March 23, 2021

Visibility and inclusive excellence in science: Faculty members win Calgary Black Achievement Awards

Recipients share the importance of Black physicians, scientists and researchers
Dr. Nicole Johnson, MD (left), Dr. Morris Scantlebury, MD (centre), Dr. Wauldron Afflick, MD (right)
Dr. Nicole Johnson, MD (left), Dr. Morris Scantlebury, MD (centre), Dr. Wauldron Afflick, MD (right) Photo courtesy of recipients

Facing a challenging year with an ongoing pandemic, three winners of the first Calgary Black Achievement Awards (CBAA) have overcome numerous hurdles in their respective fields as Black doctors, researchers and scientists.  

Sponsored by CIBC, the Calgary Black Chambers hosted its 2021 CBAA event recently to celebrate achievements of Black Calgarians for their significant contributions to the community. As described on the Calgary Black Chamber’s website, the awards aim to “shine a spotlight on those previously unrecognized in Calgary.” 

The UCalgary faculty winners of the Black Achievement Awards are:

  • Dr. Morris Scantlebury, MD – Black Achievement Award in Medicine
  • Dr. Nicole Johnson, MD – Black Achievement Award in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
  • Dr. Wauldron Afflick, MD’16 – Black Achievement Award in Medicine

Inspiration from a book read as a medical student

A paediatric neurologist, epileptologist and associate professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Clinical Neurosciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, Scantlebury was inspired to study medicine through a book he read as a medical student. That book, An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind by Ian Glynn, provided him an introduction to the complexities and miracles of the brain that has become his life’s work.

In addition to working with patients, Scantlebury is a mentor to many Black students at the Alberta Children's Health Research Institute (ACHRI), and is passionate about amplifying their research and work. “Every effort should be made to highlight the successes of Black people in medicine and the basic sciences, both past and present,” he says, adding that all things are possible. “Work hard, keep laser-focus on your goals, and don’t be afraid to reach for excellence and to let your light shine for all the world to see.”

With his recent CBAA in Medicine, Scantlebury’s own light is now shining for others to see. He says he is “honoured and humbled” with the recognition by the Calgary Black Chambers, and feels that it “emphasizes a responsibility to inspire the next generation of Black children and young adults to choose a career in medicine and research, and to aspire toward excellence.”

Black scientists' successes and contributions are key

Johnson, recipient of the first CBAA for STEM, is also committed to child health and empowering marginalized voices. Anyone who knows Johnson is likely not surprised by her skill and ambition, but, as a high school student, she was discouraged from pursuing advanced sciences and math. She fought for the opportunity to take these courses, and the experience only propelled her to achieve more.

“It is a true honour to be recognized by members of this organization, and to be seen as someone contributing positively to the Calgary Black community,” Johnson says. Today, she is part of a “dynamic” paediatric rheumatology team at Alberta Children’s Hospital, participating in clinical care and research to advance the lives of young patients.

As chair of the Task Force for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for the Canadian Rheumatology Association, Johnson believes amplifying Black voices in STEM can be achieved by “holistically looking at the past, present and future contributions of Black scientists.”

Their successes and contributions, she says, should be highlighted in curriculums at all levels. It is especially important, Johnson says, to raise the profile of female Black scientists, having historically been erased from texts and media scripts, to attract Black women into the field and encourage them to reach for high levels of achievement.

Commitment to ensure role models for Black children

Afflick, also a recipient of the 2021 CBAA in Medicine, is co-founder of the Calgary Black Medical Student Association and currently chief resident of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Subspecialty Program at UCalgary.

Before coming to UCalgary, where he obtained his doctorate, Afflick taught high school in New York City and there’s no doubt that he has an affinity for working with children. The wisdom of youth has impacted his life in profound ways and with this comes a heartfelt commitment to ensure Black children have role models for success. 

“When more Black physicians and scientists are present, their body of work will be more visible,” Afflick says, acknowledging that encouraging youth is part of preparing them for taking on leadership roles in the future.

Remarkable accomplishments, critically important

The accomplishments of these three award recipients are remarkable, and critically important for them, their faculties and our university,” says Dr. Malinda Smith, UCalgary’s vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion. “These recipients’ commitment to excellence in their fields is inspiring for future generations of Black scientists, doctors and researchers. Sometimes we must see one to be one, so it is also vital for young academics to envision future possibilities through these stellar mentors and role models.

“Distinguished scholars in their fields, each is deserving of acknowledgement for their achievements, which results from years of dedicated study, research, application, teaching and service to their professions and the broader community.”  

One of the lessons the recipients, all of whom are members of the ACHRI, wish to pass on to Black students in the sciences and other fields is that success is possible. It comes with hard work and long hours, but that did not deter any of the 2021 Black Achievement Award winners.

“Anything is possible,” says Afflick. “If you prepare now, success is not only attainable, but inevitable.”