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A Family Connected by Service and Community

Growing up in Columbus’ Near East Side, Dr. William “Bill” Hicks holds many fond memories of his family, church community, and neighborhood. The son of a pastor and an educator, he learned from a young age the importance of contributing to his community through service and leadership. Reflecting on the congregation at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church—where Bill has been active for 66 years and where his father, Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, Sr., served as the pastor for more than three decades—Bill says his fellow parishioners have always displayed a spirit of generosity.

“They were people who were not wealthy, but they had a heart of gold. They would do whatever they could to help the community,” explained Bill.

Pictured: Dr. Bill Hicks, center, with his parents and siblings. Photo courtesy of Dr. B.J. Hicks.

With a foundation rooted in service to others, it is perhaps no surprise that Bill decided to pursue a career in medicine. Inspired by local Black physicians like Dr. Watson H. Walker, Dr. John H. Rosemond, and Dr. Wilburn Weddington, Bill finished his undergraduate studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta before completing medical school at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also did his residency.

However, Bill credits a pivotal conversation with his mother for shaping the type of doctor he wanted to become. While undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, Bill’s mother, Eleanor Hicks, encouraged him to bring empathy and compassion to his work.

“One of the things she said was that, having been treated by many different physicians, she saw a lot of people who were caring and those who didn’t care so much,” Bill shared. “She said, ‘I'd like for you, my son, to be one of those doctors who care.’ So, that was important to me.”

Pictured: Dr. Bill Hicks, back row right, pictured with his parents and siblings. Photo courtesy of Dr. B.J. Hicks.

As a physician specializing in oncology and hematology, Bill provided exceptional care to the Columbus community for 35 years. In 2002, after more than two decades in private practice, Bill was recruited by The Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital to serve as the Co-Director of Diversity Enhancement. As Bill saw it, this was another opportunity to be of service to his community—in particular, for patients in the Black community who were often overlooked in health care and research settings. He formally retired from this role in 2012, but continued to work in various clinical capacities for the remainder of the decade.

"She said, ‘I'd like for you, my son, to be one of those doctors who care.’ So, that was important to me."

—Dr. William “Bill” Hicks

Bill’s son, Dr. William “B.J.” Hicks II, is quick to praise his father’s remarkable career and legacy. B.J., a member of The Columbus Foundation’s Governing Committee, is a vascular neurologist at OhioHealth, where he also serves as Vice President of Neuroscience.

“He’s an amazing doctor and an amazing person. He’s worked extremely hard,” said B.J. “For many years, he was the name in cancer treatment for Black folks in this city.”

The Importance of Black Representation in Medicine

With two generations of doctors in the family—including Bill’s daughter and B.J.’s sister, Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham, a dermatologist and founder of Downtown Dermatology—the Hickses are highly respected leaders in their respective specialties. However, Black physicians, especially Black male physicians, remain drastically underrepresented in today’s healthcare workforce. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 5.7 percent of physicians in the United States identify as Black or African American.

Pictured (l-r): Dr. B.J. Hicks with his father, Dr. Bill Hicks, and siblings, Dr. Shari Hicks-Graham and Darren Hicks. Photo courtesy of Dr. B.J. Hicks.

“Thanks to my father and his colleagues, I got to grow up knowing that there are Black physicians of prominence in my community,” said B.J. “Unfortunately, many people don’t have that type of exposure.”

For both Bill and B.J., building a more inclusive community requires creating more opportunities for underrepresented groups to enter the medical profession—such as through youth engagement and mentorship programs. 

“If you see somebody who looks like you who is doing good things, then you certainly say, ‘Hey, I can do that as well,’” explained Bill.

“We just cannot be passive and expect it to happen,” added B.J. “If our history has told us anything, it is that we have got to be proactive.”

Promoting Health Equity

In addition to supporting the next generation of Black physicians, Bill and B.J. are also passionate about promoting health equity in the community. During his tenure at James Cancer Hospital, Bill was instrumental in increasing the participation of African Americans and other underrepresented groups in clinical trials—helping more individuals benefit from advancements in medical science, including cancer treatment.

Similarly, in his role as Vice President of Neuroscience at OhioHealth and through his community engagement, B.J. often thinks about how social determinants of health contribute to health disparities. A lack of stable housing, nutritious food, economic opportunity, education, and clean air and water can all drastically impact health outcomes—which is why B.J. firmly believes healthcare is more than interactions with a physician.

“The data are strong: when you have stable housing, you’re healthier. When you have food for your family, you’re healthier. When you’re able to find work, you’re healthier,” B.J. explained.

Reflecting on his service on The Columbus Foundation’s Governing Committee, B.J. added, “The Columbus Foundation helps nonprofits in our community fill those gaps, especially when there's crises. That’s why I like to say that The Columbus Foundation provides healthcare. I feel that very strongly.”

Generations of Generosity

When considering those who inspired them to a life of service, both Bill and B.J. praise their families—their grandparents, fathers, mothers, spouses, children, and siblings. As B.J. shared, it is his mother, Jessica Hicks, whose “shining light” and example continues to inspire him today.

“You always want other human beings to have somebody like that in their lives,” B.J. said, reflecting on her positive spirit and her dedication to the community.

And while Bill also credits the generations that came before him, he also takes inspiration from his three children—B.J., Shari, and Darren, who works as the Managing Director for Investor Relations at Installed Building Products (IBP) in Columbus.

Pictured: Dr. B.J. Hicks with his wife, Nicci, and their two children. Photo courtesy of Dr. B.J. Hicks.

“I am so proud of my children and what they have done for the community,” Bill shared. “They are doing wonderful work.”

Of his own children, Eleanor and William, B.J. strives to pass down his family’s legacy of service and improving the lives of others, instilling values of community, generosity, and justice.

“They, too, will know the importance of philanthropy and community,” he said.

 

Feb 20, 2024

Pictured (l-r):  

Dr. Bill Hicks and Dr. B.J. Hicks. Photo by Challen Brown.

 

 

AUTHOR

CHELSEA KIENE

Director, Communications and Marketing


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