Blackburn Middle School will have a ribbon cutting ceremony on Jan. 3, at 6 p.m. They were recently chosen to receive federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resource Service Administration. With the help of Dr. Aaron Shirley, who cultivated the grant proposal, Blackburn will be able to open a new clinic, purchase equipment for the clinic and hire workers. In addition to providing health care, funds will help supply rewards for use at participating food markets to help children and families with healthy eating habits while at home. Other needs will be assessed for use of the grant money.
Plans for the ceremony include technology demonstrations on how schools plan to interface with hospitals and other areas of health care as well as how telemedicine fits into schools by allowing many levels of care to take place inside of schools instead of children being sent to hospitals.
Shirley was born in Gluckstadt, but before he was 2, he moved to Jackson. He spent summers in Gluckstadt with his grandparents. He is married to Dr. Ollye Shirley. They have four children which he states "are all products of the Jackson Public School District." Shirley continues to pioneer poverty-stricken Jackson communities and schools where the focus is on kids in school, the home environment and communities.
Shirley is a graduate of Lanier High School. He graduated from Tougaloo College in 1955 and Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tenn., in 1959. He secured his pediatrics residency at the University of Mississippi in 1965. He was the first African-American to reach this milestone.
In 1970, Shirley helped originate the Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center and in 1997, the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center. The Jackson Medical Mall was set up in an abandoned shopping center; the facility is a valuable asset in helping revitalize a disadvantaged area of Jackson.
Shirley, 78, is currently serving as chairman of the board for the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation.
"Health service opens the door to interface with the kids, but provides an opportunity to introduce ourselves to mama and reveal factors that may affect their child's school attendance. Attendance is not always related to an illness, but related to an issue in the home, in the neighborhood or something close by," Shirley says. Attendance and drop-out rates affect the amount of money the district receives, but thanks to Shirley's efforts, one program area within the Jackson Public School District received much needed funding.