Black History Month Exhibition at NLM Celebrates NIH Scientists

People gather round while two women holding giant scissors cut a ceremonial red ribbon

It’s all smiles at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for NLM’s Black History Month exhibition.

In previous years, NIH Black History Month was celebrated by honoring famous Civil Rights heroes who are household names, such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, or well-known physicians such as Dr. David Satcher.

This year, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) looked down the hall and across NIH for inspiration. The result is an exhibition of photos and profiles at NLM honoring 14 African American scientists at NIH, plus four scientists from the past.

Celebrating the Contributions of African American Scientists Past and Present was sponsored by EDI in collaboration with NLM and the Network of African American Fellows.

At the grand opening of the exhibition earlier this month, Dr. Christopher Williams, an NIH former postdoctoral fellow and a co-founder of the Network of African American Fellows, said, “It is rare to have this many African-American scientists gathered in one place….They did not set out to rewrite history, but instead they focused on completing any tasks that were given to them to the best of their abilities. Now, after years and decades of consistent small victories and repeated demonstrations of excellence, others have taken notice.”

Dr. Roland Owens, honoree and assistant director of the NIH Office of Intramural Research, provided some historical perspective. “As of October 1, 2018, only 10 of the NIH intramural research program’s 817 tenured senior investigators self-identified as being of black African descent,” he said. “We have made progress over the last 60 years, but clearly not enough.”

In his work with EDI’s black employment committee, Owens said that one consistent barrier is the lack of visibility of role models for black youth. “Because many African Americans have first and last names that are European, we have often been invisible contributors to the biomedical research enterprise,” he said. “Even in these days of websites and social media, it can be difficult to find images of black scientists unless you know exactly where to look….It is our desire that black scientists, postdocs, students, and everybody will look at these pictures and posters and say, ‘Hey, if they can do it, so can I.’”

Before recognizing each honoree, Dr. Patricia Flatley Brennan, director of NLM, spoke of the importance of this particular exhibition honoring current NIH scientists and how the honorees represent 10 institutes and the NIH Office of the Director. “What an amazing, knowledgeable, and impressive group,” she said.

After applause for each honored scientist, the guests gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and unveiling of the portraits.

This was the part of the program that Chloe Edwards, 7, was looking forward to the most. As Chloe waited by the portrait of her grandmother, Dr. Emmeline Edwards, director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, she held a book called Bold Women in Black History so her grandmother could sign it.

“This was a five-year dream come true,” said Victoria Gross, principal strategist for EDI and organizer of the event and exhibition. “Having this much talent in one room was breathtaking.”

“Celebrating the Contributions of African American Scientists Past and Present” will remain on display outside the Lister Hill auditorium in bldg. 38A throughout the month. In addition, visitors are encouraged to view two banner exhibitions that focus specifically on African American health providers near the entrance to the main NLM bldg. 38: Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons and Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine.

By Kathryn McKay, NLM in Focus writer. A version of this article appeared in the NIH Record.

eight display panels featuring scientist image, bio, and quote

six display panels featuring scientist image, bio, and quote

THE HONOREES

Marie Bernard, MD
National Institute on Aging

Darlene Dixon, DVM, PhD
National Institute of Environmental Sciences

Emmeline Edwards, PhD
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Courtney Fitzhugh, MD
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Shawn Gaillard, PhD
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Gary Gibbons, MD
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Carl V. Hill, PhD, MPH
National Institute on Aging

Alfred Johnson, PhD
NIH Office of the Director

Zayd M. Khaliq, PhD
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Worta McCaskill-Stevens, MD, MS
National Cancer Institute

Roland Owens, PhD
NIH Office of Intramural ResearchAnna Ramsey-Ewing, PhD
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences

Griffin Rodgers, MD, MACP
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Fasil Tekola-Ayele, PhD
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

HONOREES FROM THE PAST

Alice August Ball, MS (1892-1916)
Developed first successful treatment for leprosy

Saint Elmo Brady, PhD (1884-1966)
First African American to earn a PhD in chemistry

Warren Henry, PhD (1884-2001)
Physicist whose contributions advanced science, technology, and education

Harold Amos, PhD (1918-2003)
First African American to chair a department at Harvard Medical School

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