Robert Blackwell, Dominican Associate, Honored for Transformational Antiracism Work

Bob BLackwell accepting his award

Springfield Dominican Associate Robert Blackwell was honored Tuesday night with the Dr. Kenniebrew Equity 2022 Trailblazer Award for his commitment to and transformational work in equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Retired in 2021 from his role as Chief in the Office of Racial Equity Practice at Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Bob continues his service as a member of several community boards and advisory groups, including his ongoing role as long-time member of SDART, the Springfield Dominican Antiracism Team.

“Along with knowledge and expertise, Bob brings a great insightful presence that encourages and challenges our team in its work,” notes Sr. Marcelline Koch, co-coordinator of SDART.

During her introduction Valeria Cueto, herself a former SDART member, noted that Bob is “retired but not that retired” as he continues to serve Springfield and Illinois by giving his entire life to the task of “bringing inclusivity and antiracist praxis in all the spaces he inhabits.”

The award was presented during the 6th Annual Alonzo Homer Kenniebrew M.D. Lecture, by Dr. Sunny Nakae, sponsored by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Memorial Health, and HSHS St. John’s Hospital to recognize and extend the achievements of Dr. Kenniebrew, the first African-American physician in the United States to build and operate a surgical hospital. In 1909 Dr. Kenniebrew established the New Home Sanitarium in Jacksonville, Illinois, after being denied medical privileges at other area hospitals, including those that today honor his memory with this award.

During his acceptance speech Bob acknowledged “the wellsprings of my strength”—the love and support of his wife of 49 years, Carolyn, and their daughters, Tracy Mears, a Yale law professor, Nicole Florence, a doctor at Memorial Wellness center, and Deana Blackwell, coordinator of Intercultural Competence and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Peace Corps.

The women in Bob’s family, are, he said, neither confused by or complicit with the lie operative in America—what James Baldwin named as a “belief that white lives have always mattered more than the lives of others and people of color are inherently inferior.”

Bob extended his gratitude to Mrs. Johnson, daughter of Dr. Kenniebrew, whose family sponsored the Trailblazer Award. He was delighted to share that while preparing to receive the award, he discovered he and Carolyn were friends of Dr. Kenniebrew’s widow, whom they knew from Sunday school at Zion Missionary Baptist Church. The woman they knew as Mrs. Jessie Mae Findlay, was married to Dr. Kenniebrew until his death in 1943.

Bob acknowledged that the “glorious moment” of the award to honor his work of “equity, justice, and resistance to racism sits firmly on the legacy of Dr. Kenniebrew, Jessie Mae, Rosa, Harriet, Martin, Malcom, Thurgood, Barak and countless others.” He said it was necessary to carry on their work by practicing peace, equity and justice in our personal lives and by establishing antiracist policies and praxis in all our institutions. Necessary, too, is support for the “incredible activism of our youth of color and their white allies to get us all to a place of peace and love as promised to us by God.”

The speaker for this year’s lecture was Sunny Nakae, MSW, PhD, who addressed skills and strategies for “Becoming an Ally.” She is senior associate dean for equity, inclusion, diversity and partnership at the California University of Science and Medicine.

Interested in learning more about SDART and ways you can get involved? Visit our Dismantling Racism page for more information.

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