Jordan Smalls has known she wanted to become a veterinarian since she was four years old, but she was made to believe she wasn’t good enough.
It wasn’t until she found a home as a veterinary technician manager at Ark Veterinary Hospital in Charlotte that she finally felt seen.
The Ark, located at 6444 Albermarle Road, is a Black-owned veterinarian clinic established by Drs. Sarah Blackwell, Kevin Scruggs and Derrick Prioleau.
Why it matters: Fewer than 3% of all veterinarians in the U.S. are Black, while nearly 87% are white, according to data reported by Data USA.
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Once Smalls completed her undergraduate program, she worked at several veterinary clinics where she continued to experience microaggressions and racism.
In fact, Smalls told QCity Metro a previous colleague at one clinic told her to “go pick cotton” in reference to her being Black.
At Ark, Smalls says she feels appreciated.
“It’s more than just having Black bosses,” Smalls said in an interview. “It’s finally working for people who value me and my skill set.”
Ark began as a mobile clinic initially founded by Dr. Sarah Blackwell in Sumter, S.C. before she collaborated with Scruggs and Prioleau to open a physical location.
In December 2022, the trio opened Ark’s Charlotte location where it is now the only Black-owned veterinary clinic in the city.
Their clinic services small animals like cats and dogs, large animals like horses, and even exotic pets, like reptiles and flying squirrels.
Before opening their practice, Scruggs, Blackwell and Prioleau faced several issues.
Scruggs said they were repeatedly denied loans and had difficulty connecting with utility companies to service the clinic. He mentioned that they would sometimes not receive any communication from inspectors for weeks, which delayed their opening.
Once their space opened, the Ark team put up a road sign with the faces of the vets announcing the clinic’s opening. Scruggs said someone reported the sign to the city, who told them it was a “traffic hazard” they had to remove it or receive a citation.
“It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong [and] it was a lot harder than it should have been to get this place open,” Scruggs said. “It’s been a long, tough road [with] lots of tears shed, bloodshed, late nights [and] long hours, but it’s all been worth it to show people that we can do this just as well as anybody else.”
Scruggs, however, is determined to prove a point because he understands the significance of representation.
“I have three little nieces. And I wouldn’t even think that they were paying attention to this,” Scruggs said. “Whenever I go back [home], it’s always a question about their animals, and I’m like, ‘how do you know this?’ but my parents are filling them in and just being a role model to them is huge.”
Scruggs went to Tuskegee University, where he met Blackwell and Prioleau. He received his undergraduate degree in Animal Science before moving on to Tuskegee’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“When you get out [of school], it’s a whole different story,” Scruggs said. “You’ll see people will doubt you, people will shame you, they’ll be upset with you, they won’t trust you.”
He went on to say that, in his experience, people even waited for him to make mistakes. Scruggs said, “If you mess up, then [their reaction will be] ‘Yeah, that’s what I thought. He didn’t know what he was doing.”
‘Much work to be done‘
Last September, Smalls — Ark’s veterinary technician manager — applied to five different veterinarian schools. The effort cost her $1,200 for applications and fees, and she was not accepted into any of them.
However, she has not given up on her dreams. She plans to apply to Tuskegee, which she says she feels optimistic about.
Smalls said Blackwell has encouraged her to continue applying.
Tuskegee University, the only accredited veterinarian school at an HBCU, graduates close to 70% of the nation’s Black veterinarians.
“There is evidence of discrimination at PWIs (predominately white institutions) in and out of practice. The profession still has an enormous amount of work to do in terms of becoming intentionally more diverse and inclusive,” Lisa Greenhill, chief diversity officer of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Services (AAMVA), told QCity Metro in an emailed statement.
“They have been successful at recruiting small numbers of Black and other non-white students, but it takes an enormous effort to turn things around when the history is everpresent and looming,” she said.
In the near future, Ark will offer artificial insemination for animal breeders. They also hope to hire more veterinarians and open locations in different cities including Atlanta, Alabama and Florida.
They also want to support the next generation of vets.
“Mentorship is huge, especially for the next generation, so I’ve been talking with the Tuskegee teachers and staff that do the outreach programs,” Scruggs said. “If somebody [is] coming out [of school] and doesn’t have a lot of experience like [how] I was when I first came out, I’m definitely open to teaching and helping and educating kids– white or minority children [who] don’t know that this [profession] is always an option.”
The clinic is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is open on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is closed on Sundays.