And Still We Rise: Knoxville veterinarian builds legacy with family-owned practice

Black History Month

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, Blacks make up only 2% of veterinarians in the United States. There is a shining example of decades of African-American mentorship in East Knoxville to bring more into the field. 

For 42 years, Dr. Joseph Kendrick has run a successful family practice of veterinary care.

“You’ve heard of the epiphany moment? I was a biochemical scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. So, one day I was having a particularly difficult time getting one of these Harvard graduate postdoc-type fellows to understand what I was doing, and it dawned on me. He wasn’t any smarter than me; he was just better educated, Ok? And at that particular moment, that was my epiphany moment,” Dr. Kendrick said.

That epiphany was custom-made for him. The Asheville Highway Animal Hospital remains a thriving multi-generational small business. It’s also where Papa Joe, as he’s called, has mentored generations of vet students — African American and white.  

“But first of all, until about the last 20 years, it wasn’t so common to find African-American veterinarians because the only school in the whole world that would accept a person who wanted to be a veterinarian was mostly Tuskegee [University]. There were a few other vet schools that would, every now and then, would accept the Black student, but Tuskegee University was the one that gave Black people who wanted to go into veterinarian medicine the chance to succeed.” 

A Tuskegee alum himself, he did succeed and became a blessing in his community.

“I was always one of those kinds of people that helped everybody, but lately, it had got to where it was a chore. So I went home one year, and I was complaining to my mom. I said, ‘Mom, you know what, everybody wants this from me. They want my money. They want this. They want that. She gave a not so gentle slap on my shoulder. She said, boy, hush your mouth—all your life, God blessed you differently — I’ve got to calm down first — he’s given you the gift to give away and to serve.”

Doctor Kendrick’s two sons would join his practice.  The oldest, Dr. Brian Kendrick, passing away in a motorcycle accident.

“He actually never pushed us into veterinary medicine; this is just something we just kind of came into. His thing was, you know, you’re going to work hard, and you want to make sure that you basically are a positive influence, and I don’t care about the rest,” Dr. Ricardo Kendrick. 

The hospital, a practice made up of four African-American veterinarians, mostly family is rare.  

“My dad is phenomenal. My dad has done work in his field, and for this city than a lot of people know. He’s not very big on saying it; he just does it because that’s who he is. He’s been a good father, and I’m proud of him.”

His father’s influence cements the path this family business will have for years to come. 

“That’s the key thing that I’m the most happy about, [from a] professional standpoint is the fact that we have a legacy here.”

A legacy four decades in the making. 

Dr. Joseph Kendrick is mostly retired now but still comes into the clinic once a week to perform surgeries. He volunteers with the Knoxville Area Urban League to teach young business owners about running a small business successfully.


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