BUFFALO, N.Y. – The night of July 7, 2016, changed Brian Williams’ life forever. The Black, Harvard-trained trauma surgeon was on duty at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas when a group of policemen at a peaceful demonstration about police killings were ambushed in a racially motivated mass shooting. They arrived at the Emergency Department with multiple gunshot wounds. Five of them died.
In the days that followed, in a raw and anguished interview with national media, Williams plainly expressed how this attack, in the wake of the deaths of two Black men at the hands of police, had personally affected him as a surgeon and as a Black man. He said he understood his community’s mistrust of law enforcement, but that law enforcement wasn’t the problem; it was, instead, the nation’s lack of open discussion about race relations.
“I abhor what has been done to these officers and I grieve with their families,” he said. In the aftermath of that attack, he was chosen to lead the Dallas Police Citizens Review Board.
On Feb. 2, Williams will share his story when he speaks at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo. Now a professor of trauma and acute care surgery at University of Chicago Medicine, Williams, MD, a former officer in the U.S. Air Force, is the author of the forthcoming “The Bodies Keep Coming: Dispatches from a Black Trauma Surgeon on Racism, Violence and How we Heal” (Sept. 2023, Broadleaf Books).
The free event is open to the public and will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 2 in the M&T Lecture Hall in the Jacobs School, 955 Main St., Buffalo, beginning with a panel discussion at 5, Williams’ talk at 6:15 and a reception and a chance to pre-order books at 7.
The organizers stress that it is an in-person event but for those who cannot attend in person, the event will also be available on Zoom at https://buffalo.zoom.us/j/92399829510.
Williams noted that visiting Buffalo and UB to talk about racism and gun violence, issues that he says are inextricably linked, in light of the racist mass shooting at Tops feels especially meaningful.
“I don’t feel that we can talk about gun violence in this country without talking about race,” he said. “Why do I say that? We need to look at who is harmed by gun violence and who is protected. Which stories are elevated and which are minimized.”
Williams added that the Feb. 2 event can give the community an opportunity to come together and talk, a critical step toward understanding and addressing these issues.
“One of the big messages in my book is that this is about hope and healing,” said Williams. “Granted, we are talking about some very heavy topics, structural racism and racialized gun violence. The shooting in Buffalo had a traumatic impact on people across the nation. But in the end, where do we go from here? How do we heal as individuals, as communities and as a nation? This is a time for us to come together, to share our stories and through sharing our stories, to be part of the healing process.”
It is the third annual talk in the “Beyond the Knife” endowed lectureship, which the UB Department of Surgery established following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 to engage the Jacobs School in the difficult conversations surrounding racism and health care in the U.S.
“I feel strongly that the community be invited into the UB medical school,” said Steven J. Schwaitzberg, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery. “These are critical topics, and everyone should feel welcome to come and participate.”
The Feb. 2 event will kick off with a panel focused on the issue of gun violence. Panelists are:
- La’Tryse Anderson, outreach supervisor for Buffalo SNUG (Should Never Use Guns).
- John V. Elmore, attorney.
- Gale Burstein, MD, Erie County commissioner of health and clinical professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School.
- Sherry Sherrill, project facilitator, We are Women Warriors.
- Chris St. Vil, PhD, assistant professor, UB School of Social Work.
- Henry-Louis Taylor, Jr., professor of urban and regional planning, School of Architecture and Planning, and director of the UB Center for Urban Studies.
Rod Watson, urban affairs editor and columnist with The Buffalo News, will moderate.