A motivational autobiography of the nation’s first African-American dean of a major medical school.
Wilson’s life traces a remarkable arc. Born in Massachusetts in 1936 to a father who fled South Carolina to escape a lynching, the author had many hurdles in front of him from the beginning. However, the successful life he subsequently carved out with determination, hard work and honesty proves that a strong sense of self can launch a person beyond limitations. Except for the final two chapters, with their neatly packaged lessons in leadership, this book consists of a straightforward account of Wilson’s life, from birth to retirement. From the age of nine, after a visit from a local physician to treat his terrible case of pneumonia, Wilson knew that he wanted to be a doctor. Forget that this was 1945 and long before the civil-rights movement; ignore the fact that a few years later his elementary school principal would think it more appropriate for him to attend the local trade school rather than the college-preparatory high school. Wilson knew what he wanted to do and had the intelligence and tenacity to go after it. After college at Harvard, where he was one of only nine African-American students on campus, Wilson landed at Tufts University Medical School in 1958, at a time when minorities made up about two percent of the medical-school student population nationwide. Wilson was forced to blaze his own trail, a fact magnified by the fact that there were no African-American faculty or professionals in the school to serve as role models or mentors. The book includes poignant moments in the author’s life: providing medical care to the very same people who would not rent a house to him because of his race; developing his reputation as a leading researcher in New York; and becoming the first African-American Chief of Gastroenterology at the University of Illinois School of Medicine in Chicago. Through it all, Wilson faced discrimination from those who could not imagine an African-American man as the dean of a major medical school, no matter how stellar his qualifications. Nevertheless, Wilson became the dean of the University of Maryland medical school in 1991 and overhauled its direction, culture and curriculum before retiring 15 years later. This autobiography is heavy on the literal details of his accomplishments and less fulfilling in terms of providing lessons for the reader to take away from his experiences. Still, it exemplifies how strong focus and resolve can bring what seems impossible within grasp.
An inspiring story of beating the odds.