[January 25, 2007]
FILM CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF GERALD W. DEAS DEBUTS AT SUNY DOWNSTATE
Although it may not be shown at a trendy film festival or even a local theater near you, IDEAS, the new film celebrating the life and times of Gerald W. Deas, MD, is certain to make a lasting impression on everyone who sees it. A collaboration between the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, the film was given its premier showing January 11 at Downstate Medical Center, where Dr. Deas has been a respected physician-educator for 45 years and currently serves as Director of Health Education Communications.
IDEAS was created to highlight the lifelong contributions of a dedicated physician, teacher, patient advocate, and community activist who has been, and continues to be, an exemplary role model. The Arthur Ashe Institute, which is headquartered at SUNY Downstate, developed the film as a teaching tool to encourage young people—especially those of color—to follow Dr. Deas’ footprints toward a career in the health professions.
The film’s title comes from Dr. Deas’ longstanding habit of adding the letter I to his name on caps, shirts, and anywhere else a monogram might go, transforming DEAS into IDEAS. This is his way of telling us to put our best thoughts into actionxthe way he always has.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Dr. Deas attended Boys High School and later Brooklyn College. He earned two master’s degrees, in biochemistry and in public health, before graduating from SUNY Downstate with an MD in 1962. He was one of only three African-American students in his graduating class.
In addition to practicing medicine and teaching, Dr. Deas has sent his passion and commitment across the airways. For many years he hosted a weekly radio show on WLIB and a segment called “House Calls” on television’s The McCreary Report. Today, he continues to provide health education and information through his poetry, plays, and popular syndicated columns in the Amsterdam News and elsewhere.
Through interviews with physicians, educators, and students, the film chronicles Dr. Deas’ lifelong effort to improve community health. His campaign to force Argo Starch to place a label on its laundry product warning, “Not Intended for Food Use” is legendary. This single act prevented countless Black women from becoming anemic during pregnancy.
Adelaide Sanford, vice chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, recalls a time when there was no one like Dr. Deas speaking out for Black people against harmful medical practices. Ray Austin, MD, with whom Dr. Deas formed Doctors Against Murder (DAM), describes its work helping young people to reject violence. Former and current medical students also appear on film, testifying to the importance for students of color to have a mentor like Dr. Deas.
The audience at the film premier included renowned artists, educators, community leaders, and former patients who had come to witness this tribute to their favorite “doctor from the hood.” But no one had a better time than Gerald Deas himself, who joked, “Its great having people say nice things about you, especially while you’re still around to hear it.”