28 Days of Black Excellence: Horace Smith
As a medical doctor and a bishop, Dr. Horace Smith has treated bodies and souls for more than 40 years. He is the pastor of the Apostolic Faith Church in Chicago and an attending physician specializing in pediatric hematology and oncology at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. He is the author of “Blood Works: The insights of a pastor and hematologist into the wonder and spiritual power of Blood.”
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from Chicago State University in 1971 and a medical degree from the University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine in 1975. He has led the Apostolic Faith Church congregation since 1980. He served as director of the comprehensive sickle cell/thalassemia program at Lurie Children’s (formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital) for more than 20 years.
Tariq El-Amin 00:01
Welcome to Black Excellence at UIC, Office of Diversity, Equity and Engagement, with Dr. Aisha El-Amin.
Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King 00:09
[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.
Clips from 1995 movie “Panther” 00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here?
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information
Aisha El-Amin 00:26
I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin
Tariq El-Amin 00:29
Welcome to Black Excellence.
Aisha El-Amin 0:35
Greetings, UIC family and friends. Welcome to UIC’s “28 Days of Black Excellence.” I am Dr. Aisha El-Amin, UIC’s associate vice chancellor for equity and belonging. It’s my great honor to celebrate the history of Black excellence at UIC with some powerful, inspiring and informative conversations with UIC’s alumni and some of our staff and faculty from the past.
Each day, we have a new guest, who will share their story, and I am so honored today to have Dr. Bishop Horace Smith, who graduated from the College of Medicine in the great year of 1975 and has done some phenomenal things in the world since then. So I want to just hand the mic over to you. If you can tell us where you’re from originally… What you’ve done… What you’ve been up to since ’75… What you’re currently doing… Just give us some history lessons. One of the things you just told us is that the College of Medicine’s name was a little bit different then.
Horace Smith 1:37
Aisha El-Amin 1:37
Horace Smith 1:38
It was different. When I was admitted in 1971, it was called the Abraham Lincoln School of Medicine, College of Medicine. My daughter is a graduate, two years ago. She said, “Dad, that’s not the name anymore.” I was very disappointed. Anyway, long story short, yeah… That was 1971 to ’75. I’m a proud graduate of the College of Medicine. Again, those were some difficult days but, of course, personally, those for me were some very good days. I’ll say at the very beginning, and some of the students may be able to relate to this, in many ways the most difficult challenge was that many of us of our ethnic background did not feel like we belonged. If you look at it, I think it was, for University of Illinois, the largest minority class in like 40 years. I mean, there was 44 of us that began back in 1971. And that’s important because of the dearth of African American males in U.S. medical schools today. But back then, unfortunately, I think after four years only 11 of us finished. But over a period of time, over 25 of us finished. So, I’m very proud of the record that we have had at U of I. It was… it was difficult. It was. Again, those are days when we felt like sometimes we didn’t belong. I’ll give you one illustration. I remember my first physiology lecture hall — I don’t know how it is today — with like 300 different students. And the professor says to us, “Look to your right. Look to your left. Because in six weeks, one of you won’t be here.” And, I thought…
Aisha El-Amin 1:39
Horace Smith 1:39
… I think he means me, but it’s not going to be me. Because I grew up on the… I grew up in Chicago. I grew up on what some would call the low end, on the South Side of Chicago. I lived in, we called the projects, on 43rd and Lake Park. The horseshoe projects. Sixteen-story, three buildings that are now gone.
Aisha El-Amin 3:43
Horace Smith 3:43
Yeah. From the time of the gangs. Disciples. Black P. Stone Nation. I can name all of them. I think this was… I had my mother unfortunately died when I very young. There were six of us and she died when I was 10 years old. But my father was a pretty tough guy. He was originally a cab driver, he became a policeman. But he gave us the kind of structure and, quite frankly, as I tell people, my father never asked me, would I like to do anything. You know. It’s a different day and time. He told me stuff, I said, “Yes, sir.” So, those values that we got, because we knew if we didn’t have tough work ethic, we didn’t value things, we wouldn’t make it. So, those are the days. I was always known as a nerd. I confess it. You look at my yearbook from 1967 at Lindblom High School.
Aisha El-Amin 3:47
Horace Smith 4:44
In fact, until I went to college, I was always the shortest or second shortest guy in my class. I was a late bloomer. I had the classic Coke bottle glasses and I used to love to read the dictionary. So, I admit it. I was. I think that what was happening was I found my… I lost myself in books. Books for me were like, golden. My brother was 11 months older than I. He said, “I hate you,” because… He was a one year ahead of me. I would take the books he had, his math and science, and study it. And I got to his grade the next year and I knew that stuff.
Aisha El-Amin 5:21
Horace Smith 5:22
He’s really bright. Well, again, I think a part of it is, for whatever reason, I was really focused on academics and education, and it stood me in good stead.
Aisha El-Amin 5:34
So you graduated from the College of Medicine. What was your degree in and what did you do after ’75?
Horace Smith 5:40
Yes. So, I finished in ’75 and then I was admitted to the University of Illinois Hospital program of pediatrics. My mentor at U of I, when I was a student, was one of the key professors. Dr. George Honig. Some of y’all may remember him. His name is in the department. He was one of the top hematopathologists in the country. In the world, really. And my whole gravitation was hematology and blood and so forth. So as a student, I worked with him. I got admitted to the program, residency rather, in pediatrics, he was still my mentor. In fact, during those old days, you would do three years of residency, but you’d take your third year, if you qualify, and do a part of that year as a fellow. So my third year was in pediatrics but also in hematology-oncology. I really had a step up on many of the others because I was already involved in Dr. Honig, in the lab. Kind of a funny story. When I was a second-year resident finishing, the entire University of Illinois hematology-oncology department left U of I and went to Northwestern and, at that time, Children’s Memorial.
Aisha El-Amin 7:01
Horace Smith 7:02
So, Dr. Honig told me, he said, “The next year, when you finish your third year, you’re coming over here with us as a fellow.” So, again, I think one of the messages I want to have to people, is that you’ve got to have mentorship. You’ve got to have somebody, that you kind of gravitate toward, who has done what you want to do. And that’s oftentimes, sometimes not easily achievable. I tell all my mentees now, that you see somebody who has “made it” — no one made it on their own. No one makes it on their own. You have to have somebody to help you. So, a part of it is being able to reach out to someone. And, hopefully programs will, by their own culture, will understand the need to support their students and know who they are, to make sure that they are not, you know, swimming upstream by themselves.
Aisha El-Amin 7:50
I think that’s really important. So you have two titles that I refer to you as, both doctor and bishop. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey for the bishop title, if you will?
Horace Smith 8:04
Yeah. My story is a little bit different than many. Again, when my mother died, I was 10 years of age. You can tell it was very devastating. I went to live with our grandmother, who was my father’s mother. She was very religious, in this church all the time. So for that year that we were with her, until my father got us together, I went to church every week. Fell in love with the church and, like I always tell people, the church was a haven and saved my life. The pastor of that church was very progressive. He gave me a sense that I could be whatever I wanted to be. Now, you heard that all the time. You know, people just sayin’ that. But as I worked with him and worked with the people there, I really begin to believe it. And it really gave me like a safe place. I was highly motivated in those things. So I did a lot of work in the church as a young person. And because I was an academic, I developed with them the Christian education department. I wrote many of their curricula. I did things like that, involved in their educational programs. And so again, I’m educated through the church, then joined a ministry when I was 18 years of age. So I worked, but not as a preacher, mainly as a…. Again, it’s kind of, I think, important, I was really more along the lines of education. Education, I loved it. So I really did that. But I got my minister’s license, then I got ordained as a minister.
And again, it is kind of funny. In 1980, I had finished my hematology-oncology fellowship at Children’s Memorial, and the pastorage of our church became open. Now, I never even envisioned becoming a pastor, but the board and some others there thought I would make a good candidate. Long story short, I became the pastor of that church in March of 1980. So I couldn’t work full time at Children’s. But within six months of that Dr. James Stockman, he’s a legend in pediatrics. Dr. James Stockman is a pediatric legend. He was the president of American Academy of Pediatrics for years. He was my mentor at Children’s along with Dr. Honig. He called me, said, “Look, you’re one of my best trainees.” As a fellow I’d done things like, research on neocytes, eutrophication of new red cells. That’s back in like 1975, ’76, ’78, so they thought I was pretty good. He said, “We need you here.” And really, they worked it out so I could really pastor a church. Very small church at that time, we only had 125 members. For whatever reason, it has now three or four thousand families.
But again, they allowed me to do that. They mentored me and nurtured me as a physician knowing I had other skills as well. And that allowed me to develop the programs that we may talk about, that we’re doing right now in the community. It’s because my background was academics. And yet, I was a scientist. But I love sociology and things like that. So it really gave me an insight and perspective that was different. Even some of the things I did at Children’s was because I was able to… Well, remember I was a minority. And let’s face it, when you’ve had a hard time, you learn how to be empathetic to patients. How to be sympathetic.
Aisha El-Amin 11:26
Horace Smith 11:26
They’re not numbers or diagnoses.
Aisha El-Amin 11:28
Horace Smith 11:29
And patients pick that up. And so, I was able to gain a reputation of being somebody who could deal with hard families or cases, whatever it was. Eventually, I became the director of the comprehensive sickle cell/thalassemia program at Children’s, and for 20-some years I led that program. And so again, was involved in various clinical studies and so forth. So I’ve been able to do a lot of things at a high level and that has allowed me, again, input and credibility in a lot of different areas and fields. COVID is a great example. I used to question the Lord: Why would you send me to medical school if I became a pastor of a church? But then, when COVID hit, I had instant credibility about, what’s the science of this? You know, when people are suspicious, they look for trusted voices.
Aisha El-Amin 12:23
Horace Smith 12:24
In my church right now, on a Sunday, we have had in last four months 95% vaccination rates. But my people were urged early on with the vaccine studies. You know, they said that “Black people don’t trust the vaccine.” I said to my congregation: Call Northwestern. Call U of I. Call Rush. And join the vaccine studies. Why? I knew we had to have a vaccine. I did not want us to develop a vaccine without our demographic being included in those studies. That would be ridiculous.
Aisha El-Amin 12:56
Horace Smith 12:57
So again, those kinds of things have allow me, again, some input that I would not have normally had. So, again, I look forward to the day when we’ll have a greater and a broader participation of minorities and others. Again, you asked me about U of I and those are hard times, but I thought about this when you asked me to be on this call. I thought about who were the people at U of I that anchored me besides the physicians? Well, some of you guys may remember, was… Let me think of her name. Ruth Bentley. If you go and look at the department of psychiatry, Ruth Bentley was a Black psychiatrist who was involved in a program called MOP, Medical Opportunities Program. It was her job to serve as supporter for minority students. And I get to know Ruth very well. I mean, I had a number of crises, doubts about myself. When this happened, in her office, cry, whatever, but she’d walked me through. And then somebody by the name of Joe Payne. He was the director of that program.
And again, they had… When I was at Chicago State University, which again, I’m a proud alumni of that. 1971. I was in a physics class with a guy. And after about two months, he said to me, “Well, you’re really smart. You ought to think about going into medicine.”
I said to him, “Well, I’d love to, but I can’t.”
He said, “Why not?”
I said, “I don’t have the money.”
He said, “I know a program that, if you qualify with your grades, they will support you monetarily.”
That’s how I got accepted to a number of medical schools, including University of Illinois, and that allowed me again, insight and access to those things. But, I had people along the way who were my support. But, it was not easy. I will tell you that. Not to put down the university. It was tough, because on a number of levels we were not supported overall. People thought, you know, we were let in to medical school. Now that I’d become a professor, on some level, in residency, I sat on these committees that choose candidates, residents and so forth. They’re wrong. There’s a whole group of young people, if you properly support them, as minorities, they will do well. But if you just use a classic criteria that, in itself, I think, are hindrances to them. And there’s not watered down excellence. You know, I’ll say this. I may as well be transparent. I told you about the physiology class. He said, “One of you will be gone.”
My friend said to me, “You’re studying too much.”
I said, “No, I’m not.” I said, “Most of our classmates, their uncles, their cousins are physicians, they’re dentists. My father’s a cab driver and a policeman.” I said, “I got to catch up.” And I was determined…
Aisha El-Amin 15:53
Horace Smith 15:53
… they’d not get rid of me. But it was felt that we didn’t have the greatest support. But again, God knows, we survived, and were able to thrive eventually. It’s amazing, once you begin to succeed. I pass boards, part one. Part two, I was thinking, boy, I can’t do this. Well, self-doubt is one of the biggest things and that’s why you need someone to tell you that you can do this and then will help you along the track that will allow you to actually get things done. And so, yeah, those thing, I remember those things.
Aisha El-Amin 16:26
Now, that’s huge. I think the keeping it real that you’re doing now is important, right? Because there are those those shining lights. Even when you’re like, “I can’t go,” somebody there to say, “Wait a minute, I know, I have a resource for you.” And I think that that’s beautiful. To give folks listening in a greater idea of your impact. To have 95% of folks involved, when the doubt in the community is pretty high, shows the impact that you have. How many folks in your congregation?
Horace Smith 17:03
We probably serve about three to four thousand families. A pretty big church. We just built a new building about four years ago. It’s the third one for us. So, it’s rather large. We really are a holistic ministry and, I don’t want to just toot our own horn, but…
Aisha El-Amin 17:20
Go ahead and toot.
Horace Smith 17:21
… one of our number one focuses has been education. The last 25 years, from the general offering, we have made available $100,000 to undergraduate students. A few years ago, we included three of the high schools. Phillips. Dunbar. Military Academy. Their top four students qualify for scholarships, renewable every year for four years. This last year we, through another donor, increased to $150,000 because we wanted to impact… put in some money for graduate students. So this last year, we had $100,000 undergraduates, $50,000 with graduate students. My parishioners tell me, “Yeah, but we know how that all started.” Well, again, I’m this young pastor in 1980. Thirty years of age. But I had a rule in my church. Every marking period, the students at the Sunday morning service would bring me their grade, their report card, and I looked at it with them. I did it for like 15 years. I realized now the impact that made. And I’ve asked them… I remember parents bringing me the kids’ grades.
I said, “Are those your grades?”
I don’t want to see that.
“Well, my son is afraid.”
Tell them to come talk to me.
Aisha El-Amin 18:34
Horace Smith 18:34
But I made them say to me, what’s your goal? What do you want to do? Well, what’s this D here? What’s this about? Tell me about that. And I have adults now, and it’s not because of me, but I was a first physician in our church and we’ve probably got 15 or 20 now in the health field. Because again, I believe you cannot be what you cannot see.
Aisha El-Amin 18:56
Oh, come on and say it.
Horace Smith 18:57
You know. We must have role models.
Aisha El-Amin 19:01
Horace Smith 19:01
Look. Human beings are connected. You don’t just pop up. I know, pop-up is a new term. Pop-up this. Pop up-that. I’m not a pop-up. I come from somewhere. And I need to see that in order to continue it, and to go to the next level. And so we’ve got to work hard to have people that are available, who are role models. Because I had that. I look back now, and that kept me going. So those things are very, very real. When you look at the issue of statistics about minorities being admitted to medical school, I tell the people that I know in high levels, we’re too smart not to be able to figure out how to ensure that diversity is more than the name…
Aisha El-Amin 19:01
Horace Smith 19:30
… and equity is more than the term. We all got equity offices. You know, thank God, you’re at U of I. We all got diversity officers. I tell them, I’m a scientist. Tell me the statistics. Tell me 20 years ago and tell me now.
Aisha El-Amin 19:55
Horace Smith 19:56
Tell me what’s coming in the pipeline because, we all know this, in medicine, the degree that the quality of medicine, access to medicine, mortality, longevity can be attributed to, again, the diversity of your health care workers. There’s no doubt about it. So it’s not some kind of subjective, feel-good story. No. It’s in our best interest to make sure that those who care for us represent the demographics that are in our location. So, you know I’m on the bully pulpit all the time tellin’ people, by the way. Then my students, I’m telling them, I don’t want to hear your excuse.
“Teacher don’t like me.”
“My daddy told me.”
I don’t care if teacher don’t.
“My daddy told me.”
I don’t want to hear that. It happens to you? It doesn’t matter who caused it, you must fix it.
Aisha El-Amin 20:42
Horace Smith 20:43
I learned. And so I telll them, no. Whatever you need to do, you better find a way to do it. God will help you. I tell them, God will help you, but he won’t do it for you.
Aisha El-Amin 20:53
Come on, now. So, we have to talk about how we can connect with you around these scholarships, right? Because of your commitment to education and your history and connection with UIC. How we can bring some more folks into UIC from those schools that you are already focused on and help to increase their funding.
Horace Smith 21:18
I would love that to happen. I think it happens on some level. U of I is so large, there are people there now who I’ve worked with. I was the Alumni of the Year a few years ago, different awards. I’ve done lectured at U of I and other things. But yeah, we welcome, in fact we partner with a number of institutions. We had… Okay. So, two years ago, in our scholarship program, we had our first Rhodes Scholar. A young lady…
Aisha El-Amin 21:43
Horace Smith 21:44
… who grew up in Englewood has now finished in Oxford.
Aisha El-Amin 21:48
Horace Smith 21:49
Oh, yeah. I mean, I toot that horn all the time. We’ve got kids now in Washington D.C., in these think tanks. But see, they have been developed early on, you know, from the scripture. You are the head, not the tail. It’s not arrogance. It’s that, no. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. What do you mean? Why can’t you? You know…
“We can’t do physics. We don’t do well in math.”
I tell a lot of parents, “Don’t tell my kids that. That’s your own fear.” These kids can do anything. They really can. If you get kids early enough, and nurture them, they will blow you away. I’ve seen happen over and over again. I have a long history in that. So yeah, we’ve got to get a better pipeline of students. And to be clear about, we demand excellence. We demand you to be great. Yes. Why? Because you can. And, we will help you.
Aisha El-Amin 22:45
Horace Smith 22:45
We don’t just tell you that and leave you.
Aisha El-Amin 22:47
Horace Smith 22:49
I have three daughters, but they’re all adults now. They said, “These poor young people, who want my father to be their mentor? We ask them, are you sure? How old are you? He ain’t going to let you go.” Okay, let’s cry for 20 minutes. Okay, that’s over. What we going to do now? No! Life is a serious business. So yeah, we have to be tenacious. We have a great cadre of people at our church. And we do things, I mean, we were doing food insecurity for years before COVID. We averaged during the first year of COVID over 1,000 families in the neighborhood with fresh food. We did things like, well of course, during the holiday season, we averaged 800 new coats every year. In shelters. We gave away three or four thousand toys every year to kids. But we do something every week, not just in the holidays. People know that we mean business, that we’re there to serve the body, soul and spirit. About four years ago, mabye because of my young people, my millennials, we got heavily into mental health.
Aisha El-Amin 24:39
Horace Smith 23:59
On our website, if you go there, it says, in the church there’ll be people you can talk to and here’s the five corporations that we utilize for mental health. Choose one of them and we’ll help you get connected. We’ve got to be… And you know this already. I’m just preaching to the choir… Our community must stop being so dependent on handouts. I hate it. I’m not proud but, no. No. When when you are always handing things out to me, you make me less. Now, support is different than handout. You know, we do our food programs. We also will teach you in job, employment, education and those things so that in a year, you serve the food program. You don’t come to get the food.
Aisha El-Amin 24:43
Horace Smith 24:44
But again, I think that kind of thinking has to be more practical and accessible in our community. It’s just such a huge need, I think we need to just do more.
Aisha El-Amin 24:56
Yes. I have to have you plug, because I don’t even think you named your church and how they can go on that website. If you can do that.
Horace Smith 25:05
Yeah. Our churches Apostolic Faith Church. The website is A-F-C Chicago. All one word. A as in apple. F as in Frank. C as in Charles. Chicago. Dot O-R-G. [afcchicago.org] And, almost all of our programs are not simply for our church members. In scholarships, if you qualify for a scholarship, you have to do community work through our church. Absolutely. Something like 30 hours a year, whatever. And, if you’ve got a scholarship, you must give back. You must come back. And tell your story. And mentor somebody.
Aisha El-Amin 25:06
I love that. I love that.
Horace Smith 25:18
Aisha El-Amin 25:49
As we round out, the good doctor, tell me some words of advice that you can give current UIC students, that they can take with them on their journey.
Horace Smith 26:04
Yeah. What I’ll tell them may seem very plain and known, but it’s important. The very fact they’re at UIC means they belong. This is not a low-level attainment. It means you have the goods. Now, it means you have the potential. You have to give yourself to it, and fight hard to find mentors, people that will help you. And I would say to them, bother people. Be persistent.
My daughter… Short story. Emily, who’s a U of I graduate. Now she’s finishing her second year of psychiatry residency in Madison, Wisconsin. She really got a master’s degree in psychology and became a psychologist. I had told her for 10 years, “You have to go medical school.”
“I don’t want to go to medical school.”
Finally, after finishing a master’s. Certified in family practice. All these… Gotten married. Has a kid. Then she says, “You know, what? I’m going to medical school.”
Well, I will tell you, I was a little bit hesitant, because she was an older student. But what happened was, she was so mature, she became. She won a number of those leadership awards at U of I, because she became like a mother hen to those kids. She told them her story. But you’ve got to be persistent, you know? Because, I told her, “If you go to medical school, I’m not going to let you quit.” Now, it wasn’t me. It was her. But I said, “There’s going to be 20 times you’re going to want to stop. I’m telling you, no, we ain’t doing that.”
But the point there is that you’re going to have somebody that will push you and support you. Love you, but tell you, “Oh, no. Okay, have your pity party. Fine. Let’s go back.” So I would say to these students: The fact that you are there is not an accident. And, you’ve heard this before, too. You’re also there not just for you. You are there to set a tone for others. But people say things like, “You got to be like Horace Smith.” Yeah, but somebody showed me how to be like them. I think we know this. We have a responsibility, intergenerationally. We’ve got to understand that if we are serious about improving everybody. And, so yeah, I’ll tell them not to give up. I’ll tell them to call you. Call Dr. El-Amin, she’ll help you out.
Aisha El-Amin 28:23
Horace Smith 28:24
Call me third because I may be so busy. But, no. We’re in the business of helping students, whoever they are, whatever their background is, but we’re in the business of making sure that people succeed.
Aisha El-Amin 28:37
Well, I appreciate you and I thank you for being you and putting out all the good that you do in the world, and being part of this series so that others can learn from you as they journey at UIC.
Horace Smith 28:49
Glad to be a part. To all those students who are watching, I’m retiring soon. That’s why I’m given all this time today. Take my place. I’ve seven grandkids. I want to play some more golf. Write a couple more books, so…
Aisha El-Amin 29:04
We appreciate you.
Horace Smith 29:05
It’s been a joy. Thank you so much.
Aisha El-Amin 29:06