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Celebrating the Legacy of Civil Rights Legend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MlLK Day Awards
Photos by Rob Strong

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership in the civil rights movement effected national consciousness in the U.S. and opened doors long closed to Black Americans. In April 1963, while jailed in Birmingham, Alabama, King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  

The Geisel School of Medicine commemorated King’s visionary legacy during its 17th Annual MLK Health Equity Celebration with a day of service, a series of events centered on the theme of Health in Revolution, and recognition of those in the medical community who exemplify King’s vision and life. 

Events ranged from discussions on social determinants of health in Black communities; the intersections of health and activism—past, present, and future; ethics in disaster medicine that support exploring and supporting current global activism, igniting a further call to action toward sustainable progress in equitable healthcare, and further defining the role of medical education and healthcare providers in not only maintaining, but accelerating the momentum of the healthcare revolution. 

Amid those January 16 discussions, Geisel’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, & Community Engagement held its inaugural I am the Dream: The Past, Present and Futureawards luncheon dedicated to King’s life and vision. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni were recognized for demonstrating the “ideals and values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility, and service that so radiantly defined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s character and empowered his leadership,” said Lisa McBride, PhD, associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. 

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Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award—John F. Nigriny, Jr., MD, plastic surgeon, and assistant professor of surgery.  

Inspired by King’s words, “The time is always right to do what is right,” Nigriny has shown a remarkable commitment to the transgender population who experience body dysphoria and desire gender reassignment by demonstrating inclusion and equity to this population. His validation of these individuals shows the medical profession, and our present-day culture, that they deserve the same care as others seeking medical care.     

Distinguished Alumni Award—Rajeev Fernando, MD, HS’09-10, an infectious disease specialist and consultant for FEMA emergency field hospitals nationwide. 

Motivated by King’s words, “There are three evils of society—the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of evil,” Fernando began his humanitarian life as a child in India caring for disfigured Lepers. Having worked as an international physician, and a member of the Emergency Backup Team for Doctors Without Borders, he now assists refugees at the Poland/Ukraine border providing psychosocial support and mental healthcare to those without access to care. He is also leading an initiative developing mobile clinics to treat individuals experiencing gender-based violence, soldiers with disabilities, and traumatized children with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. 

Outstanding Faculty Award—Sarah G. Johansen MED’90, FACEP, FACP, assistant professor of medicine, and of community and family medicine. 

Johansen has provided support and guidance for innumerable medical students as faculty advisor for the Geisel Physicians for Health and Human Rights (PHR) chapter from its beginning. PHR mobilizes health professionals around the world to advocate health, dignity, and justice for all. Under her leadership, the Geisel PHR chapter developed an Asylum Clinic, recently renamed The Upper Valley Human Rights Clinic, in partnership with the Good Neighbor Clinic where students are trained in asylum evaluations to work with the referring legal councilors.  

With humility and hospitality, she embodies King’s spirit through her commitment to cultivating community, supporting residents and medical students, and fostering collaboration between health student organizations, both graduate and undergraduate, and engages the Upper Valley in Health and Human Rights issues.  

Outstanding Staff Award—Roland L.B. Lamb, MPH, residential MPH/MS program manager, The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice  

Passionate about public health, education, social justice, and the opportunities to create a more equal and better future for all, Lamb has worked in several South American countries as part of a collaboration agreement funded by the Government of Canada. The partnership supported vulnerable communities in eleven Latin American and Caribbean countries and was aligned with Canada’s Feminist Assistance Agenda. Focused on health communications and improving maternal and child health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene, his experience includes documenting health dialogues between indigenous communities, Ministries of Health, and the World Health Organization.    

Student of Merit Award—Marilyn S. Ndukwe ’23, 2022-2023 student government president; Chiamaka L. Okorie ’24. 

Ndukwe continuously enriches the Geisel and Hanover communities through her advocacy work and service to fellow medical students, faculty, and staff. She is passionate about healthcare access and systems for underserved communities globally and mentorship for underrepresented minorities in STEM. 

Okorie pioneered a medical accompaniment role for newly arrived Afghan refugees in the Upper Valley as they interact with the local healthcare system. She has taught and has mentored numerous students through different programs during her time at Geisel, specifically as part of the McGill Scholars program working with the students of color collective at Lebanon High School and through the F1 Doctors and Black Girl White Coat organization. 

Samuel F. McGill Award—Falen Demsas MED’22, first-year resident in vascular surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

King’s words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” have guided Demsas who served as Geisel’s first Black student government president. Passionately involved in the school’s medical education committee, Student National Medical Association, Black Students at Geisel, Urban Health Scholars, Surgery DEI Committee, and the Addressing Microaggression in Medical Education workgroup, Demsas was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society. 

As a Black woman who has navigated spaces that did not always make room for her, her lived experience propelled her to seek ways of proactively giving agency to those on the margins and developing a commitment to building systems of equity and justice.   

Also that day, David Satcher, MD, PhD, the 16th U.S. Surgeon General and former Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, who knew and marched with King, joined with Antonia Novello, MD, the 14th U.S. Surgeon General, and history-making first woman and first Hispanic to hold that position, to informally talk about Satcher’s fifty-year career and commitment to eliminating health disparities for underserved groups, such as minorities and the poor, and shedding light on neglected issues, such as mental and sexual health—inequities brought to light by King’s famous remark, “Of all the forms of inequity, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” 

David Satcher and Antonia Novello. Photo by Rob Strong
David Satcher, MD, PhD and Antonia Novello, MD

Satcher is the founding director and senior advisor of The Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. Reflecting Satcher’s experience in improving public health policy, the Institute’s mission is to develop a diverse group of exceptional health leaders, advance and support comprehensive health system strategies, and actively promote policies and practices that will reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities in health.