IN RECOGNITION OF the outstanding leadership and remarkable work of the late Dr Kenneth A. Forde and his wife of 60 years, Kareitha “Kay” Forde, the Trustees of Columbia University, USA, have established an endowed professorship in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.
Dr Forde was one of Columbia University’s first African American surgeons and Trustees, a remarkable Columbian who was named the José M. Ferrer Professor Emeritus of Clinical Surgery at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“He was a pioneer who faced racism even as he excelled in medical school and beyond, becoming a beacon in his field and a mentor and friend to the many surgeons he trained. His distinguished career at the University spanned over 50 years of dedication to medicine.
“In June 2019, Dr Forde passed away, and his memory remains an inspiration,” a release on the website of Columbia University said.
Kareitha Forde was born in the United States to Vincentian parents Reginald Ollivierre and his wife Mary, nee Cambridge. Young Kay was brought back to St Vincent by her parents as a two-year-old, and she remained here until she was 22 years old, returning to the United States after completing her training as a nurse and midwife here in St Vincent. When she returned to New York, she worked in several hospitals—including at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, where she held a leadership position.
Dr and Mrs Forde always looked for ways to mentor students and help them find success. For years, they opened their home to international students, often hosting them for extended stays. In addition to Mrs. Forde’s support for generations of Columbia students, she served as Dr. Forde’s constant partner in his work. When he was the editor of Surgical Endoscopy, she assisted behind the scenes, gathering, screening, and researching the articles. Mrs. Forde was active on the Board of Governors of SAGES, the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, which Dr. Forde co-founded.
Throughout his career, Dr. Forde helped pioneer endoscopy as a diagnostic and surgical tool. His research included working to develop markers of colon cancer, recognising polyps in cancer development, and promoting colonoscopy
screenings for prevention and early detection. Dr. Forde joined the Columbia faculty in 1966 and became a full professor of clinical surgery in 1983. In a 2008 interview, Dr. Forde spoke of his exceptional journey at Columbia and in medicine, where he confronted anti-black racism to care for patients and mentor students, especially those of underrepresented identities.
“I hope that I have demonstrated my love for my fellow man by trying to be as informed as I could. But more than that, I hope I helped others. I have always thought that if I inspired even one person along the way it would make it all worthwhile,” said Dr. Forde.
Inspired by the Fordes and their lifelong dedication to helping others, the Columbia Trustees resolved to create a new professorship.
“Ken was a giant among Trustees. His judgement, counsel and love for Columbia set a high bar for all of us. As Chair of Health Sciences, his leadership saw the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Columbia University Irving Medical Center achieve new heights. And he did not shy away from issues of race, racism, equity and inclusion, sharing stories from his life and advocating for others,” said Trustee co-chair Lisa Carnoy.
“When Ken passed, there was a groundswell among the Trustees to do something in his and Kay’s honour and support our new department in African American and African Diaspora Studies.”
Columbia University created the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies in 2019 to bring a fresh approach to the discipline at a crucial moment in race relations and black identity in society.
Renowned scholar Steven Gregory, Professor of Anthropology, will be its inaugural incumbent of the professorship.