The Dean’s Welcome

The 21st Annual Minority Health Conference

School of Public Health

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

February 19, 1999

William L. Roper, M.D., M.P.H.

Dean, School of Public Health

It is my pleasure to welcome you to Carolina and to the School of Public Health’s 21st Annual Minority Health Conference.  As you have already heard, this event has earned a distinguished reputation for focusing on the most pressing health issues facing minority communities across our state, region, and nation—a reputation that transcends its still youthful age.  Today we have more than 400 professionals, researchers, and students in attendance—from North Carolina and 15 other states stretching from coast to coast.  On behalf of the conference organizers and the UNC School of Public Health, I want to thank you for supporting this very important effort and helping it to come of age.  

            This year’s conference focuses on the process of coming-of-age, and the challenges faced by minority communities in “raising resilient children.”  As a pediatrician, public health professional, and parent, this is an issue of profound interest and importance to me.  We know that the health risks and experiences our children face early in life can have dramatic effects on their long-term health and quality of life.  From prenatal care, to infant nutrition and immunization, to unintentional injuries and environmental hazards during childhood, to domestic and community violence, to risk-taking behaviors during adolescence—our children face an array of serious health risks. 

During the course of this conference’s 21-year history, we as health and human services professionals have made notable achievements in many of these areas.  Yet many disparities have persisted for communities of color.  Infant mortality among African Americans and some American Indian communities remains at nearly twice the national average.  Among children living in households below the poverty line, African American children are still 2.7 times more likely to have elevated blood lead levels than are non-Hispanic white children.  And children from minority communities are still as much as three times as likely as non-Hispanic white children to be hospitalized for asthma.  Many minority communities continue to face disproportionate health and social burdens stemming from economic hardship, environmental risks, and barriers to adequate health care, educational, and child care facilities. 

To be sure, there is much that individuals, communities, and organizations can do collectively to address the health disparities, health care barriers, and health risks.  These leverage points are the focus of this conference, and they are an essential component of our mission at the School of Public Health.  This conference is an exciting opportunity to share ideas and experiences, identify new challenges and promising solutions, and build and strengthen relationships around the task of improving health among communities of color.  I hope you will find many opportunities for learning, discovery, and partnering while you are here.  

Before moving on, I would like to recognize someone who has been instrumental in enabling this effort to come of age.  William T. Small, Jr. is Associate Dean and Senior Advisor for Multicultural Affairs in the School of Public Health.  For over a quarter of a century, Dean Small has worked on behalf of public health students - enrolled students, former students, and prospective students, and their families.  Although he has worked for the Dean, he could not have been a more effective advocate for students in the School of Public Health if they employed him directly.  Dedicated, compassionate, trusted, and insightful, Dean Small has helped so many students in so many ways, that even years after graduation former students seek his advice before making major life decisions.

Dean Small has been a friend to students of all backgrounds, but he has been a very special friend to minority students.  When he came to Chapel Hill there were scarcely a dozen black people in the entire School.  That the number is many times that today is to a very significant degree a result of his tireless and effective efforts.  Dean Small went out to find minority students to come to the School, travelling all over North Carolina and beyond.  He opened doors for them, found money, and stayed available to them all the way through their degree programs.

Dean Small could be so effective in promoting the cause of minorities in the School because of his credibility as a minority professional himself and as an active participant in civic affairs, because of his energy and dedication, and because of his skill as an enabler. Former students and colleagues tell of how he would work behind the scenes, talking with lots of people, persisting but not in a way to stimulate resistance, going to bat for students in so many ways yet often without their even knowing.  

Today's Conference - this outstandingly successful institution - is a creation of the Minority Student Caucus - and Dean Small.  Students involved in those early years tell how Dean Small pulled the Minority Health Conference together -- identifying people, shepherding the Conference activities, getting feedback. Dean Small was everywhere.  He would create the vehicle for people to really meet and interact and plan and do things. Each year a new group of students would arrive and organize a successful Conference.  Dean Small was the constant force that made that possible. Somehow the Conference, as everything else that he did, was always the accomplishment of someone else.   But to quote from a letter from a member of the Planning Committee after the 1991 Conference, "Bill Small's diverse and masterful contributions . . . his advice, experience, judgment, and commitment - as well as large amounts of his time and energy - were indispensable to the Conference's success.  The Dean's Office could not have been represented more effectively, diplomatically, and graciously."

Dean Small somehow never got into the spirit of self promotion.  But from now on he will not be able to escape recognition entirely, since henceforth the Keynote Address will bear his name. 

            With that said, it is my pleasure to introduce a familiar face in public health within this state, North Carolina’s State Health Director and Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Dr. Andrew Dennis McBride.  Dr. McBride has rapidly achieved a position of profound leadership, visibility, and authority for North Carolina public health in only his first year on the job.  Before to coming to North Carolina in February of last year, Dr. McBride served as director of the Stamford Health Department in Stamford, Connecticut, as the commissioner of health for Washington, DC, and as a senior vice president at the Children’s Hospital of the National Medical Center in Washington, DC. 

In these positions, Dr. McBride has designed and implemented a number of innovative public health initiatives that have had important implications for the health of minority communities and children, including an aggressive childhood lead poisoning prevention program; a comprehensive AIDS education and prevention program; and a public school-based asthma screening program.  A fellow pediatrician, Dr. McBride graduated high school in High Point, NC, and went on to receive his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his public health degree from Yale. 

Without further delay, let me cede the podium to North Carolina’s public health doctor Dennis McBride.  As always it is a pleasure to have you here with us.

[Note by Victor Schoenbach, 4/21/2021: This text is presumably what I sent to Dean Roper in response to his request. Changes may have been made before the Dean delivered the remarks.]