Dr. Michele Kong has dedicated her life to serving others.
In her own words, “Service is the foundation of our life, our people, our community. Ultimately everything is about service. Service is what connects you to the next person. Service should be at the core of everything we do.”
She is an associate professor in Pediatric Critical Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama.
In 2015, she was selected the junior faculty recipient of the Dean’s Excellence Award for Service, which recognizes contributions made by faculty across the UAB School of Medicine. This honor was due to her service to the autistic community with the nonprofit she and her husband co-founded, KultureCity.
Kong and her husband’s passion for autism acceptance began when their son, Abram, was diagnosed with autism at age four. Recognizing the needs of families impacted by autism, they felt the challenges that so many experience and immediately began working to create permanent inclusive spaces.
KultureCity is an impact-driven nonprofit founded in 2013 in Birmingham with the mission to create a world where all individuals with autism and their families can be accepted and treated equally. KultureCity fundamentally believes that these children are not limited by their diagnosis and deserve a future without limits. The programs reflect the mission which is “to change the culture on how autism is viewed in our world today.”
To accomplish KultureCity’s mission of awareness and acceptance, Kong’s relationships and partnerships have been key. These include local organizations like the Birmingham Zoo, the McWane Center and the Alys Stephens Center, as well as national groups like the NBA and NFL.
The impact of the organization can be seen well beyond Alabama. In 2019, KultureCity was ranked fourth on Fast Company’s list of the most innovative companies in the world.
The recognition is well deserved, considering the scope and impact of the solutions the organization offers to families affected by autism. Solutions such as lifeBoks, technology-centered products designed to prevent wandering and wandering-related accidents. Or, the Sensory Inclusive certification program and app that partners with major events and venues across the country to create experiences that can be enjoyed by all.
Each year the organization hosts The KultureBall, a fundraising gala that draws hundreds of attendees, including professional athletes such as Dwight Howard, Tiki Barker and Tracy Johnson.
Kong credits her parents and her humble upbringing for her incredible work ethic and passion. She was exposed to great poverty in her home country of Malaysia. Her mother was a school teacher and her father started vocational training schools which required a great deal of travel. Kong said, “Traveling so much exposed me to the diversity that exists in our world.”
Not unfamiliar with defying the odds as well as valuing education, Kong did her pre-medical studies in Australia and worked hard to receive a scholarship to attend medical school at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
As fate would have it, she met her husband Julian Maha, also a physician, on a flight from Malaysia to Calgary. They were both attending medical school there but had never met before that flight. Following a residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, she came to Birmingham in 2005 for a critical care fellowship and was recruited by UAB.
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Dr. Michele Kong a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.