University of Chicago announces winners of Diversity Leadership Awards

Faculty, alumni and staff honorees demonstrate commitment to justice and equality

Three members of the University of Chicago community will receive Diversity Leadership Awards for their work to build a more equitable society. The awards recognize UChicago faculty, alumni and staff who demonstrate leadership and a sustained commitment to justice and equality, following in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This year’s recipients are Prof. Herschella Glenn Conyers, AB’76, JD’83; Thomas L. Fisher, MD’01; and Joel D. Jackson of the University of Chicago Medicine. They will be recognized at the University’s 30th annual MLK commemoration on Jan. 28 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel as well as at a private reception earlier that day.

“We are extremely proud of this year’s winners for their sustained commitment to address social inequities and build support for marginalized communities. They are examples of how individuals can make lasting, impactful change in building a more just world,” said Regina Dixon-Reeves, assistant provost at the University of Chicago and a member of the committee that selected the award winners.

Learn more about this year’s award recipients:

Faculty honoree: Herschella Glenn Conyers

An advocate and leader in the Law School and legal communities, Herschella Glenn Conyers has devoted her career to advancing diversity, inclusion, and social justice through reforms in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.

Conyers is a clinical professor of law and the director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic. A native of the South Side of Chicago and graduate of both the undergraduate College and Law School, she teaches the popular course “Life (and Death) in the Law,” in which students debate complex social and legal problems.

“As a mentor, teacher and peer, Professor Conyers speaks frankly about the challenges, opportunities and experiences she has faced during her time at the University,” said Thomas J. Miles, dean of the Law School. “Her voice is critical to conversations about free expression and diversity and inclusion, both in and out of the classroom.”

Through the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic, she partnered with retired Clinical Professor of Law Randolph Stone to represent youth, particularly those charged as adults for criminal cases. Their work was influential in ending “life without parole” for juveniles. Conyers now supervises law students at the clinic as they provide direct client representation and work on policy and legislative issues.

Beyond UChicago, Conyers lectures and teaches on trial advocacy and skills, including presentations for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, the National Trial Lawyers College, the New York State Defender Association, the Illinois State Appellate Defender’s Office, Public Defender Offices around the country, and Harvard University.

Alumni honoree: Thomas L. Fisher

Thomas Fisher’s journey of racial justice has taken him from the city’s South Side to emergency medicine, public policy and the private sector. He has worked over two decades to make health care systems more just and efficient while serving the community where he was raised.

A board-certified emergency medicine physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Fisher launched his career by building a community-medical center collaboration to produce research and interventions that transform emergency department approaches to vulnerable communities.

Another way he built capacity to improve the health of underserved populations is through “Ask the Doctor,” a monthly community discussion held in partnership with the New Community Program/Woodlawn. In laying the foundation for Project Brotherhood, a clinic in Woodlawn that offers men free haircuts to encourage primary care, and through mentoring students in Chicago Public Schools, Fisher gathered lessons that he used to reshape the systems that create ill health and deliver substandard health care.

“Thomas has been an ardent supporter of not leaving communities and people behind as health care changes in our modern age,” said Leif Elsmo, executive director of the Office of Community Relations at UChicago Medicine. “He's done this at the policy level and as a practicing physician.”

As a White House Fellow in 2010, Fisher delivered the Health and Human Services Action Plan for Reducing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. As a vice president at Health Care Service Corp., he built Medicaid and Health Insurance Exchange networks to serve people newly insured by the Affordable Care Act. He continued in that vein as president of the startup Medicaid company NextLevel Health, which organized multidisciplinary care teams to address social determinants of health.

Staff honoree: Joel D. Jackson 

Joel Jackson doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. As assistant director of inclusion and training for the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Department at the University of Chicago Medicine, he helps others develop a deeper understanding and the skills to navigate topics such as male privilege, cultural sensitivity and health equity.

Jackson leads hospital strategy, training courses and workshops about cultural competence, creating an inclusive environment, health literacy, effective communication, and caring health services for LGBTQ patients, among others. He also co-leads the hospital’s resilience-based care training strategy.

“Having participated in the diversity and cultural competency training sessions Joel leads and many others like it nationally, I can attest that his delivery is outstanding and his ability to navigate controversial and intersectional issues is unparalleled,” said John Schneider, professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and director of the University of Chicago Center for HIV Elimination.

Jackson’s commitment to diversity extends beyond the University. As part of an initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, he leads Racial Healing Circles to facilitate trust and build authentic relationships that bridge divides. He has helped vulnerable youth obtain jobs, housing, and education, and leads political organizing for the Families of Chicago to improve conditions for LGBTQ youth. Jackson also facilitates programs at The Village through the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, promotes a drop-in space for LGBTQ youth of color through the organization People Organized for Progress, and serves as Midwest leader for the House of Balmain, an international LGTBQ organization.