Innovative public-health careers coach
During her forty-two-year career at the School of Hygiene and Public Health (now the Bloomberg School of Public Health), Betty Hall Addison had a knack for recognizing and filling voids no one else noticed. Starting in 1978 as administrative aide to the dean of students, Addison says she arrived “with a business degree and good office skills.” As she dealt with numerous nonacademic issues and listened to students’ personal concerns, she quickly realized that many matters, particularly job counseling for students and recent graduates, were not being addressed.
To fill the vacuum, Addison began to mentor students as they prepared resumes and coach them on interviewing skills. In 1984, she organized the school’s first job fair and invited twelve local agencies and firms to participate. With an ever increasing understanding of students’ needs, the following year Addison began an intense program to secure a master’s degree in counseling at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, then on the Homewood campus. She completed her degree in just eighteen months of night classes while still working full time, even serving briefly as acting dean of students. “I never said, ‘that’s not my job,’” Addison explained, “I just did it, whatever it was they asked me to do.”
Fortified with her new credentials, Addison pushed for and established new initiatives in the School of Public Health, including Offices of Student Services, Career Services, and Disability Support Services. Later, she became a Fulbright Scholar and spent two months in Germany studying the activities of school administrators at every educational level; she returned with new insights for the East Baltimore campus.
In 1994 Addison started the Diversity Summer Internship Program (with funds from the National Institutes of Health to provide participants’ wages) for top science students at Dunbar High School to work on research projects at the School of Public Health. Over the years the program evolved to include underrepresented college students and science teachers from all over the United States and now attracts more than six hundred applicants to fill up to twenty positions each summer.
Over her career, Betty Hall Addison worked tirelessly to teach career strategies to public-health students and graduates, suggesting innovative ways to design, plan, and implement job searches in a competitive market. Also involved in the wider Johns Hopkins community, Addison was a member of the Black Faculty and Staff Association since its inception and served as its president in 2004–5. Focusing on leadership skills and encouraging an environment that promotes success, she became a Certified Executive and Leadership Development Coach. Since retiring in 2019, she continues to work part-time through the Health Policy Research Scholars Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Storyteller: Humanizing Stories for the World
“Literature,” says Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “is the best way of humanizing people.” Considering a character’s motivation, she believes, “forces us to look beyond stereotype.” An internationally celebrated author, Adichie conducts workshops for young writers in her native Nigeria, where she emphasizes that “storytelling is rooted in our political, our social, our emotional realities,” and encourages participants to read carefully, write enthusiastically, and keep their day jobs.
Educated in both Nigeria and the United States, Adichie completed a master’s degree in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins in 2003, followed by another in Africana Studies from Yale in 2008. That same year, she received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” Her published work, which includes three novels, short stories poems, essays, and a play, has been translated into more than thirty languages. She has received many accolades, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Purple Hibiscus, the Orange Prize for Half of a Yellow Sun, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Americanah. In 2016, Adichie returned to the Homewood campus to receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree honoris causa from Johns Hopkins “for always striving to put a human face on life-changing events and class struggles, to force a greater understanding.” The American Academy of Arts and Sciences inducted Adichie into its 2017 cohort, one of the highest honors for intellectuals in the United States.
Critics praise Adichie’s imaginative writing, which is often based on fact. Her work is centered on Nigeria and Africa, “because it is what I know and it is where my heart is.” She sees writing as her vocation, something she “was born to do.” Adichie admits to being “an unrepentant eavesdropper and a collector of stories. I record bits of overheard dialogue. I ask questions. I watch the world.”
Adichie is in great demand as a speaker internationally, and has given two TED Talks viewed by millions. Recognizing that she now occupies a position of privilege, Adichie encourages her listeners to confront racism and find effective ways to negotiate sexism. ”My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better.”
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. Nicholas Arrindell has served as director of the Johns Hopkins University Office of International Student and Scholar Services since 1991. He holds a doctorate in comparative and international education from the University of Maryland, College Park. Arrindell led a university-wide task force to ensure Johns Hopkins’ compliance with Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations. As a member of the university’s Diversity Leadership Council, he created the video series Who Belongs in America. He also established the Mid-Atlantic Immigration Workshop and participated in the Fulbright International Education Administrators Program, in Germany
Catalyst for campus change—Black Student Union Pioneer
Empowered and inspired by the civil rights movement, students John F. Guess and Bruce Baker presented 12 demands to Johns Hopkins University administration in 1967. They sought such changes as increased black student enrollment and black faculty recruitment, a library section for black authors, and Johns Hopkins-Morgan State mixers.
A year later, Guess, Baker and others established a Black Student Union at Johns Hopkins. Although similar groups had already formed at other university campuses, students at Johns Hopkins found their initial requests for official recognition rebuffed. The student council expressed concern that this student union would be seen as hostile and divisive. Continued and mounting pressure from Guess and Baker caused the student council to reconsider its decision and grant official status in 1969. Guess would later be elected the university’s first black student council president.
The Black Student Union remains an influential group at Johns Hopkins-promoting diversity, respect, and understanding. The group also hosts events and lectures, organizes community service projects and works to improve the climate for black students at Johns Hopkins.
Its founders continue to serve as prominent community leaders.
Baker served as the BSU’s first president. After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins, Baker worked as an economist with the Department of Agriculture and completed a law degree at the University of Chicago. He started his legal practice in banking and finance as an in-house attorney with the largest bank in Chicago, moving on to become the first black equity partner at Winston and Strawn LLP and then the first black equity partner at Baker & Mckenzie LLP. He is now a partner at the law firm Hoogendoorn and Talbot LLP.
Basketball recruiters lured Ethan Bartlett to Johns Hopkins from White Plains, NY, in 2018, but it was the academic challenge and the opportunity to be a true student athlete that sealed the deal. “Blacks make up only about five percent of the student-athlete population at Hopkins,” he explained. “My coaches have been super supportive. They’ve been helpful in supporting me when I spoke up about things that I thought were important.”
In the summer of 2020, just after the murder of George Floyd, the Athletics Department held an online meeting where coaches and administrators invited Black student athletes to share how they were feeling. “People talked about microaggressions they’ve experienced in Hopkins institutions. We saw the need to create a space where people could speak to that aspect of their identities, things they might not have felt comfortable discussing with their teammates or coaches,” Bartlett said, describing some of the reasons he and his colleagues founded the Black Student-Athlete Association.
“Hopkins can be overwhelming,” he admits. “It can be difficult to figure out what fits your interests. The BSAA has helped, creating that pathway, getting people connected to resources and volunteering opportunities.” The group has formed a partnership to tutor high school students who fell behind during the pandemic. Leveraging their positions as student athletes allows members to make a strong impression. “We taught a virtual lesson to fifth graders about social justice and activism within sport. It was awesome. They were very engaged and had a bunch of amazing questions.” The organization has hosted both virtual and live “literacy events” where Hopkins professors discuss issues such as housing and homelessness, police violence, and education. A particular mentor for Bartlett, Professor Lawrence Jackson, led a session on the history of Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University’s place in that narrative.
Having a roommate (and teammate) from Baltimore for four years gave Bartlett an insider’s view of the city. “People have a lot of misconceptions about Baltimore. While there are areas that are unsafe, they aren’t an accurate representation of the entire city,” he explained. “Baltimore has so much to offer. There are vibrant, creative people here, people who are resilient.”
Bartlett majored in public health and minored in entrepreneurship and management, graduating in December 2021. “My interest is the intersection between gun violence and law enforcement,” he explained. A tragedy involving a family friend killed by police sparked Bartlett’s concern when the officers involved were not convicted. “I’ve watched this unfold for the greater part of my life. That’s been the inspiration for my academic path. I want to reform police systems, and qualified immunity. Its origins are tied to slavery. There are so many problems—you need to overhaul the entire system.” Bartlett realized he needed to sharpen his leadership skills so he enrolled in a course titled “Leading Teams.” At its conclusion, the professor offered him a teaching assistantship for the next term, a position he still holds as a graduate student.
The opportunity to pursue a master’s degree at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, home of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy—combined with the chance to continue playing basketball for Hopkins—provided obvious incentives to remain in Baltimore. “People are at different stages of their lives in graduate school,” Bartlett said. “Some are starting second careers; some are already working in the field and are getting their degrees while they work. You learn so much from their lived experiences.”
Entrepreneurial Neurosurgeon Extraordinaire
In 1958, the year he received his bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Ernest Bates had no idea how strong – or how instrumental – his connection to his alma mater would be. Years after receiving his undergraduate degree, Bates, the first African-American to enter the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, served on the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees, including as vice chair. Currently a trustee emeritus, Bates is a former chair of JHU’s annual fund, which honored him in with the Heritage Award in 2003. Indeed, the education Bates received at JHU helped catapult him to the upper echelon of both medicine and business. As a student at JHU, Bates was also the first African-American to play on the university’s football team, a trying time for the young man whose team endured discrimination at times, such as not being allowed to dine at certain places because of Bates’ race, while on the road for away games.
Following graduation from JHU, Bates, a native of Mount Pleasant, N.Y., went on to earn his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1962. That same year, he completed a surgery internship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx Municipal Hospital Center. He completed his neurosurgery residency at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco (UCSF) in 1971 and was board certified in neurological surgery in 1973. In 1977, Bates founded American Shared Hospital Services, a publicly traded healthcare company that leases state-of-the-art medical equipment to hospitals in the United States and abroad. Bates is chairman and chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based company. In 2016, Bates endowed a professorship at UCSF’s School of Nursing.
Now semi-retired, Bates is a member of several professional medical societies. He has written chapters in the publication, Textbook on Experimental Brain Tumors and Black Related Diseases. He is an emeritus member of the University of Rochester’s Board of Trustees, a member of the Board of Overseers at UCSF School of Nursing, and a former member of the Board of Trustees at UCSF Foundation and the California Higher Education Business Forum. In 1997, Bates was appointed to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. He also served as a member of the Board of Governors of California Community Colleges, the District 4 Medical Quality Review Committee, and the Professional Advisory Committee at the University of California Medical Centers. Bates previously served on the California Commission for Jobs and Economic Growth and the Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel.
Connecting JHU with the community
Barbara Bates-Hopkins calls herself “the eyes and ears of the community.” As a senior community research coordinator in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Bloomberg School of Public Health who “grew up here, I can remind everyone”—nurses, doctors, scientists, students, residents of the neighborhood, and everyone she encounters—“that East Baltimore was once a much different place. There were lots of nice stores and plenty to do. Kids respected their elders. There was diversity and a different spirit to the place. I particularly like to share that with the students so they know the history.” With funding support from the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as well as the Department of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health, she surely connects the medical entities of Johns Hopkins.
As a lifelong resident of East Baltimore, Bates-Hopkins recognizes there is a lingering love/hate relationship between Johns Hopkins and its neighbors. “My job is to serve both the university and the people who live nearby or who have been uprooted by redevelopment,” she explains. Applying the solid case-management experience she has accumulated during her career, she motivates, guides, and supports those faced with the decisions and challenges of relocating. She also maintains strong ties with area leaders by serving on various community and health-related advisory boards, councils, and committees.
Maintaining a genuine rapport among various generations and between academics and community residents, Bates-Hopkins sees herself as a matchmaker, knowing what clinical research is under way at the university and suggesting how East Baltimoreans might both develop trust and benefit from participating. She makes no false promises. If she does not know the answer, she finds someone who does. “I try always to listen, be open, honest, and share information. I always ask, how can I help?”
Launched in 2006, the award-winning Day in the Market program is one of Bates-Hopkins most successful outreach initiatives. Together with medical colleagues from dozens of disciplines, four times a month she sets up booths at Northeast or Lexington Markets to educate the public with tips on safety, wellness, cancer screening, nutrition, disaster preparedness, and many other subjects. “Both sides learn from each other,” Bates-Hopkins reports. “The doctors particularly like being able to take more time with their contacts.”
“Ms. Bates-Hopkins supports numerous community partners by identifying volunteers, being an important node in the city’s community networks, and contributing to the conversation,” affirms Bloomberg School of Public Health Professor Norma Kanarek. “She is at the table during planning and execution of events throughout the year and across the city. Her indispensability is well recognized.” Planning, coordinating, developing, marketing, and promoting special urban environmental health projects remain Barbara Bates-Hopkins passion. And, she stresses, “it’s a blessing to work with colleagues who trust and give me the leverage to meet my objectives.”
Caring for the future
When Dr. Ivor Benjamin assumed the helm of the American Heart Association in July 2018, he talked about food and housing insecurity, and advocated for affordable, quality health care for everyone, as well as increased funding for the AHA’s primary concerns, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and brain health. “We can make a difference—in large and small ways—when we prioritize caring for the future,” he said.
Benjamin was one of only three black students when he arrived at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1978. He was “held spellbound” by cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins, who had recruited Benjamin (who also accompanied Watkins on later admissions tours) from Hunter College in New York City. “Levi had convinced the powers that be that the more diversified Hopkins was, the more successful the institution would be. He persuaded the admissions committee to welcome minorities as students” and the administration to increase minority representation on the medical faculty. “Levi was a real pioneer for medical and social justice.”
“Once you get to Johns Hopkins, you get swept up—it’s a humbling experience,” Benjamin remembered. “You know you’re not in a museum but the iconic images are everywhere. It’s a wonderful environment with a very high importance placed on both the science and the art of medicine. The commitment to excellence crystalized in me and gave me a competitive advantage—I began to think of myself as a future faculty member.” As a student, Benjamin worked in the laboratory of future National Institutes of Health Director Bernadine Healy and, under her tutelage, published his first paper in a medical journal. That effort solidified his interest in research and ongoing scholarship.
A native of Guyana, Ivor Benjamin emigrated from South America to the United States with his family after completing high school. After college and medical school, he assumed prominent roles at university medical programs across the nation and now serves as director of the Cardiovascular Center at Medical College of Wisconsin and, co-director of the NHLBI T32 Training Program in Signature Transdisciplinary Cardiovascular Sciences.
Decades ago, Dr. Benjamin became involved with the American Heart Association. From joining committees to editing journals, he has risen through the ranks to the organization’s top volunteer position. The recipient of generous mentoring throughout his life, Ivor Benjamin recognizes the importance of supporting and encouraging young investigators. He emphasized the issue in his presidential address, urging his AHA audience to “volunteer to speak to a STEM class at a predominantly minority high school or rural high school. When you meet students considering a career in science or medicine, invite them to shadow you for a day.” Dr. Benjamin also proved an influential role model at home. His three children have followed him into medical-related fields, including his daughter Charis, who is a 2019 graduate of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Caring for the future indeed.
Black Students at Shriver Hall 1970
The collective experience of a community: a turning point for JHU. A Great Day at Hopkins
Relatively few black students attended Johns Hopkins until the late 1960s, when a concerted effort by the university increased their presence. Leslie King-Hammond, then a graduate student with a fellowship in art history, noted that “We came from all over the United States. We were not a shy group; we were highly politically aware.” In 1967, freshman John Guess and sophomore Bruce Baker led the push for the formation of the Black Student Union. The following year, the student body elected Guess president of the student council. Guess realized “Hopkins considered its undergraduates to be junior scholars. I understood we create our own opportunity.”
By 1970, a significant cohort was making its presence known in virtually every area of the Homewood campus and beyond. “We had a very strong network; we were always in touch with one another, both undergraduates and graduate students,” King-Hammond recalled. “Our habit was to gather after classes in Levering Hall to eat and talk,” Michael Smith (front row, second from left) remembered. “One day, word went out that we should all head over to Shriver Hall for a picture.” Ron Owens, assistant director of admissions, had enlisted sophomore Thomas Anderson to capture an image of some of the dynamic band of black students on campus that autumn. Owens (the only person in the photo wearing a tie) developed a multiyear campaign around this photograph to recruit more students. (He also engaged Michael Smith, Leslie King-Hammond, and others to travel to historically black colleges and universities in the South to entice promising candidates to come to Johns Hopkins for graduate school.)
Now a powerful record of a turning point in Hopkins history, John Guess (front row, holding a Black Panther newspaper) explained that “this iconic photo is us. It represents the collective experience of a community. It is so important to see us together as a group.” King-Hammond (behind Guess, wearing sunglasses) admitted that the university “was riddled with stereotypes and people who thought we would underachieve. Hopkins was competitive and demanding and we were frustrated by the relentlessness of the racism and sexism on campus.” Still, they did “create our own opportunities,” Thomas Anderson (front row, far left) acknowledged. He believes his time at Hopkins “prepared me as no other school would have then. The university gave me major support, understanding, and structure; what I learned there allowed me to exceed my goals in life.”
In 1993, the photograph became the centerpiece of a gathering of alumni, many of whom appear in the picture. Joined by staffers and friends, they came from as far away as California to reminisce and update each other on their lives and careers. The reunion was such a success that the group decided to gather annually and expand their ranks to include earlier and later alumni as well as current students. They dubbed themselves the Fred Scott Brigade to honor the first African American to earn a bachelor’s degree from Hopkins. “We never lost sight of each other,” John Guess explained. “We pay our own way to get together every year on the last weekend in September. More than a hundred people from many generations are members of the Fred Scott Brigade now, coming together to celebrate being black alumni from Johns Hopkins.”
Click here or the In the Media button above to see the names of the students on campus in 1970.
Cross-country legal leader
Everyone is good at something, but Paula Boggs is one of those people whose interests and abilities seem boundless. She describes herself as a curious person. Perhaps it is that curiosity that landed her jobs in such diverse industries as the military, technology and food services. Or maybe it is her openness to adventure that led her to train as a paratrooper and perform with a band. Her debut CD, A Buddha State of Mind, was released in 2010.
After graduation from Johns Hopkins in 1981, with a bachelor’s degree in international studies, Boggs enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. While at Johns Hopkins, she co-founded the women’s cross-country and track and field teams. In doing so, she became the first black person to co-establish an NCAA competition sport at the university.
Boggs recently retired as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary of Starbucks to work on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Under her direction at Starbucks, the company’s legal team played a role in all aspects of the coffee giant’s expansion in the early 2000s. At the time of her retirement, she was involved in the restructuring of the company.
Her path from law school to Starbucks reflects her diverse interests. She began as a U.S. Army officer assigned to the Pentagon before taking a position as a staff attorney position for the White House Iran-Contra Legal Task Force and as an assistant United States attorney.
In 1994, she was tapped to serve a one-year term as staff director for the advisory board on the investigative capability of the Department of Defense (created by the secretary of defense in response to the Tailhook scandal). In 2010, President Obama named Boggs to the White House Council for Community Solutions.
Between government service and Starbucks, Boggs became a partner in the prestigious Preston Gates & Ellis law firm and vice president of legal affairs for Dell.
Boggs is known as much for her community service as her legal prowess. While at Starbucks, she led the legal team in a pro-bono housing justice project for people who had been evicted from their homes, and she worked with company attorneys to draft wills for police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. Boggs is a member of the boards of directors of Johns Hopkins University, School of Rock, LLC and the American National Red Cross. She is also on the advisory board of listener-supported radio station KEXP in Seattle. For her many achievements, Johns Hopkins University honored her with a Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2009.
Public-health role model: creating pathways and opportunities
When Janice Bowie entered the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health as a 38-year-old doctoral candidate, she found a scarcity of role models who looked like her. This was a new challenge for a woman who came with confidence developed during her education at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and later, while earning a master’s degree in public health at nearby University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. She also brought fifteen years’ experience working for the Virginia Department of Health, including serving as director of its Division of Chronic Disease as well as establishing the department’s first Office of Minority Health. Her time working with public-health professionals in Richmond was enlightening: Bowie realized that without a doctoral degree, she “did not have a voice at the table.” She came to Hopkins in 1991, determined to train and amplify her voice, but discovered “few black faculty and students then.”
“Attending an HBCU provided me, a young African American, the opportunity to build self-esteem and gain an understanding of society’s expectations as well as an appreciation of what society offers,” Bowie explained. She believes HBCUs still afford African-American undergraduates “a place to be grounded in how society will treat them, and instill self-confidence to navigate work and adult institutions.” Bowie clearly grasped how to navigate the Bloomberg School of Public Health; upon receiving her doctorate in 1997 she was named an assistant professor on the faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the Department of Health Policy and Management (now known as the Department of Health, Behavior and Society).
In addition to conducting and publishing research, Bowie says she now applies “knowledge from the academy to train others on the front lines of public health to achieve competence with methods, theories, and management techniques.” Her community-oriented research concentrates on advancing “participatory strategies and methodologies in addressing public-health issues and eliminating health disparities in minority and underserved communities.” In 2019, Bowie became the director of the Bloomberg School’s flexible, part-time Doctor of Public Health Program, designed for early- to mid-career public-health professionals.
Bowie strives to be the role model that was missing when she arrived at Johns Hopkins. “You get to be your best self in academia; I had the good fortune to work with bright and talented people” at the Bloomberg School, she observes, expressing gratitude “for those who came before.” Even now, she stays in touch with many of her former students and continues to mentor them because she “wants them to do better and more” than she has. She admits she has “pushed others forward onto the tenure track” to encourage younger, particularly minority, colleagues to “achieve success in the academy.” Creating pathways and opportunities has been her focus: “We won’t need diversity if we have equality,” she says. “Diversity becomes a non-issue.”
Engineer for diversity
As the first black person to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Yale University, Gwen Boyd is determined to encourage greater diversity in the field.
Boyd joined the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory as a team engineer in 1980, served as assistant for development programs (coordinating all external programs including research at other universities) and is now executive assistant to the APL chief of staff.
Boyd helped establish the APL Technology Leadership Scholars Program, as well as the ATLAS Summer Internship Program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Minority Institutions. She was named chair of the Johns Hopkins Institutions Diversity Leadership Council, and in 2010 President Obama appointed her to the board of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.
Distinguished scholar and champion of Jamaican art
Art historian David Boxer was just twenty-nine years old when, in 1975, having just completed his dissertation at Johns Hopkins, he returned to his native Jamaica to become director and curator of the newly established National Gallery of Jamaica. His doctoral studies at Homewood had concentrated on the modernist painter Francis Bacon, one of the most important British painters of the twentieth century, whom Boxer had spent two weeks interviewing the previous year. Bacon’s psychologically intense, semi-abstract figurative imagery later influenced Boxer’s artistic efforts, which included paintings, collages, and mixed-media installations—often depicting literary and history-related themes, including slavery.
Substantially broadening his fellow Jamaicans’ understanding of their own culture, Boxer’s first exhibition for the National Gallery portrayed Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica, where he argued that art on the island had a much longer history than had been recognized previously. By the time he stepped down as director in 2013, Boxer had mounted more than fifty major exhibitions of Jamaican art, including one for the Smithsonian in 1983 that later formed the basis for the National Gallery of Jamaica’s first permanent exhibition. Boxer also steered the expansion of the museum’s holdings from about 230 works in 1974 to more than two thousand.
As a private collector, David Boxer amassed one of the most comprehensive collections of Jamaican art, photography, and furniture, as well as an exceptional collection of rare art books. Boxer also encouraged the efforts of Jamaica’s untrained, self-taught artists who created their paintings, sculptures, and carvings in the rural towns and villages where they lived. He called them “Intuitives,” and believed they helped to shape Jamaica’s national cultural identity. “Theirs is not ‘art for art’s sake,” he maintained, “but rather, as someone once described African art, ‘art for life’s sake.’”
Regarded as a leading scholar of art in the Caribbean region and arguably the most eminent authority of Jamaican art, Boxer left a distinguished legacy. In August 2016, Jamaica’s prime minister bestowed the Order of Jamaica (considered the equivalent of British knighthood) on David Boxer, acknowledging that he was being recognized “not just his personal artistic genius but even more so for what you have done for countless others in your unyielding passion to foster the growth of Jamaican art.” Writing about his “colleague, mentor, and friend” not long before Boxer died, art historian Edward M. Gomez declared Boxer “a towering figure in the recent intellectual history of the Caribbean region, whose work as an educator and activist helped shape the modern cultural identity of his small nation in the post-colonial era.” In their final conversation Boxer told Gomez, “We make art because we have—or we think we have—something to say and because we hope that, somehow, it will endure.” The pioneering researcher, thinker, collector, teacher, and working artist was seventy-one years old when he died at the end of May 2017.
Building Bridges, Blending Voices
Growing up in the projects in New York City, Gregory Branch witnessed many traumatic events. Those childhood experiences in Brooklyn, combined with the education he received from the Xavierian Brothers, stimulated a deep desire to help others. It was an encounter in 1988, however, while at medical school at SUNY Buffalo that really focused his imagination and inspired Branch to excel in all his endeavors. That year, he and his fellow first year students invited the newly famous Dr. Ben Carson to come from Johns Hopkins to speak. “If you want to be competitive,” Carson emphasized, “you must do well in medical school.” Branch took Carson’s advice to heart. “I was so inspired; if you look at my grades, you’ll see that from that time on, I went from high satisfactory to honors.” He went on to graduate magna cum laude.
When he arrived at Johns Hopkins to begin his internship in internal medicine, Branch came under the influence of cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins, who took particular interest in mentoring fellow African American doctors as they learned their way around medical institutions. “Levi Watkins was bigger than life,” Branch remembers. “He was proud to be an African American physician and made it okay for others. Levi spoke to power and called a spade a spade. He challenged Hopkins to invest more in black and brown students.” Branch acknowledged, “Even when Dr. Watkins was chastising me, I could feel his love and I knew he was supporting me.”
Branch encountered plenty of prejudice in the hospital as a young doctor, sometimes being questioned about his credentials and qualifications by professional colleagues. Others, however, championed him. “The black and brown members of the staff did anything and everything they could to support me because they were so proud I was there as a doctor. That’s how Unified Voices got started.” When too many people signed up to sing at an annual talent show in 1993, Branch suggested they become a choir. Their success inspired continued practice and today, among his many other responsibilities, Branch still directs more than ninety participants—composed of administrators, employees, faculty, students, and local residents—as they blend their talents to sing songs of hope, health, and healing while building bridges between the medical institution and their neighbors. “We hope that through our songs and performances someone’s spirit will be lifted,” Dr. Branch says. As the group’s motto proclaims, “Where there is unity, there is strength.”
After completing his residency, also at Hopkins, Branch became the lead physician and director of laboratory services at the Johns Hopkins East Baltimore Medical Center. When he became chief medical officer for a private practice with multiple offices in Washington, DC, he discovered that “administration is one of my spiritual gifts,” and joined the first cohort to earn masters of business administration degrees from the University of Baltimore, completing the program in 1999. With this new credential, Branch returned to Baltimore and assumed the medical directorship of Baltimore Medical Systems Inc.’s Middlesex and Highlandtown clinics, then worked for the Maryland Physicians Care and Maryland Health Insurance Plan for several years. There his communication skills enabled Branch to educate physicians to achieve positive outcomes and minimize frustration; that efficiency, including his efforts to computerize the processing of records, became a model for the entire company.
Since 2008, Dr. Branch has led the Baltimore County Department of Health. He now manages more than fifteen hundred employees responsible for clinical services, community health services, behavioral and mental health services, environmental health, animal services, child and adult welfare services, animal services, medical and energy assistance, and the Section-8 housing voucher program. He is also the Health Officer for Baltimore County and is responsible for the County’s COVID-19 mitigation effort. Branch, whose degrees and professional credentials include M.D., MBA, Certified Physician Executive (CPE)and Fellow of the American College of Physicians (FACP), is also an instructor for both the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine. Branch directs its Urban Medical Residents Public Health Rotation. He is also the past Board President of Project P.L.A.S.E. (People Lacking Adequate Shelter and Employment), and annually hosts a much anticipated, widely attended fund raiser for the organization at his home.
Tireless educator, benefactor, explorer
Randolph W. “Bill” Bromery was a man of multiple talents and careers. After serving as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II, he drew on his flight training to become an airborne exploration geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), beginning in 1948. During that time, Bromery was involved with projects mapping large sections of the United States (including Alaska) and West Africa, and rose to the level of branch chief. Remarkably, over his twenty years with the USGS, Bromery also secured a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Howard University, in 1956; a master’s degree in geology and geophysics at American University, in 1962; and a PhD in geology and oceanography from Johns Hopkins, in 1968.
Keith Bromery recalls his father “as a tireless individual who was often up before dawn and off to work before his children were out of bed. The Hopkins days were long and seemingly unending for Dad, as he often went from his full-time job as a geophysicist at the USGS, working out of the local regional branch office in Bethesda,” then commuting several evenings each week to the Homewood campus. “When Dad returned home, almost always after sundown, he would warmly greet us and then head upstairs to my mom’s and his bedroom to read, study, and write. This activity continued well into the night, long after his kids were asleep.”
As one of the first African-American geophysicists with full academic credentials, Bromery was soon recruited by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Upon joining the faculty in 1967, he helped spearhead an effort to enroll and support more minority students. Just three years later he became the campus’s first vice chancellor of student affairs and, in 1972, Bromery was named chancellor. Under his leadership, UMass Amherst successfully increased efforts to attract women and minorities—both as students and faculty—and became an early center for African-American Studies. He returned to teaching and advising doctoral candidates in 1979, then served as interim president or president at several colleges in Alabama and Massachusetts between 1988 and 2003. He also served on the board of directors of numerous corporations, including ExxonMobil and the Singer Company.
The Geological Society of America elected Randolph Bromery president in 1989; his portrait hangs on permanent display in the National Academy of Science in Washington, DC. He received honorary degrees from nine colleges and universities, including a doctor of humane letters degree in 2003 from Johns Hopkins, where he also served on the board of trustees from 1986 to 1994. Before his death in 2013, he and his wife, Cecile, funded the Bromery Community Scholarship Fund and the Graduate Fellowship Fund at the University of Massachusetts. At JHU, they established an endowed fellowship in Dr. Bromery’s name to provide equal access to graduate education for students from underrepresented minorities in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, as well as a weekly series of departmental seminars to bring distinguished scientists to the Homewood campus (both from government and from other universities around the US) to deliver lectures on their research.
Teller of stories and grower of imaginations
One of the signature stories Karen Freeman Burdnell tells is that of her first — and worst — Afro haircut while she was a freshman at Johns Hopkins University. As she walked across campus that day, she believes she ran into just about every other black freshman on campus and that each one of them had something to say about her hair, from offering her hats to cover it up to expressing concern about whether perhaps she had fallen asleep in the barber”s chair.
Telling stories has become a major focus of Burdnell’s life. The daughter of a storyteller, Burdnell first discovered her own talent for storytelling as a teenaged camp counselor. Now telling stories is a part of her work as a children’s librarian for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and she expects to complete a master’s degree in storytelling from East Tennessee State University by the end of 2012. She is a member of the Griot Circle of Maryland, the National Association of Black Storytellers, and the National Storytelling Network.
“Our imaginations spur and grow through the oral tradition and through telling our own stories,” Burdnell says.
Burdnell’s haircut story reveals the sense of community she felt on the Johns Hopkins campus. She entered the school in the fall of 1970, the first year that Johns Hopkins began accepting female undergraduates, and among the 90 admitted were five black women: Burdnell, two fellow freshmen Shirley Dilsworth and Gail Williams, and two transfer students, Lynn Parker and Barbara Wyche.
While she didn’t live on campus, Burdnell had a rich on-campus life, attending sporting events, working at a candy shop in Levering Hall, and participating in the Black Student Union. Her Baltimore home became a respite for some of the other black students.
As she earned her bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins, Burdnell learned important lessons including how she could best study and retain information, what her writing strengths are, and how to advocate for herself.
“I knew how to think before I got to Johns Hopkins,” Burdnell concludes, “but the challenging and competitive atmosphere at Johns Hopkins allowed me to test and refine my thinking abilities. They were put to good use there.”