Organizers and attendees of the Jonathan Daniels Chapter of White Coats for Black Lives’ “Behind the Masks” event display their artwork.

WC4BL Chapter Kicks Off With Arts Workshop

By Bill Bruton

Published February 27, 2023

When the Jonathan Daniels Chapter of White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL) at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences was planning its inaugural event, it wanted to introduce the organization, honor its namesake mentor, and provide a fun and compelling program for participants to enjoy.

It accomplished all three objectives.

Event Inspired by Unmasking Project

“As a new chapter at the Jacobs school, this event was our way of introducing ourselves to the student body and meeting the people interested in serving the Buffalo community with us.”
Kwaku Bonsu
Co-president/founder of the Jonathan Daniels Chapter of White Coats for Black Lives

The event, “Behind the Masks,” featured an art workshop that creatively combats impostor syndrome.

“Being a new chartered club on campus, we wanted to show our stripes through this wonderful workshop where we could all come in and eat food and enjoy ourselves and share our impostor syndromes with each other,” said Shawn Gibson, a fourth-year medical student who is one of six original co-presidents/founders — along with Michael Augustin (Class of 2025), Kwaku Bonsu (Class of 2025), Valeria Marquez Luna (Class of 2025), Sherice Simpson (Class of 2023) and Nina Valenzuela (Class of 2023) — of the chapter.

Gibson came up with the idea for the program from a workshop he took during his third year of medical school.

Jennifer A. Meka, PhD, director of the Medical Education and Educational Research Institute and associate dean for medical education, brought to the Jacobs School a former colleague at her previous medical institution, Mark Stephens, MD, of Penn State College of Medicine, whose Unmasking Project encourages medical students, professionals and community members to use the visual medium of mask-making to examine core elements of true (inner) and projected (outer) selves as a means to develop an authentic professional identity.

Inaugural Event Well Received

First-year medical student Koulako Kaba works on her mask.

“We received a lot of great feedback from the attendees at our event and it was beautiful to watch everyone create their own art and explain their mask to each other,” Gibson said. “Having the event in the cafe lounge (on the second floor of the Jacobs School building) fostered a welcoming, family environment — one that we intended to create when planning for this event.”

“I think it was great way to relax and interact with our colleagues who support this club. As a new chapter at the Jacobs school, this event was our way of introducing ourselves to the student body and meeting the people interested in serving the Buffalo community with us,” Bonsu said.

“I think the event was received in a really positive light. It was our first event so it was really important for us to make sure that the school and student body knew that we were there for them and with the purpose of bringing the school community and the larger Buffalo community together. It was a truly wholesome event,” Marquez Luna said. “The event definitely met my expectations. Everyone was laughing, getting to know each other, and embracing the creativeness of the event. It gave an outlet to make something beautiful out of a simple mask and I hope that it continues on for years to come.”

About 40 people took part in the event.

“I think our first event was well received,” Simpson said. “I feel that the students and faculty connected well and we had a fun time of a creative expression.”

“I think for many this event was pretty therapeutic. Throughout the evening, we received positive feedback that ‘we should do this more often!’ and ‘this is so relaxing,’” Valenzuela said. "At the end, I think people enjoyed seeing what everyone came up with for their masks. Some incorporated the flags of their heritage, others were pieces of abstract art. Each one was unique, meaningful and beautiful. In fact, several attendees donated their masks to the Office of Inclusion and Cultural Enhancement for display.” 

“It’s my hope that as our club grows, it will continue this new tradition. I look forward to seeing what’s next for us and in what ways we can give to our community,” Valenzuela added. 

Co-presidents/founders of the chapter honoring the late Jonathan D. Daniels, MD, are, from left, front: Nina Valenzuela, Sherice Simpson, Valeria Marquez Luna; back: Kwaku Bonsu, Shawn Gibson and Michael Augustin.

Chapter Named in Honor of Beloved Mentor

The chapter is named in honor of the late Jonathan D. Daniels, MD, who served as associate director of admissions at the Jacobs School and was a mentor to countless students at the school. Daniels died tragically in a fire last July at his North Buffalo home along with two of his adult daughters: Jordan, a 2022 graduate of the UB School of Management; and Jensen, a 2021 graduate of Buffalo State College.

He is survived by his wife, Janessa E. Givens Daniels, senior associate director in the UB Office of Financial Aid; and daughter, Jillian, a 2020 alumna of UB’s College of Arts and Sciences. Both were in attendance at the Behind the Masks event.

“It meant a lot to have Mrs. Daniels and Jillian in attendance. This chapter of White Coats for Black Lives is named after the late great Dr. Jonathan Daniels, who was very important to a lot of us here at the medical school and to the Buffalo community as a whole,” Bonsu said. “It is significant to have the support of the family of the man who is an embodiment of the mission statement of our club.”

“We wanted to start this chapter in honor of Dr. Daniels’ legacy, and it was truly a gift to have his loved ones there to support us and for us to support them,” Simpson said.

“Having Mrs. Daniels and Jillian attend was a special treat for me personally. We spoke about the importance of this club and Black Men in White Coats (the other club in Dr. Daniels’ name) and the impact that both clubs will have on the medical school and the Buffalo community at large,” Gibson added. “Having both Mrs. Daniels and Jillian there felt like a family reunion — reconnecting with family who are very supportive of me and many others during our journey through medical school.”

Conducted Community Town Hall

The chapter next went out into the community at large in March with Community Town Hall at the Hopewell Baptist Church, 1301 Fillmore Ave., Buffalo.

“This is step one where we want to introduce ourselves to the medical school. This is a chapter that’s student run, but we’re here for the medical school and the residents,” Gibson said. “We’re really big on social justice, we’re really big into the Buffalo community. By first introducing ourselves on campus and letting everybody know who we are, this will allow us to go out on March 1 with that support already from the medical school — medical students and residents — and go into the community and have a listening ear.”