Defying Disparities

A new academic year has begun at Howard University, and as our nation continues to face adversity, chaos and despair, my mission here at Howard University remains clear: to educate our young people in the most excellent fashion.

In executing my vision, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that Howard’s outstanding students and their families, and many other people of color, are confronted with disparities in a number of areas. People of color grapple with more health disparities than any other race, and we simply see a disproportionate lack of Blacks in key professions, such as medicine and dentistry.

But the question is this: How are people of color responding to these disparities? Historically, Howard University students and alumni have consistently addressed disparities. I am reminded of a conversation I had with CNN host Wolf Blitzer last spring, in which I discussed topics that alumni raised about my vision for strengthening the University.

During that conversation, I spoke about my mentor, Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr. Back in 1948, after he finished his undergraduate degree at Florida A&M University (FAMU), he could only apply to two medical schools: Howard and Meharry Medical College in Tennessee. After FAMU’s president petitioned for him to get into Howard, he was admitted, graduated No. 1 in his class, and was, essentially, given an opportunity that got him to where he is today—a highly reputable surgical oncologist.

Like Dr. Leffall, there are a few others who come to mind as African Americans who have overcome and addressed disparities in their respective fields. In the field of law, there was Charles Hamilton Houston, who played a role in nearly every civil rights case before the Supreme Court between 1930 and Brown v. Board of Education (1954). He also joined Howard Law School’s faculty, and became a mentor to Thurgood Marshall, who was later appointed to the Supreme Court.

In the field of education, I am reminded of Dr. Jeanne L. Noble. After graduating from Howard, she went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University, and became the first African-American woman to move from assistant to full professor at the New York University School of Education.

Finally, there was Dr. Inabel Burns Lindsay, who became the first dean of Howard’s School of Social Work, leading the school to become the second accredited school in the country to serve Black students.

Historically, Howard University, in many fields, offered the only opportunity for people of color. Though times have changed, Howard is still paving the way for people of color to defy disparities. For instance, Howard University sends the second-highest number of Black students to medical school, and we produce 50 percent of Black dentists, along with Meharry.

As we move forward in this academic year and those to come, it is of the utmost importance that Howard University continues to produce professionals who can go out into the community and make a difference in not only medi- cine and dentistry, but the vast majority of fields in which people of color are underrepresented.

In a society where the stereotype of what somebody of color is capable of accomplishing still exists, Howard University students and alumni will maintain excellence in carrying forth the University’s motto, Truth and Service, as we tackle the disparities that people of color endure.

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