Donald E. Wilson, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, to Receive Eighth Annual USM Regents' Frederick Douglass Award September 25
University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents Chairman Clifford M. Kendall announced today that Donald E. Wilson, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the nation's first African-American dean of a predominantly white medical school, will receive the University System of Maryland Board of Regents' eighth annual Frederick Douglass Award during a special ceremony on Thursday, September 25 at 4 p.m. in Westminster Hall at the corner of Greene and Fayette streets on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).
Speakers at the event will include Jordan J. Cohen, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC); the Honorable Howard P. Rawlings, member of the Maryland House of Delegates; and Frank M. Calia, vice dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Board of Regents member Patricia S. Florestano and USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan will present the Douglass Award to Wilson. Former Board of Regents member Leronia A. Josey will serve as master of ceremonies, and UMB President David J. Ramsay will offer greetings from the campus. Janice Jackson, director of the gospel choir at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will perform solo in a musical tribute, accompanied by pianist Gloria Thompson.
"Don Wilson embodies an ideal that began in the earliest days of the civil rights movement, and continues on in strength today," Kendall said. "He reminds us that we, as Americans of every color and creed, have a birthright to equality. We are allowed, and encouraged, to hold that birthright in high regard, and to take advantage of it throughout our lives in order to first and foremost improve the lives of those around us. Dean Wilson has exemplified that ideal throughout his career, and he continues to do so every time he walks through the doors of the School of Medicine. He carries with him the great legacy of Frederick Douglass, and it is in that spirit of freedom and justice that we present him with this award."
Chancellor Kirwan added, "In a university system that boasts some of the state's and the nation's greatest assets, Don Wilson is a leader among leaders. We look to him for guidance and motivation in the delivery of an outstanding medical education that is widely known for its racial diversity and humanistic approach. Now, we take time to honor him for his far-reaching contributions, and to recognize the many ways that he has served his institution, and, indeed, the people of this country."
Donald E. Wilson, MD, MACP, who also serves as vice president for medical affairs at UMB, has dedicated his life to the advancement of medical science, education, and the principals of diversity and equity in health care. Under his leadership, the University of Maryland School of Medicine now has one of the most diverse student bodies in the country and the number of full-time faculty who are African-American has doubled. At the same time, research funding has soared, and the School of Medicine is now ranked as one of the top medical schools in the country.
Wilson grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of a trash collector who had fled the south to escape a lynching. Wilson knew from the age of five that he wanted to be a doctor. To do so, he had to overcome indifference and racial bias. For example, he achieved exceptional grades, but a principal told Wilson's parents that they should send their son to trade school rather than a prep school. The family rightly ignored the advice. Wilson went on to Harvard, becoming the first person in his family to receive a college degree. At Tufts Medical School, he was one of only three African-Americans in a class of 110. He began a successful career in medicine at a time when much of the country still practiced segregation.
Despite tremendous obstacles, Wilson rose quickly to become a top physician and researcher in his chosen specialty, gastroenterology. He became the youngest person to make full professor at the University of Illinois Medical School, and later became chief of gastroenterology. Later, he served as professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine at the State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn. He also was physician-in-chief of the University Hospital of Brooklyn and Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn. In 1991, Dean Wilson assumed the deanship of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and its faculty of nearly 1,000 physicians and researchers. The impact of his leadership was immediate.
When Wilson's tenure at UMB began, grants and contracts totaled $77 million. By 2003, that total had more than tripled to $262 million. Under his guidance, the School of Medicine has garnered record-setting research grants to target the world's most pressing health care problems, including AIDS, smallpox and anthrax, and schizophrenia. Philanthropic support to the School totaled $1.7 million in 1991; in 2002, private gifts to the School of Medicine reached a record $25.9 million during FY 2002.
Last May, the School of Medicine opened Health Sciences Facility II, a $67 million state-of-the-art biomedical research building. The facility will add more than 100,000 square feet of research, office and meeting space, enabling the School of Medicine to expand its world-renowned programs to fight infectious diseases and develop life saving vaccines.
Throughout his career, Wilson has made a special effort to assist minority students and increase the number of underrepresented minorities attending medical schools. He is a founding member of the Association of Academic Minority Physicians (AAMP), a professional organization for minority physicians and scientists. In 2000, the AAMC named him the first recipient of the Herbert W. Nickens Diversity Award, given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to promoting justice in medical education and health care.
Dean Wilson is nationally recognized for creating an atmosphere that respects and celebrates cultural and gender diversity. Women comprise 33 percent of the School of Medicine faculty, compared to the national average of 28 percent. Wilson also fosters culturally sensitive community outreach, advocacy and education programs, which address health care access and delivery needs in urban and rural communities. Under Wilson's leadership, School of Medicine faculty members and staff have contributed 250,000 hours of community service to more than 400 organizations in and around Maryland.
Wilson has been influential in the development of health care policy at both the state and national level. He serves as chairman of the Maryland Health Care Commission, which regulates and monitors the quality of health care services and HMOs. He also is chair-elect of the AAMC, which represents the 126 accredited U.S. medical schools, some 400 major teaching hospitals, more than 105,000 faculty, and the nation's 66,000 medical students.
Wilson holds membership in numerous prestigious medical/research societies, including the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the Association of American Physicians. He holds Master status at the American College of Physicians, an honor bestowed on less than one percent of the members.
The Frederick Douglass Award was established in 1995 by the USM Board of Regents to honor individuals "who have displayed an extraordinary and active commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity exemplified in the life of Frederick Douglass." Previous recipients include the Honorable Parren J. Mitchell, a member of Congress for the 7th District of Maryland (1996); Benjamin Quarles, scholar at Morgan State University (1997, posthumously); Samuel Lacy Jr., sports writer for the Baltimore Afro-American (1998); the Hon. Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1999); the late Beatrice "Bea" Gaddy, advocate for the poor and homeless and a member of the Baltimore City Council (2000); Dorothy Irene Height, chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (2001); and David C. Driskell, artist, art historian, and distinguished university professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park (2002).
Statesman, publisher and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was the leading spokesman of American blacks in the 1800s. Born a slave in 1817 in Tuckahoe, MD, he devoted his life to the abolition of slavery and the fight for black rights. Douglass's name at birth was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but he changed it when he fled from his master in Baltimore in 1838. He ended up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he attempted to ply his trade as a ship caulker, but settled for collecting garbage and digging cellars. In 1841, at a meeting of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society, Douglass delivered a lecture on freedom that so impressed the society that it hired him to talk publicly about his experiences as a slave. He then began a series of protests against segregation, and published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in 1845.
Out of fear that his identity as an escaped slave would be discovered upon publication of the Narrative, Douglass fled to England. There he spoke out against slavery and was given funds by friends to buy his freedom. He returned to the U.S. in 1847, founded an anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester, NY, and took up the cause of economic justice for freed blacks. He accused American businessmen, including some who were abolitionists, of hiring white immigrants over blacks. He also fought successfully against segregated schools in Rochester.
Douglass's home was a station on the underground railroad, which helped runaway slaves reach freedom. When the Civil War began in 1861, Douglass helped recruit blacks for the Union Army. He discussed the immorality of slavery with President Abraham Lincoln on several occasions. Finally, he wrote two expanded versions of his autobiography -- My Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He died in 1895.