Spencer Beckman: Making an Impact on Community Health in Memphis

Spencer Beckman ’19 of Murfreesboro, TN, graduated from high school with one goal in mind: to become a doctor. During his college search, he became interested in Rhodes College not only for its academics, but also for its location in a major metropolitan area. “Being in Memphis with St. Jude and LeBonheur hospitals, which are innovators in the medical world, made this seem like a good place to end up,” he reflects. “I was looking at another school pretty hard, but it seemed like the opportunities that Rhodes had to offer just made more sense.” Now in his second year, the biology major and urban and community health double major has become an active and vocal participant in the Rhodes and greater Memphis communities. A coach at the Grizzlies Foundation’s GrizzFit program and the newly elected Rhodes Student Government Vice President, Beckman has made Memphis his home.

In the spring of 2016, a friend introduced Beckman to GrizzFit, a wellness and mentorship program sponsored by the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation that takes place at various schools and community centers throughout the city. “The focus is for mentors and coaches to interact with at-risk children, not only to help them become immediately more physically fit, but also to give them good, lasting support systems with people who are able to care about and connect with them and be a good influence on them,” Beckman explains. He applied for a position and soon after became their first college-student coach.  

Beckman’s time with GrizzFit has been instrumental to his experience at Rhodes, and vice versa. Largely, the program has illustrated in real life the lessons of his urban and community health classes. “One of the big things I’ve realized about health since coming to Rhodes is that health is a lot more than just the medicine you take or what the doctor tells you at a checkup. It’s composed of the food you eat, the amount of exercise you’re getting, your social and mental health. GrizzFit really stresses that. Yes, our focus is exercise, but we also really want to emphasize the behavioral health of children, their social interactions with community members and teammates. Hopefully, we’re providing them something that prevents them from having to go to more checkups or take more medicine. It’s part of their daily life, and that’s something with which the urban and community health field is very concerned.”

Furthermore, Beckman’s experiences so far within Memphis and Rhodes have helped him better understand his own goals in life going forward. He explains, “Being at Rhodes has very much helped me understand my future desires and ambitions and helped me grow in that regard. I’ve been very reassured that medicine is something important to me and that I’m passionate about, but I think GrizzFit and being involved in the greater health field has shown me how that importance is felt. As a doctor I can help one person at a time, but if I work in policy or some larger aspect of health, that’s how I’m able to impact the lives of more people, and in a meaningful way. It sounds simple to say that people’s health matters, but seeing the lives of children being bettered through something that I’m a part of has been incredible.”

By Kenneth Piper ’17