Fiat Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate and reflect on the achievements of African Americans and their contributions to our nation’s greatness. Among those who have helped shape our country for the better are Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, whose struggles against slavery helped spearhead the abolition movement; Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Thurgood Marshall, titans of civil rights activism of the 1960s; and Katherine Johnson and Dr. Charles Drew, noteworthy for their contributions to science and medicine.

As we celebrate Black History Month at Alfred University, we can look to one of our own, Dr. Robert L. Johnson ’68, who is making history and creating considerable impact in the health care arena.

Bob, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from our University, is dean of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey, and interim dean of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Bob is of no relation to the namesake of the latter.) He is one of only a handful of African Americans serving as medical school deans. Bob is also the only dean in the history of the United States to oversee two medical schools simultaneously (NJ Spotlight feature on Dr. Robert L. Johnson).

Bob’s contributions to his profession and society are truly outside of ordinary. Indeed, they are extraordinary.

In the early Seventies, a group of young professionals working in the fields of medicine, psychiatry, law, education, social work, and the arts recognized a need to invest in New York City’s youth. In 1972, the group started The Door, a program aimed at helping a diverse and growing population of disconnected adolescents gain the resources needed to succeed in school, work, and life.

Among The Door’s co-founders was our own Bob Johnson, then fresh out of medical school, having earned his degree from the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now the New Jersey Medical School). At the time, Bob was one of just three physicians in New York City trained in adolescent medicine.

Today, The Door annually serves nearly 11,000 young people from all over New York City. It provides a wide range of services including reproductive health care and education, mental health counseling and crisis assistance, legal assistance, GED and ESOL classes, tutoring and homework help, college preparation services, career development, job training and placement, supportive housing, sports and recreational activities, arts, and nutritious meals—all for free, completely confidential, and under one roof. Bob still finds time to see young patients at The Door twice weekly.

Bob has also enjoyed a teaching career that spans more than four decades. Since joining the faculty of the New Jersey Medical School in 1976, he has taught nearly 25 percent of all medical doctors currently practicing in New Jersey. His impact on the School’s growth and success has been significant, particularly in the area of research. When he took over as dean in 2005, the New Jersey Medical School was struggling in its research efforts. Under Bob’s leadership, the School now ranks 38th in the country in research spending.

When I had the pleasure and honor of meeting him late last year, he told me he that in his “spare” time, he reads two or three books each week, particularly enjoying works of fiction and mysteries. He was thrilled to learn that a fellow Alfred University alumnus, Robert Littell ’56, is an award-winning spy novelist living in France with 20 books to his credit. With the help of Alfred resident Alan Littell ’53 (Robert Littell’s brother) we arranged for the author to send Bob an autographed copy of his best-selling book The Company: A Novel of the CIA.

Alfred University still holds a special place in Bob’s heart. He told me he loved his experience here and still dreams about our University nearly on a weekly basis. He expressed an interest in giving back to his alma mater, perhaps by creating a pipeline whereby students interested in following in his career footsteps could study medicine and/or do research at the schools he leads.

Bob Johnson’s contributions to the health care field and society at large—his leadership of two medical schools and the impact he has had on the youth of New York City—cannot be overstated. When we say that our University’s mission is to “transform student lives and better our world,” Bob is an Alfred University graduate who powerfully manifests our mission and whose impact we can both be grateful for and poignantly celebrate this month.

Fiat Black History Month!