The Colgate Scene
January 2000
Table of contents
To create and maintain healthy communities
by John D. Hubbard
Robert Fullilove '66 arrived at Colgate a child of privilege. This son and grandson of doctors was, by his own account, "an Eisenhower republican," as well as a gregarious and popular guy who brought with him an impressive prep school record.

     "What a shock," Fullilove says today in his office on 166th St., not far from Broadway, where he champions public health issues as a teacher and researcher and administrator.

     The '50s hadn't really ended even though it was 1962, and while Fullilove made friends easily ("Yo, Bob's here. Let's hang out"), old bastions were still in place ("Have you seen the charter? We can't have this boy here").

     The rejection Fullilove felt on the Row touched him deeply -- "It changed my notion of myself" -- though he ended up joining a fraternity anyway: TKE, which had no exclusionary clause and in fact had a tradition of exploratory open-mindedness.

     By 1963 the civil rights movement was making headlines. Birmingham exploded and the March on Washington mobilized young people. R.V. Smith, university chaplain at the time, had a keen interest in Martin Luther King. He organized a committee on human rights for students to discuss issues and stay focused.

     "Smith urged a bunch of us to consider going to either Richmond or Atlanta to do voter registration. I went to Atlanta."

     It was there Fullilove met Andrew Young and others in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

     "Thanks to R.V. I went down with some advanced notions. We kicked ass, registered a lot of voters." Fullilove, the only African American in the group, caught the eye of Julian Bond, who was then a leader with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was shifting its focus from lunch counter sit-ins to voter registration. Commenting on his flair for leadership, Bond told Fullilove he had to come to Mississippi. "We've got a place for you," he was told.

     To help finance the trip, Fullilove and Colgate friends Paul Klein '65 and Woody Berry '67 formed Free-dom's Gatemen, singing at campus functions and beyond.

     As Freedom Summer began, Fulli-love fell in with Stokely Carmichael and was part of a delegation to visit Congressman Adam Clayton Powell '30 in Washington, where they pointed out the outrageous problems Freedom Summer volunteers would face and argued for a federal presence.

     "I'm 20 years old and completely dazzled," said Fullilove. Despite friends in high places, he remembers spending the balance of Freedom Summer in a "fog of terror," feeling like "Klan bait."

     "I lived through the summer, magically, but I came back to Colgate transformed. My family was determined I continue the legacy of education but I think I was pretty insufferable. What I had seen and done -- in and out of jails, chased by outraged people -- I might as well have been on another planet. There was a revolutionary movement going on and I was at Colgate in body only. My last two years I was estranged."

     It was an estrangement that lasted more than 30 years, until this fall, when Fullilove, with wife Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, returned to campus at the request of President Buddy Karelis. The couple met with administrators to talk about ways to build communities, a common thread through years of civil rights issues, AIDS research and public health concerns.

     Today, Robert Fullilove III, EdD, is the associate dean for community and minority affairs and associate professor of clinical public health in sociomedical sciences at the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University. Following Colgate, he received a masters in instructional technology from Syracuse University and an EdD from Teachers College, Columbia University.

     Fullilove directs the masters program in health promotion and disease prevention in the Division of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia and is the co- director of the Community Research Group. His research has focused on the impact of drug treatment programs on the lives of men and women addicted to crack cocaine and other drugs. He has authored numerous articles on HIV/AIDS, minority health, substance abuse, and mathematics and science education. In 1998 he and Mindy were named visiting Falk Fellows at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

     In 1995 Fullilove was appointed to the Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Institute of Medicine and in 1998 was appointed to the Advisory Committee on HIV and STD Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control. He also serves on the editorial board of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

     After graduation, Fullilove worked full time for SNCC for two years, went to seminary ("To keep my ass out of the war") and hooked up again with Woody Berry in Syracuse to develop a precursor to HEOP. After earning a masters in education at Syracuse University, Fullilove returned to New York City, where he started his doctorial work in higher and adult education at Columbia. Simultaneously, he was working, first for SUNY Westbury and later the Department of Higher Education in New Jersey, where he eventually became associate director for the state's Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF). With work stalled on his dissertation, Fullilove proposed a study on the progress of EOF students, an approach that landed him at the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE), where he was involved with grants for higher education, an investigation of equal opportunity programs and issues of evaluations.

     Along the way, Fullilove had developed an interest in math and science, and in 1983 he moved to Berkeley to run the Professional Development Program (PDP) at the University of California at Berkeley. He also met Mindy, who had completed her residency in psychiatry.

     As the couple blended their families, they subsequently (in 1986) became involved in AIDS research.

     Nineteen eighty-one is regarded as the official beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and while there were clear patterns to the spread of the disease, there was also a disproportionate representation in the community of color. The Fulliloves' commitment deepened -- Mindy was recruited to do epidemiological research, while Bob consulted. They were interested in "understanding the nature of a variety of events that we thought important to the dissemination of AIDS."

     The rate of HIV infection in three San Francisco communities was studied and an ethnography was conducted.

     "The hottest thing we were seeing was crack cocaine and a bartering of sex for crack, often involving young people."

     A 1988 study produced "blind-ingly scary results" that confirmed crack cocaine-related chemical foreplay, the exchange of sex for drugs and the involvement of young people.

     The Fulliloves published an article in 1990 that called attention to, and predicted the outcomes of, crack use. The unknowns, with no public health training and only a modest $10,000 pilot study, were established as real players in the AIDS world.

     Recruited to come back to New York by Columbia, the Fulliloves have authored more than 40 papers together and lecture frequently.

     "It's a body of work that is significant enough that people want our input."

     The Fulliloves alone continue to investigate the dynamic of why AIDS is in the African American community and have concluded it is not race but crumbling community infrastructures, widespread drug use and a corrections system that keeps former prisoners recirculating through neighborhoods, back to prison and back, yet again, to the neighborhoods that keeps it going.

     "How do we create and maintain healthy communities?" reads a banner stretched across the office wall.

     "We love to think," said Robert Fullilove, who has been to the mountain, "what we are doing is part of the nation's mobilization to create a response."

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