The Medical Campus community gathered in Hiebert Lounge on Thursday, Jan. 24, to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year the annual event featured a conversation with Crystal Ann Williams, Associate Provost for Diversity & Inclusion.
Rafael Ortega, MD, Associate Dean for Diversity & Inclusion, welcomed more than 100 attendees. Dr. Ortega, who moved to Fayetteville, NC, from the Dominican Republic to learn English for a year at a predominantly white school while he was a teenager, began the event by talking about how Dr. King had impacted his own experience. “Only years later, did I fully grasp the significance of our greatest civil rights leader and how his teachings shaped my thinking.”
He then recognized Marcelle Willock, MD, former Professor and Chair of Boston University School of Medicine’s (BUSM) Department of Anesthesiology, who recently was appointed Professor Emerita. She was presented a certificate by Dr. Ortega and Hee-Young Park, PhD, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Chair of Medical Sciences & Education at BUSM. Dr. Willock told the audience, “I want the students and junior faculty to realize the tradition, the legacy, what you can accomplish and to never forget your roots and those who helped you.”
Holding back tears, Associate Provost Williams began her speech acknowledging Dr. Willock, who is the first African-American to achieve Professor Emerita status at Boston University. “I’m going to see if I can get through this without resorting to tears because it’s so moving that you’re here.”
As BU’s inaugural Associate Provost for Diversity & Inclusion, Ms. Williams provides leadership for initiatives that promote diversity, access and inclusion across the university. She is an award-winning poet, author of four books and recipient of several artistic fellowships, grants and commissions.
Ms. Williams reflected on the anguish and fear she witnessed following the election of President Donald J. Trump while serving as Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Professor of English and Senior Advisor to the President at Bates College. She also talked about a trip to a series of civil rights monuments and memorials she took with BU alumni. “I was struck by how many black women, in particular, have been erased from the national narrative as being seminal to the efficacy of the movement.” Ms. Williams compared the activism of black women during the Civil Rights Movement to the activism carried out by African-American women in 2016 and 2018 and how their actions were instrumental to political change.
She also discussed how the Civil Rights Movement was led by strategists and legal analysts who were relentless, and she expressed concern over the limited awareness of the movement’s full history. “We are undereducated about the civil rights movement in this country and I fear … it serves injustice.”
Ms. Williams concluded by challenging each member of the audience to learn something they didn’t know this year and reminded them that there is still more work to do concerning civil rights. “Remember that King said, ‘If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.’”
The event was sponsored by the BUSM Diversity & Inclusion Office, Goldman School of Dental Medicine Diversity Office, BU School of Public Health and BMC Minority Recruitment Program.