued. “He took me into his practice. He gave me three charges and said keep looking at God while he is looking at you. He gave me the mandate to get good grades and stay in school. I graduated magna cum laude from Morehouse College under his care.”

A few notable achievers among this year’s long list of honorees included actor Robert Ri’chard, former Atlanta Department of Corrections Chief Patrick Labat, Justice Robert Benham and reality star Karlie Redd.

Labat, former Chief of Corrections of Atlanta Department of Corrections received an award for Outstanding Civic Engagement and spoke about one of his proudest achievements helping inmates during his many years of service.

“After a 30-year career — one of the most satisfying things we were able to do is create a true second chance program,” Labat said during his acceptance speech. “A program that allows individuals who have done five or 10 years in jail to reenter into our environments and communities with a true second chance. They become city employees, they start working on their retirements while they are incarcerated.”

Benham received a huge standing ovation as he received an award for Excellence in Government, Civic and Community Engagement. 

The Tuskegee University graduate became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of Georgia as well as the longest-standing justice, who retired one day after the ceremony. 

He ended his speech in recollection of a quote emphasized to him by his father: “A man who stands in the judgment of a man must one day stand in the judgment of the man up high.”

Cleveland, the first Black nephrologist in Georgia, was the last recipient to be honored, receiving a Lifetime Achievement in Medicine Award for his medical contributions to the community.

Nurse Bell and former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes were two of the presenters who spoke very highly of Cleveland. 

Bell shared how he supported her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and how he always opened his office doors to all patients regardless of their financial and insurance circumstances.

“(Cleveland), I could never ever thank you enough for what you have done for the community,” Bell said. “That’s why everybody loves you so much. There will never be another William Cleveland in our lifetime. 

“He has set the mark, a mark that can never ever be erased in the minds of all the people he has treated from the 70s on until now – and still looking good, still walking, still seeing patients every day,” he continued. “He doesn’t miss a beat and he doesn’t complain.”

Dodd concluded the ceremony giving more thanks to the kidney doctor.

“Last but not least, he gave me the charge not to let kidney disease have me but to give it back to the master of all power, to keep me and sustain me with ability disease,” Dodd said. “So it’s through Cleveland’s vision and love and passion for his family — that he created and birthed our foundation. (Cleveland), thank you for igniting the flame in my professional life, to give me a direction about caring for me both medically and spiritually.”

(Photo: Alton Pitre / The Atlanta Voice)
(Photo: Alton Pitre / The Atlanta Voice)

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