By DIRK HOFFMAN
Published November 11, 2022
A Black Men in White Coats chapter has been established at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and named in honor of the late Jonathan D. Daniels, the school’s former associate director of admissions who died July 4 in a fire at his North Buffalo home.
Black Men in White Coats is a national organization founded by Dale Okorodudu that seeks to increase the number of Black men in the field of medicine.
Four Jacobs School medical students are co-founders and co-presidents of the local chapter: fourth-year student Shawn Gibson and second-year students Michael Augustin, Kwaku Bonsu and Nathanial Graves.
Gibson says the idea to start a chapter at the Jacobs School is something he actually discussed with Daniels during the summer after his first year — but with busy schedules and the emergence of COVID-19, it didn’t happen.
Gibson was back home in New York City studying for the USMLE Step 2 exam this summer when he heard the news of Daniels’ tragic death.
“It left a lot of us afloat, to lose a very, very deep mentor like that,” he says. “It started off as a plan to charter it with Dr. Daniels here alive and present, but sadly, after his loss is when we said, ‘we need to charter this now.’”
Gibson says Daniels’ widow, Janessa Givens Daniels, gave her blessing to naming the chapter the Jonathan Daniels Chapter of Black Men in White Coats at Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.
“Our goal is to increase the percentage of Black male physicians,” Bonsu says. “For us, Dr. Daniels was the perfect role model of a Black male physician. I don’t think I would be in the Jacobs School if I did not meet him.”
The chapter plans to work with local schools to mentor Black students; its first outreach is with Buffalo PS 39 Martin Luther King Multicultural Institute for grades 3-8 on High Street.
“We are creating that pipeline for young Black men in the community,” Bonsu explains. “If they are interested in medicine, that’s great. If not, we still are mentoring them and helping them with the things they are interested in, helping them prepare to be future professionals.
“We want to start with younger, elementary and middle school students,” he adds. “We want to help them with schoolwork and teach them the right things so they can be better future applicants to medical school. We don‘t want them to wait until college to learn everything they need to know before they can try to go to medical school.”
Augustin says the mentoring efforts will focus on fourth to sixth graders at first, with the potential to expand to other grades later on.
“We want them to be mentally prepared and we tell them, ‘if you need assistance with anything, we will be there to support you or give you the resources you need to succeed,’ whether that is giving them advice or pointing them in the right direction,” he says.
The medical students became involved with the city school through an introduction facilitated by the Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer, pastor of Liberty Missionary Baptist Church, and an instructor at the Jacobs School. Pointer and Fred D. Archer III, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, are the faculty advisers for the new chapter.
“What we know is that in order to arrive at medical school, it requires a tremendous amount of preparation,” Pointer says. “If that preparation doesn’t start until high school, you are behind the eight ball.”
Pointer notes that MLK School 39 is just a short walk from the medical school, “and yet those students in that school, by and large, have never seen a Black physician.”
“We want to, at least, give them that experience and we want to make sure these kids can begin to dream as early as possible.
“We chose a school close to the medical school on purpose. When we need to travel, we don’t have far to go,” he adds. “And in those instances when we bring them here, they don’t have far to go.”
Gibson says the whole idea of the charter club is to impart the message that “you could be what you see.”
“We all have our own stories of how we got here to medical school,” he says. “I certainly did not start early. I was one of the late bloomers, a junior in high school. We all want to give that opportunity that we didn’t necessarily have.”
“The stat 2.7% is ingrained in all of us because that is the percentage of Black male physicians in the country,” says Gibson, who served as a panelist at a Black Men in White Coats forum in March at the Jacobs School.
Pointer notes that when he was a child, 40% of all African American physicians went to the four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) medical schools.
“Well, I haven’t been a child for over 50 years and those four medical schools are still producing 40% of all Black physicians,” he says. “What’s wrong with that picture is we have not provided the opportunity early enough for Black youngsters to believe they are capable of being a doctor.”
Gibson says the chapter is looking for additional Black male students to join its ranks.
“It could be residents or other health care professionals because this doesn’t just start or stop at the medical school.”
Email the chapter for additional information.