Tuskegee University’s College of Veterinary Medicine will host former child television star Dr. Danielle Spencer, who earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Tuskegee in 1993, on campus Oct. 23 and 24. She is best known for her role as the bratty little sister Dee Thomas on the ABC sitcom “What’s Happening," which ran from 1976 to 1979. She later reprised her role in the series’ sequel, “What’s Happening Now!!”
In addition to visiting with students and campus leaders in small-group settings, Spencer will make remarks about her experiences as a child star, a Tuskegee student, and a practicing veterinarian — as well as the struggles she has experienced along the way. The open forum, “My Journey from Hollywood: The Challenges along the Way – Success is in Our DNA,” is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Kellogg Conference Center on Oct. 24. The open forum will include an opportunity to purchase autographed copies of her book, “Through the Fire: Journal of a Child Star.”
“We are excited to welcome Dr. Spencer home and invite the Tuskegee family to come out in support of this special event,” said Dr. Ruby L. Perry, dean of Tuskegee’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “The sharing of Dr. Spencer’s story is intended to especially help our veterinary medical students as Dr. Spencer focuses on her journey and the incredible tactics employed to overcome the many obstacles she has faced in her personal and professional life,” Perry continued.
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Spencer became an actor around the age of 8. She originally began her veterinary medicine studies at the University of California-Davis, but placed those studies on hold during the height of her acting career. After broadcast of “What’s Happening Now!!” concluded in 1988, Spencer resumed her veterinary medicine studies at Tuskegee University and graduated in 1993.
“I knew I wanted to work with animals but I didn’t know in what capacity,” Spencer said previously of her decision to study veterinary science. “But I always loved animals. They were my closest friends sometimes growing up.
“I was so happy to be able to be a veterinarian because I wasn’t doing much acting once [“What’s Happening Now!!”] went off the air,” she continued. “It’s good being able to make a living doing something that I love.”
Spencer had been working as a veterinarian for more than 10 years when a diagnosis of spinal stenosis — resulting from a childhood car accident she and her family experienced in 1977 — required her to take a break from her veterinary medicine career. After 25 years as a practicing veterinarian in California, Spencer recently relocated to Richmond, Virginia, where she continues to practice and often shares her veterinarian expertise with viewers of WTVR CBS 6’ “Virginia This Morning,” in addition to serving as a motivational speaker.
In 2014, Spencer was inducted into the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. She is the only child actor who holds that honor. She has acted occasionally since her days as Dee Thomas, with her on-screen appearances including portraying a veterinarian in the 1997 hit film “As Good as It Gets,” as well as appearing in “Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix” in 2001.
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