Salsa dancing, Cuban food and flair: More than 400 guests danced the night away in Havana at the 4th Annual Imagine Gala

More than 400 guests danced the night away in Havana at the 4th Annual Imagine Gala.
More than 400 guests danced the night away in Havana at the 4th Annual Imagine Gala.

It was a night that offered an array of delicious food, music with a Cuban flair, and a chance for guests to dance the night away in Havana.

As hosts of the 4th Annual Imagine Gala, Ken and Julie Miller welcomed more than 400 guests on Saturday, May 18, 2019, to the medical school’s W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus in downtown Kalamazoo. The gala has quickly become a yearly gathering point in the community, all to benefit young students from Kalamazoo and help them realize their dreams and change the face of medicine.

The Imagine Gala helps with needed funding for Early Introduction to Health Careers (EIH), WMed’s pipeline programs for elementary and high school students from Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS). 

The pipeline programs are designed to champion the biomedical science and healthcare career aspirations of underrepresented youth. The programs also provide a platform for WMed students to design and teach interactive learning experiences to help elementary and high school students develop leadership, team-building, and problem-solving skills.

EIH was first launched at WMed in 2014 by Dr. Cheryl Dickson, the medical school’s associate dean for Health Equity and Community Affairs. Since then, the pipeline programs have blossomed and now serve more than 180 students, including 49 KPS sophomores in EIH 2 and 80 fourth and fifth graders from KPS in EIH 1. Additionally, the EIH model is being used to serve more than 50 eighth graders from three school districts in Calhoun County as part of efforts there to create programming and support for a health care career pipeline.

William D. Johnston, a founding donor of the medical school, told the crowd this year’s Imagine Gala that students don’t always see people who look like them practicing medicine, and may see medicine as an unachievable dream.

“The pipeline program helps us change the condition that we are in,” Johnston said. “Too many medical schools don’t make that effort. We do.”

The guests who attended the Imagine Gala were treated to a “Havana Nights” inspired evening that featured authentic Cuban cuisine, drinks, and desserts, as well as Orquesta Ritmo, a 12-piece Latin ensemble from Lansing that provided the music for nighttime dancing and unwinding under a large tent in the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus courtyard.

Guests were given the red-carpet treatment when they arrived at the event and then got a chance to mingle with friends and community members during a champagne reception under a white tent amidst tropical décor, and vintage cars courtesy of the Gilmore Car Museum.

MORE: See 650 photos of the 4th Annual Imagine Gala

The night’s menu, provided by Millennium Restaurant Group, included a four-course meal featuring ceviche, a jasmine rice dish with avocado salsa, Cuban bread and fresh halibut paired with a coffee-rubbed, bone-in short rib cooked in a Cuban-inspired broth. Tres leches cake with pepper-seared pineapple and spiced rum syrup rounded out the meal.

Additionally, in the midst of the celebration, the guests were treated to a presentation from the medical school’s founding dean, Dr. Hal B. Jenson, Dr. Cheryl Dickson, WMed’s associate dean for Health Equity and Community Affairs, as well as Johnston and Miller.

It was during that presentation that guests learned that a campaign to honor Ken and Julie Miller’s longtime commitment to education and students in the Kalamazoo community raised $550,000 for the new Miller Family Scholarship Fund at WMed. The endowment will provide medical school scholarships for students from the region, with preference given to KPS graduates who successfully completed EIH.

The scholarship is named for Ken Miller’s parents, Harold and Virginia Miller, “who believed to their very core in education” but didn’t have the opportunity, Miller said.

The EIH program gives opportunity to those who otherwise wouldn’t have it, Miller said.

“I cannot tell you how proud Julie and I are to be able to be part of this, to know that in some moment in time there will be a Miller Family scholar who will have achieved his medical degree and who will have participated in this community for the betterment of all of us,” Miller said. “I think that’s something that excites me to no end.”

The growth of the Gala as a premiere event in Kalamazoo has coincided with an increase in the number of sponsors for the event. Sponsors and underwriters allow the medical school to continue to expand the experience for Gala attendees while contributing to the student pipeline programs.

Sponsors of the event included Ascension Borgess, Bronson Healthcare, Western Michigan University, the Family Health Center, the Battle Creek Community Foundation, the Richard and Thelma Hall Foundation, Gordon Food Service, Bill and Barbara Parfet, Kellogg Community Credit Union, Walbridge, PNC, Diekema Hamann, and Imperial Beverage.

“We are so grateful to our sponsors and our community members who supported the medical school and helped make this year’s Imagine Gala an incredible experience for our guests,” said Al Shifflett III, the medical school’s Engagement Manager.