"Service is in my DNA, and I know service is in the Hopkins DNA and in every single person who works here in every single capacity," said former U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, speaking today at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration event at Johns Hopkins.
"I wanted to be a part of that. What a fantastic institution that serves our local community and serves the world."
Mikulski, who recently joined the Johns Hopkins University faculty as a professor of public policy and an adviser to the university's president, was joined at the commemoration by university and health system leaders, and by Robert Higgins, surgeon-in-chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and director of the Department of Surgery for the School of Medicine.
Higgins was the first African-American to be named head of a department at Johns Hopkins Medicine. His keynote address centered on opportunity, dedication to service, and the ability to gain something precious through loss.
Take, for example, "the courageous act" of organ donation, he said. Or the life-changing lessons he and his brothers learned after the untimely death of their father in an automobile accident.
That loss, Higgins said, "created opportunities for us as young African-American men to learn and mature in an environment that required so much more of us."
He succeeded with the help and dedication of his mother, who he called a hero. He called on colleagues, administrators, and students to work to address racial disparities in health care and education, and to ensure that opportunities are accessible for people from all backgrounds.
"The torch will be passed to those who care and who recognize the importance of the work ahead," he said.
In remarks opening the commemoration, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels pledged to work to improve access and opportunity.
"The lessons of Dr. King's life are found not only in what he said, but of course in what he did," Daniels said. "As we gather here today, this spirit can't help but give you a sense of optimism. True, we are not where we want to be and need to be as a nation, as a city, nor as an institution. But we, like Dr. King, are going to work using our words and our deeds to move forward."
Speakers at the event also included Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine; and Ronald R. Peterson, president of Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Performances by Unified Voices, a choir made up of local residents and Johns Hopkins employees, opened and closed the event.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, now in its 35th year, was founded by Levi Watkins Jr., the first black chief resident of cardiac surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He made medical history by implanting the first automatic heart defibrillator in a patient in 1980. A dedicated civil rights advocate, Watkins—who died in 2015 at age 70—founded the event to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the spirit of service at Johns Hopkins.
Past speakers at the MLK event have included Maya Angelou, Stevie Wonder, James Earl Jones, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King.