Published August 3, 2022
Hundreds of children in the city of Buffalo received free backpacks filled with school supplies on Sunday, thanks to the first Jonathan D. Daniels, MD, Memorial School Drive: The Next Generation of Transformational Leaders.
Daniels, associate director of admissions at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a 1998 graduate, died July 4, along with his adult daughters, Jordan and Jensen, in a fire at their North Buffalo home.
Three hundred and twenty-nine backpacks were distributed to kindergartners through 12th-graders at Urban Family Practice, 1315 Jefferson Ave., where Daniels practiced as a pediatrician.
The event was spearheaded by Beatrice González, a recent alumna of UB’s natural sciences interdisciplinary master’s program, and one of the many students mentored by Daniels.
“We shared a lot of interests in health policy and health equity, especially in the community,” González says. “We had talked about how we could provide tools to his pediatric patients or just the public in general, and especially our community in the Jefferson Avenue neighborhood.”
The pair finally settled on the idea of organizing a school supply drive.
“The week of his passing we were supposed to meet to finalize plans,” González says. “Afterwards, I contacted the Daniels family to make sure it was on board with me moving forward with the project.”
González asked UB faculty, staff and students to consider donating new backpacks and school supplies, and she reached out as well to the community at large.
“I could not have done this without the UB community and the community of Buffalo in general, his family and loved ones,” she says. “The response has been incredible. It is bittersweet, but the support has been amazing.”
“I’m thrilled to see students like Beatrice González step up to lead events like this,” says Allison Brashear, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School. “It is the perfect way to honor Jonathan’s memory, as it speaks directly to his core mission of diversity and inclusion, and helping students achieve success.”
Emmekunla K. Nylander, an obstetrician-gynecologist who attended medical school with Daniels, says Daniels “he was like a brother to me.”
“It’s heartwarming and overwhelming and brings a tear to my eye to know we have the support of the community and the Jacobs School,” she says.
“Jonathan stands on our shoulders. He is our angel. A lot of the medical students who are here are part of his legacy. They will gain from this,” Nylander adds. “He served the children, so we wanted to uplift the children.”
Before the distribution on July 31, volunteers gathered at the Jacobs School on two consecutive Saturdays to fill the backpacks, using supply lists geared toward appropriate grade levels.
A group of first-year medical students participated on July 30 as part of the Day of Service program for incoming students.
González sees the school supply drive as an extension of Daniels’ work to promote diversity in medicine.
“The goal is to make sure that children have the tools they need to be successful in school,” she says. “We wanted to make sure we could provide that for each and every student this year and in future years.
“I want to continue this every year, whether I am in Buffalo or on the moon. I need to make sure I honor Dr. Daniels and continue his work because it was important.”
Daniel Popoola, a fourth-year medical student, remembers how difficult it was to leave his 1-year-old son on that first day of medical school, and how Daniels learned of his struggle that day and sought him out to speak to him about it.
“He told me that sometimes we have to be away from our loved ones so that we can be there for them later,” he says.
“Dr. Daniels gave me wings to fly. It’s so sad that he passed before we could fully realize what he had done for us,” Popoola adds. “The hardest thing is the inability to say thank you. I vowed to stay in Buffalo and continue the work that he has done. He cannot be replaced.”
González says the school supply drive is a labor of love for her because of the impact Daniels had on her and the fact he always made himself available whenever she needed advice.
“I knew I had to do this because he was always there for me. This is only a fraction of what he has done for me,” she says. “This is something that was started from conversations we had, and I will continue it for the rest of my life.”
González says the work also has helped her cope with the grieving process.
“This project has been something to really look forward to in this time of grief,” she says. “We need to continue to be strong and remember that he is with us in spirit and just carry that with us.”