Deborah Savage arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1993 not knowing of the impact she would have on campus. Working on the Homewood campus, she performed a number of roles from serving as the IT manager for Student Technology Services to helping people with disabilities along with faculty, staff, and especially students, navigate the fast-moving digital landscape, including what was then known as the World Wide Web. Before long, Savage found herself seeking a way for the university’s custodial and food service workers to benefit from the same tech training that was being offered to other Hopkins employees. With the approval of university leaders, she was able to start a training program for the workers in the form of a weekend pilot program run by the BFSA. It is this work that Savage is most proud of. But it is the light she shined on employment disparities and general uneasiness among black faculty and staff at JHU that she holds dear to her heart.
In addition to her IT work, Savage served on a number of committees and working groups, including those to improve services for the disabled. She is also a past president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association where she led the group’s annual back-to-school clothing drive and Juneteenth celebration. As head of the BFSA, Savage hosted women’s luncheons, roundtable discussions and meetings with the university’s leadership.
It was Savage who brought to the attention of the leadership the lack of diversity on the walls of the university. The university, Savage argued, needed to do more to celebrate the contributions of people of color to Johns Hopkins. The leaders agreed, and with their blessing, a previous BFSA project known as the “History of African Americans at Johns Hopkins” was reborn as “The Indispensable Role of Blacks at Johns Hopkins.”
A three-term president of the BFSA, Savage was instrumental in securing annual meetings with the university’s presidents to discuss inequities in hiring and retaining African Americans. Those meetings continue to be held every year.
On many occasions, Savage’s work extended beyond the public to the private. It was not uncommon, she says, for faculty and senior staff, to confide in her their feelings of isolation as one of few people of color on campus. Ever patient, Savage would offer wise counsel telling her colleagues to stay strong and be patient. Sometimes she would say nothing. “We would just walk,” she said. She became the go-to person for black faculty and staff.
Savage, who retired last year after 23 years of service with JHU, looks back on her career at Hopkins with pride. She acknowledges that she sometimes feared the battles she took on, particularly those related to improving the climate for people of color at Hopkins. The institution, she said, was a difficult place to navigate as an African American. But she said, “You can surround yourself in support or you can suffer in silence.”
Champion of Change—Black Faculty and Staff Association Founder
The Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) came together, as so many advocacy groups do, over lunch and a conversation. Lunch was at the Polo Grill, then a restaurant across from Homewood Field, and the people who had gathered to talk were black senior staff members concerned about the lack of support for people of color at Johns Hopkins. Toni Moore-Duggan, one of the participants, recalled how that lunch and subsequent discussions among the staff members led to their decision in 1995 to establish the BFSA. “After graduating from Johns Hopkins and while working there, it became evident that there was no voice or forum for black people having difficulties here,” said Moore-Duggan, a certified nurse practitioner who worked at the institution for years.
At first, Moore-Duggan said, she and the other staff members were not sure if anyone would buy into efforts to create a forum for people of color, but they did. Seventeen years later, the group is not only going strong but has expanded its mission: to help foster a culture of collaboration by promoting and enhancing the identity and professional welfare and growth of faculty, staff and students through collaborations, community service, education, research and cultural activities. The BFSA has also charged itself with being a crucial resource for the continued success of Johns Hopkins through the development and cultivation of relationships with key leaders of the institution.
Vernon Savage, now retired, was the director of outreach for the JHU Counseling Center. He served two terms as president of the BFSA. During his first term, in 1998, Savage began the process of opening the organization to faculty and staff on the East Baltimore campus. Savage’s personal history is one of losing and then finding his direction. After graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, he worked at a variety of jobs and in the Marine Corps Reserve. During this time, he became involved in drug dealing and was imprisoned. With hard work, however, he turned his prison term into a time of growth: He began taking college classes, met a mentor who challenged him to succeed and earned an associate’s degree and a Ford Foundation scholarship for continued higher education. Out on parole, Savage earned master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and began a career in psychology and higher education administration that spanned more than three decades.
Rebel with a cultural cause
Growing up in Baltimore, Frederick Isadore Scott rarely encountered an idea he didn’t want to explore or an authority he was afraid to challenge. Born in 1927, he found that the city offered him limited opportunities but provided great support through its close-knit black community. As a student at Frederick Douglass High School, then one of the city’s two public high schools for black students, Scott asserted his ideas about justice by joining political groups, attending labor meetings and coordinating letter-writing campaigns to oppose segregation.
After he graduated from Douglass, his friends assured him that he couldn’t gain entry to the undergraduate program at Johns Hopkins. They dared him to try. He did and he got in. No other blacks had ever applied to the undergraduate program, according to the university registrar. The pressure to succeed and the change in culture were intimidating, but not intimidating enough to stifle Scott.
Beyond simply going to classes, Scott dared to change the campus culture by serving in the school’s Honor Commission and helping to found Beta Sigma Tau, the first interracial fraternity in Baltimore and the first to forbid any form of hazing. Although Scott’s education was interrupted by his stint in the Army during World War II, he returned to graduate from Johns Hopkins in 1950 with a degree in chemical engineering.
His career included several years as an engineer for RCA before serving as an editor for scientific and trade journals, including American Laboratory. Over the years, he remained close to the university, helping with recruitment and alumni issues. An alumni group formed to address racial tensions on the campus even adopted his name, calling itself the Frederick Scott Brigade.
Fred Scott died in 2017.
More about Fred Scott
Influential “bluesologist,” Voice of a generation
Gil Scott-Heron described himself as a blues scientist, a “bluesologist.” Others describe him as an influential poet, musician, recording artist, author and social critic.
He is renowned for his spoken word compositions in the 1970s and 1980s, and his best known works include “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “Winter in America” and “Pieces of a Man.” Throughout his career, he and his collaborators took strong social and political stands, crafting works that fused jazz, blues, soul and other musical styles.
Scott-Heron earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in 1972, though he had never completed an undergraduate degree. He passed away in May 2011.
Museum world boundary-pusher
Lowery Stokes Sims, curator at the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum) in Manhattan, shares her expertise in modern and contemporary art with audiences at the museum and in other venues. Before joining the Museum of Arts and Design, Sims served as a staff member of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and then as executive director and president of The Studio Museum in Harlem.
With a particular interest in African, Latino, Native American, Asian American and women artists, Sims has curated more than 40 exhibits at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as at the National Gallery of Jamaica, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the New York Historical Society. A popular lecturer, she has also edited exhibition catalogs and written for Artforum and Arts Magazine.
Sims earned her master’s degree in fine arts at Johns Hopkins University, and her career brings honor to the university’s arts programs.
United Nations Powerhouse and Legal Stalwart
Lamin J. Sise’s life and career can be summed up in six words – well-educated, well-traveled, and well-liked. Not bad for a young man who came to the United States seeking to earn an elite higher education that would put him on the path to professional success. And succeed he did. After earning undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Sise (pronounced See-Say) went on to earn his LL.B degree from the University of Cambridge in England.
A native of The Gambia in West Africa where he was educated at the primary and secondary levels, Sise attributes his academic and professional success directly to Johns Hopkins, a university that when he arrived there enrolled just a few students of color. Sise had transferred to the Homewood campus from Howard University in Washington, D.C. because he said he wanted a more challenging academic environment, as well as a 24-hour library that would allow him to delve deep into his political science and economics studies. He found that, and then some. While a student at Homewood, Sise was invited to dine at the Baltimore home of former JHU President Milton S. Eisenhower who was said to be so impressed with the student that he arranged to give Sise a generous financial aid package as long as Sise kept a strong GPA. Sise accepted with disbelief and relief. He had arrived in the U.S. with pennies in his pocket and worked three, sometimes four jobs, to pay his Howard, then JHU bills.
Upon completing his education, Sise set out to ensure that JHU’s financial gesture to him as an undergraduate student, was not in vain. To this day, he attributes his successful career to Johns Hopkins – a career in which he was employed by the United Nations for three decades in Geneva, Switzerland and New York. Here he worked in various legal capacities and as senior advisor to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. From 1977 to 1983 Mr. Sise served as Deputy Legal Adviser of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva. From 1983 to 2007, he served in New York in the Office of Legal Affairs, Department of Peacekeeping Operations and in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. Sise, who has worked in over 100 countries, said he owes his successful career entirely to Johns Hopkins. “Imagine me, a poor African boy who has met with dozens of heads of states and every president from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama,” Sise said. “I would not have been able to do these things in my career without Johns Hopkins.”
Clifford V. Smith, Jr. is no stranger to being a trailblazer. An engineer, and an academic, he was among the few African Americans to obtain a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Iowa in 1954. He went on to be one of the first blacks to earn a master’s degree in environmental engineering in 1960, and a doctorate in radiological sciences in 1966, both from Johns Hopkins University.
A native of Washington, D.C., Smith recalls his days in segregated Baltimore as difficult, but fun. At Hopkins, he immersed himself in tough engineering and science classes and taught in the School of Public Health. Rarely, did he run into any other black students or professors at Hopkins, though he knew he was not alone.
Smith parlayed his education into a successful career as an engineer in academia, government and industry. In government, he served in high-level positions with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In industry, he worked for Bechtel, the engineering and construction firm. In academia, Smith held senior leadership positions within the Oregon State System of Higher Education, including vice president of administration at Oregon State University, special assistant to the chancellor of the State System for Science Technology and Economic Development, director of the Council for Advanced Science Engineering Education, and Research for Industry.
From 1986 to 1990, Smith was the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the first African-American in the University of Wisconsin system to hold such a post. Before UW-Milwaukee, Smith held academic positions with the City College of New York, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the University of Connecticut. In 1990, he was appointed president of the General Electric Foundation, the philanthropic arm of GE. He retired from General Electric in 1997.
Smith credits his distinguished career, in part, to his decision to enroll in the engineering master’s program at Hopkins. He was a young man working in the Pennsylvania Department of Health in Philadelphia when he learned that his job would pay for a portion of his graduate school expenses. He did some research and found that the program he was interested in was only offered at Hopkins and Harvard. He chose Hopkins. The decision paid off. He selected Hopkins again for his Ph.D., attending classes and studying with two young children at home, and one on the way. His youngest daughter was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1963.
Next to his father who was also an engineer and Iowa alum, Smith said he owes his ability to complete his doctorate in a field where there were not many blacks, to his wife of 61 years, Nina Marie Singleton who like him, was a native of Washington, D.C.
Healer of people and of the health care system
In dedicating his career to enhancing health care for blacks and mentoring the next generation of physicians, Roland Thomas Smoot improved the health care system itself. His friend and fellow Johns Hopkins colleague Levi Watkins described Smoot as a local “Rosa Parks.”
The son of a postal worker and domestic worker, Smoot demonstrated an early aptitude for math and science, and after Army service during World War II, he graduated with honors from Howard University’s undergraduate and medical schools. While on staff at the all-black Provident Hospital, Smoot began attending Saturday grand rounds at Johns Hopkins Hospital to share knowledge and ideas with the physicians there. His expertise in internal medicine drew the attention of Johns Hopkins medical school professor Benjamin Baker, who, in 1963, invited Smoot to become the first black physician to secure admitting privileges and a faculty position at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Described by Watkins as a “quiet, gentle, committed and determined person,” Smoot enriched the health care system by continually expanding opportunities for black medical professionals. He continued amassing “firsts” throughout his career, including becoming the first black person elected president of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland. He died in 2006.
Conflict resolver and curiosity quencher
For Yvonne Theodore, Johns Hopkins University was a place to both work and learn. Even after earning a master’s degree in liberal arts, she continued to enroll in classes to quench her curiosity about subjects ranging from art to law.
When she took early retirement in 2000, she was a special assistant to the provost and director of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs. Theodore once described her career at Johns Hopkins by saying that she worked for all JHU schools and programs around the world, wrote federal proposals, investigated and resolved legal cases for the university’s Office of the General Counsel, and “resolved conflicts between virtually every imaginable human category.” Her commitment to justice and equity remains legendary at Johns Hopkins and continues to further the university’s progress in creating a learning community enriched by its diversity.
Lifelong boundary crosser
In her autobiography, God Spare Life, Claudia Thomas describes three major storms in her life: the turbulence of being a college student during the 1960s, the fright of a Category 5 hurricane, and the emotional journey to survive kidney disease through a transplant from her sister.
The faith and strength that enabled Thomas to weather those storms also yielded great accomplishments. While an undergraduate at Vassar College, a 1969 sit-in she led served as a catalyst for the college to establish its Africana Studies department. After graduating from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1975, Thomas became the first female to graduate from the Yale-New Haven Hospital Orthopaedic Residency Program and the first black female orthopedic surgeon in the United States.
An assistant professor at Johns Hopkins, Thomas now maintains a private practice in Central Florida. In 2008, in honor of her work to encourage and support minorities and women entering the field of orthopedics, Thomas received the annual Diversity Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Front man for jazz studies
Playing jazz saxophone and flute has taken Baltimore native Gary Thomas around the world. As the Peabody Institute’s director of jazz studies and the Richard and Elizabeth Case Endowed Professor in Jazz, he shares the musical knowledge and experiences gained on those world travels with students and faculty.
Thomas founded the jazz studies degree program at Peabody in 2001 and is the first black person to become a degree program director at the conservatory.
JazzTimes magazine called Thomas one of “the more uncompromising and original saxophone voices” of his generation. He has performed and/or recorded with legendary musicians, including Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Cassandra Wilson, Wynton Marsalis, McCoy Tyner, Kevin Eubanks, and Ravi Coltrane, and he has been a member of the Herbie Hancock Quartet and Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition Band. DownBeat magazine named two of his recordings among the best of the 1990s.
Thomas has said, “The students want the teacher to be able to do what he’s trying to teach them to do. I liked being a [band] leader at times. I’m sort of the same thing at Peabody.”
Legendary surgical partner
Although a lack of funds kept Vivien Thomas from finishing college, the situation did not dim his determination or intellect. Hired originally to work in Alfred Blalock’s laboratory at Vanderbilt University, he was upgraded to surgical assistant.
Thomas became a key collaborator of Blalock’s, doing surgeries, developing operative techniques and even designing and fabricating surgical equipment.Working as a team, Blalock, pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig and Thomas devised a groundbreaking heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect known as “Blue Baby” syndrome.
Thomas’ role in this breakthrough is dramatized in the HBO film Something the Lord Made, and the PBS documentary Partners of the Heart.
Eventually Thomas became the supervisor of surgical research laboratories at Johns Hopkins, a position he held for 35 years. After retiring, he became instructor emeritus of surgery. In 1976, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Johns Hopkins University.
Thomas, who passed away in 1985, has a permanent place on the Johns Hopkins campus. His portrait hangs directly across from Blalock’s in the lobby of the Blalock Building at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and a fund named in his honor, the Vivien Thomas Fund, promotes diversity in academic medicine and biomedical science.
Keeper of obligations, supporter of dreams
With a father in the Air Force, David Thompson lived in many states and in the Philippines before his family settled in Baltimore, his father’s hometown. Along the way, Thompson saw some of the highs and lows of life, including people who could not envision rising above their circumstances. Perhaps those experiences instilled in him the desire to support others in reaching their goals.
Thompson’s life journey began with the Air Force and so did his professional career. After serving as a non-commissioned officer and beginning his college studies in the Air Force, he completed an undergraduate degree in accounting from Morgan State University and immediately went to work for CPA firms, including Abrams, Foster, Nole & Williams, P.A., Baltimore’s largest black-owned CPA firm, and the national firm McGladrey, LLP.
Thompson left the private sector to build a career at Johns Hopkins, where he now serves as senior tax accountant for the tax office at Keswick. He is responsible for University-wide tax compliance by preparing and analyzing complex tax returns for federal and state authorities. His work also includes consulting with all of the university’s schools and
divisions regarding the proper employment status of independent contractors and employees throughout the country. But even on the job, Thompson helps the next generation by taking time to foster the growth of student interns and young employees.
In the community, Thompson is a member and former elected officer of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. one of the largest and oldest black fraternities in the world. He mentors youth in inner city Baltimore, both informally and through formal programs, like the Johns Hopkins University Mentoring Program at City Springs Elementary School. In addition, he is a baseball coach, girls’ softball commissioner and treasurer of the Northwood Baseball League. Thompson shares his professional knowledge by offering pro bono accounting advice and services to aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Many youth and adults in the impoverished communities of Baltimore City don’t believe that they can achieve any goal, any endeavor, any dream,” Thompson says. “Just letting someone know that you believe in them can change their life.”
Champion for children through medical research and education
Growing up in a time of racial segregation, J. Tyson Tildon was not permitted to attend Baltimore’s then all-white academic high schools. Never one to let barriers stand in his way, he became a renowned neuroscientist and an advocate for Baltimore City’s public schools.
After returning from a year in Paris as a Fulbright Scholar, Tildon earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 1965 and completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Brandeis University. He then began an academic and research career at Goucher College before moving to the University of Maryland’s Department of Pediatrics where he worked for 32 years until his retirement. At Maryland, Tildon created and led the Division of Pediatric Research and became a professor of pediatrics.
The author of 115 scientific papers, Tildon focused much of his research on developmental neurochemistry and the processes that control metabolism.
To describe one cell type providing nutrients to another, he coined the term “metabolic trafficking.” He is credited with discovering Coenzyme A transferase deficiency in infants and with advancing understanding of the causes of sudden infant death syndrome, certain types of mental retardation, and strokes. Tildon was the major architect of the University of Maryland’s Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Institute, and his research received more than $10 million in National Institutes of Health funding.
Beyond the laboratory, Tildon, who passed away in 2006, made significant contributions to the community, serving as the chair of the Board of School Commissioners for Baltimore’s schools and on the boards of numerous groups, including Associated Black Charities, WYPR radio, the Civil Services Commission of Baltimore, the Maryland Academy of Sciences, the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the American Red Cross.
Air and water protector
James Turner credits his success to his “loving parents who stressed family, integrity, achievement, service and education.” As he studied physics at Johns Hopkins (undergraduate) and MIT (where he earned a PhD), Turner was troubled to see so few students of color and women considering careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Addressing this issue has been a theme throughout Turner’s career, from stints on the faculties of historically black colleges to work in his community and through professional associations to promote STEM careers to women and underrepresented minorities.
Turner spent most of his career at the U.S. Department of Energy, working in magnetic fusion energy, nuclear weapons safety and nuclear nonproliferation. Among his projects was coordinating the Department of Energy’s efforts to ensure the safe dismantlement of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union.
Since 2008, Turner has served as the director of the Office of International Affairs and senior adviser to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Champion of Change—Black Faculty and Staff Association Founder
The Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) came together, as so many advocacy groups do, over lunch and a conversation. Lunch was at the Polo Grill, then a restaurant across from Homewood Field, and the people who had gathered to talk were black senior staff members concerned about the lack of support for people of color at Johns Hopkins.
Toni Moore-Duggan, one of the participants, recalled how that lunch and subsequent discussions among the staff members led to their decision in 1995 to establish the BFSA.
“After graduating from Johns Hopkins and while working there, it became evident that there was no voice or forum for black people having difficulties here,” said Moore-Duggan, a certified nurse practitioner who worked at the institution for years.
At first, Moore-Duggan said, she and the other staff members were not sure if anyone would buy into efforts to create a forum for people of color, but they did. Seventeen years later, the group
is not only going strong but has expanded its mission: to help foster a culture of collaboration by promoting and enhancing the identity and professional welfare and growth of faculty, staff and students through collaborations, community service, education, research and cultural activities. The BFSA has also charged itself with being a crucial resource for the continued success of Johns Hopkins through the development and cultivation of relationships with key leaders of the institution.
Rose Varner-Gaskins, now retired, directed the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at Johns Hopkins University. She also spearheaded the successful effort to bring a portrait of a person of color to the Homewood campus. The painting of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in Levering Hall was unveiled during CultureFest 1998. Although Marshall never attended or worked at Johns Hopkins, he was selected by a committee because of his strong connection to Baltimore and his role in the desegregation of schools.