Alumni Highlight: Documentary marks latest accomplishment in Ron Kellum’s trailblazing career

Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022


Ron Kellum has built a groundbreaking career as an award-winning producer, director, artist and choreographer.

As one of the first African Americans to graduate from the Cronkite School, Kellum’s career trajectory was astronomical. He has hosted television and live events, co-produced major events such as the NFL Pro Bowl, worked as a choreographer on major films such as Iron Man 2, and cemented himself as a Broadway veteran. He recently made history as the first African American artistic director for Cirque du Soleil.  

Kellum’s most significant—and proudest—accomplishment, however, may well be his latest project. It is a documentary that reveals systemic racism and bias that occurs in the practice of medicine. In partnership with the Mayo Clinic, “The Greater Good” is a full-length documentary both co-produced and directed by Kellum.  

Kellum was approached by Mayo Clinic to help lead this project that was funded by the organization’s 10-year, $100 million Commitment Against Racism. To Kellum, the timing was serendipitous after having just experienced his own health scare that led him to discover systemic issues in the health department. 

“It was really an ugly moment of my life. To be caught up in a system. Where, in my privilege as an educated Black man, and a career driven man, I have always put my faith in the medical industry, and then I realized someone was doing something quite nefarious. And when we got to the bottom of it, it was just painful to know that had happened,” Kellum said.

Kellum acknowledged how the skills he mastered at the Cronkite School were a part of his success in undertaking this important project. He said the ability to allow people to feel comfortable, be seen, heard, and safe is something he embodied through his education and contributed to this film.

Above all, though, through “The Greater Good,” he was honored to help the physicians, students and other employees at Mayo Clinic tell their stories. He reflected on how the documentary offered them a seat at the table where they’d be able to have an open conversation about systemic racism in the healthcare industry overall.

“What I love about this documentary, and what I’m so proud about for the Mayo Clinic, is the invitation to sit at the table. Let’s talk and let’s be heard. And let’s do better,” he said.

Kellum graduated from the Cronkite School with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, focusing on broadcast.

While at Cronkite, he interned with the Phoenix Channel. Now named PHXTV, it is a government access cable channel that provides 24/7 content that educates, informs, and entertains. On that channel, Kellum hosted a show called “Youth Time” in which he wrote, edited, and shot all his own material. The show, which was funded by both the City of Phoenix and the State of Arizona, highlighted stories about youth in Arizona. Significantly, it introduced Kellum to his vital role as a changemaker for racial and social justice.

As providence would have it, the Lyric Theater in Phoenix was located right next door to his internship. Kellum auditioned for, and was offered, the leading role in “Pippin,” and so his dream of being on Broadway begun. In no time, Kellum had tread the boards in New York City and across the world and had verifiably established himself as a veteran of six major Broadway and touring productions including “Chicago,” “Aida,” “Dreamgirls,” “Fosse,” “Fame,” and “The Wiz.” 

Beyond Broadway, his career has reached into many different sectors of the entertainment industry. He collaborated with Michael Olmstead at the United Spirit Association, a program that provides specialized instruction and year-round events for spirit, dance and band auxiliary activities.

Olmstead is the founder and Chief Visionary Officer of e2k Events and Entertainment.

“Ron was a key part of this company. I think the biggest thing with Ron is that he has such abroad range of talent,” Olmstead said.

While at e2k Events and Entertainment, Kellum would mount major projects that included the Pro Bowl and the opening ceremonies of the Super Bowl. He also created and directed dance teams for seven professional NFL franchises. Today, he remains a director for the company and leads the Superbowl halftime productions.

Melissa Haizlip, the director of the Peabody Award-winning documentary “Mr. SOUL!” and no stranger to Broadway herself, recalled their time together.

“I had heard about Ron Kellum for years, then I finally had the pleasure of meeting him quite by accident in Los Angeles in the late ’90s. We were both auditioning for a role in the touring company of the musical RENT. We paired up for the audition and immediately became best friends for life,” Haizlip said.

Haizlip and Kellum performed together for the first time at the Fullerton Civic Light Opera in Fullerton, California where she saw Kellum’s mastery at work. “He was unstoppable on and off Broadway,” she said. “He literally never stopped working. That guy had more show credits as a performer, producer, director, choreographer, and artistic director than all of my Broadway gypsy friends combined.”

Their working relationship continues to this day and Haizlip partnered with Kellum on his Mayo Clinic documentary.

Michael Wong, director of Alumni Services at the Cronkite School, was one of Kellum’s professors during his time at Cronkite. He reflected on Kellum’s immense success since graduation.

“I’m very proud to see how far he’s come in his career. How established he is in it, and I’m really happy to see his success because he’s doing what he loves doing,” Wong said. “That is, being very creative and making presentations that are informative and entertaining. So, it does not surprise me that he’s had so much success.”

You can learn more about Ron Kellum here.

By Connor Fries