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Vol. LXIV, No. 4
February 17, 2012
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‘A Day On, Not a Day Off’
NIH Celebrates Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Lemuel Russell IV speaks at MLK ceremony.

Dr. Lemuel Russell IV speaks at MLK ceremony.

NIH encouraged everyone to “Remember! Celebrate! Act!” in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a Jan. 12 event sponsored by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins opened the ceremony reflecting on King’s contributions in promoting equality, social justice and opportunity for all. In 1994, as Collins reminded the audience, Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service and encouraged everyone to take part in a volunteer project and make the holiday “a day on, not a day off.”

Collins recalled the recent dedication by President Barack Obama of the new King Memorial in Washington, D.C., and quoted part of Obama’s address about King: “He gave voice to our deepest dreams and our most lasting ideals. He was a man who stirred our conscience and thereby helped to make our union more perfect.” NIH continues to support King’s ideals, Collins said, including giving back to the community through the MLK Day of Service.

Dr. Roland Owens, assistant director of the Office of Intramural Research, introduced keynote speaker Dr. Lemuel T. Russell IV, saying, “In addition to his dedication to science, he has shown a commitment to mentoring and teaching throughout his career.”
Female and male dance troupes from Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown entertained the audience at NIH’s MLK observance. Female and male dance troupes from Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown entertained the audience at NIH’s MLK observance.
Female and male dance troupes from Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown entertained the audience at NIH’s MLK observance.

As a regulatory toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency, Russell evaluates the risk and safety of industrial chemicals for the EPA’s New Chemical Safety and Assessment Branch.
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins gave opening remarks.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins gave opening remarks.

He told the story of his career and how he got where he is today. Russell’s successful career as a scientist, and the fact that he had the opportunity to excel in the field of scientific research, can be seen as part of King’s legacy.

In Russell’s field of toxicology, he regulates the materials that are introduced into the lives of people, such as industrial chemicals. His position involves identifying substances that might be dangerous for human exposure. Exposure to these substances may often be mitigated to levels that improve safety through use of personal protective equipment so they do not bring harm to human health.

Included in his remarks was a discussion of the civil rights movement, particularly racial integration in the military and how this created opportunities in other fields, including scientific research.

Referencing some dire statistics shared by President John F. Kennedy in a speech in 1963, Russell illustrated the gap between white and African-American children during that era. Kennedy said that an African-American baby born in 1963 was about half as likely to complete high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day and only one-third as likely to finish college. This same African-American child was twice as likely to become unemployed and had a life expectancy that was 7 years shorter than a white child.
The dancers appeared in both solo and group performances.

The dancers appeared in both solo and group performances.

Photos: Ernie Branson

Russell then shared a picture of himself, his brother and his sister. “I’m 8 years old here,” he said. “It’s Easter Sunday, 1968. It’s significant because 10 days earlier, Dr. King was assassinated.”

Later, another photo showed him in a laboratory at Walter Reed Army Institute for Research in 1998. “If you look at where I started off with the picture from 1968, I’ve come full circle,” said Russell. “At this point, I have my first academic degree in chemistry and I’m working as a researcher developing antidotes to toxins and treatments for parasitic diseases that soldiers encounter in different war environments.”

His work has included research into protecting soldiers from cyanide, investigation of the effects of toxicants associated with Parkinson’s disease and the development of potential antidotes for many toxins affecting soldiers in war zones.

NIH’s MLK celebration also included entertainment from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Dance Ensemble. The group, consisting of third- and fourth-year dance majors, performed several solo and group pieces set to traditional African-American spiritual music. NIHRecord Icon


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