The following is the text of an email sent on February 10, 2023.
While we celebrate Black History Month this February, we are mindful of the strides we have made and the social and racial injustice challenges that remain today. We know that as we shine a light on the epidemic of violence against Black and African American people, we must become more self-aware, vigilant, and steadfast in our determination to contribute to making the world a better place. As a school of public health, we are uniquely positioned to address the disparities among underrepresented and minoritized populations in myriad ways. It is our moral obligation, and we are committed to participating in confronting the present and envisioning a better tomorrow.
But for this moment, let us celebrate Black History. Let us look with pride through the lenses of advocacy, science, and education and honor the Black and African American scientists who have played, do play, and will play a role in our country’s history and in the field of public health.
We celebrate African American public health advocates such as sociologist, author, and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, Ph.D., the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University and one of the founders of the NAACP, in 1909. Dr. Du Bois used empirical evidence to make the case for integration as the key to improving the lives of African Americans. “W.E.B. Du Bois … introduced a methodology that combined history, statistics, and demographics. His sociology program would later be recognized as the first school of American sociology.” We celebrate Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African American woman to earn an M.D. in 1864, one of the first African American medical authors in the U.S., and an advocate for freed slaves who did not have access to medical care.
We celebrate the people who make up our history and those who are creating history, including the illustrious scientists we host through our Distinguished Colloquium Speaker Series. Advocates such as last month’s speaker, Ertharin Cousin, J.D., who served under President Barack Obama as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nationals Agencies for Food and Agriculture and was later executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme before becoming CEO and managing director of Food Systems for the Future. Advocates such as our February 10 speaker, Consuelo Wilkins, M.D., MSCI, senior vice president and senior associate dean for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, who has pioneered efforts to transform approaches to clinical research in minority communities.
We celebrate Black educators such as Charlie Nelms, Ed.D., Indiana University vice president emeritus for institutional development and student affairs, who served IU for nearly 30 years and whom IU awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. His memoir, From Cotton Fields to University Leadership: All Eyes on Charlie, A Memoir, was published by Indiana University Press in 2019. We celebrate Freeman Hrabowski III, Ph.D., president emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who turned UMBC into a leading institution for research and innovation. Dr. Hrabowski kindly joined us for our Distinguished Colloquium Speaker Series in 2020 and remains a confidant and ally to our school. He has just been named the recipient of the National Academies 2023 Public Welfare Medal for his outstanding leadership in transforming U.S. science education and increasing cultural diversity within the science workforce. We celebrate Cato Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., University Professor at the University of Connecticut, a pioneer in the field of regenerative engineering, and expert in ethnic minority health and health disparities. Dr. Laurencin is one of only a handful of people to be elected to all three national academies, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine. We will proudly host him next year during our Distinguished Colloquium Speaker Series.
This month and every month, we honor the contributions of our Black and African American colleagues and take pride in helping to develop and nurture the public health advocates, scientists, and educators of the future—the community activists, researchers, and teachers who will go on to make a difference in our world and take their place in Black history.
Jerono P. Rotich, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Organizational Climate, Inclusion, and Belonging
David B. Allison, Ph.D.