National Black Nurses’ Day to honor city’s health and human services director


Daily file photo by Sean Su

Evonda Thomas-Smith (right) on a panel in 2014. Thomas-Smith will be honored for her contributions to public health at an event Friday.

Adrian Wan, Reporter

Evonda Thomas-Smith, the city’s health and human services director, will be honored at the 30th annual National Black Nurses’ Day in Chicago for her contributions to public health.

Thomas-Smith will be recognized Friday alongside about 15 other nurses in correctional health, transplantation and health care advocacy, said Dr. Sandra Webb-Booker, chair of the National Black Nurses Day Committee. She added that the lineup of nurses was selected based on their credentials and contributions to the public service.

The awards ceremony — sponsored by Chicago Chapter National Black Nurses’ Association, Chi Eta Phi Sorority, Inc., Lambda Pi Alpha Sorority and Provident Hospital Nurses’ Alumni Association — will be hosted in Apostolic Faith Church at 3823 South Indiana Ave. in Chicago.

Webb-Booker said the committee was “really floored” by Thomas-Smith’s academic background, dedication to improving the wellness of Evanston residents and efforts in promoting social justice.

“This young woman has risen up through the rank from a (licensed practical nurse) and all the way to obtaining a P.h.D.,” Webb-Booker said. “(She is) the chief healthcare leader for the city of Evanston and responsible for the public health and wellness of residents. … We thought her accomplishment were indeed worthy of recognition. ”

After completing a licensed nursing practical program in high school, Thomas-Smith then attended Northern Illinois University in pursuit of a degree in public health. She also obtained a doctorate in public health from Walden University in 2017.

Thomas-Smith, who grew up in Chicago, said her interest in public health stemmed from her grandmother. Thomas-Smith used to shadow her grandmother, who had been a public health nurse until the age of 77, to visit homes and heal members in their community.

“I thought she had been incredibly knowledgeable,” Thomas-Smith said. “I was impressed with the care that she gave her neighbors in her neighborhood so that left a huge imprint on me and really influenced me deeply, so I knew earlier on that I wanted to be a nurse.”

But, Thomas-Smith said, it’s difficult to “manage the complex urgency of priorities,” since the implementation of healthcare programs is sometimes complicated by the insufficient fundings from the state. Pointing to the 2015-2016 Illinois budget crisis — when the state budget impasse halted full funding for social services dealing with things like mental health and domestic violence issues — Thomas-Smith said the key to addressing community needs is collaborating with other organizations to gather resources that may be lacking from the state.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted Thomas-Smith’s efforts in promoting health equity and bringing Erie Family Health Center — a federally qualified health center which achieves the United States Public Health Service’s standards for patient care and community responsiveness — to Evanston.

“She is a tremendous public servant and she is an excellent public health manager,” Bobkiewicz said. “It’s good to see her get recognition for her good work.”

The National Black Nurses’ Day is an annual tradition that started in 1989, when for New York State Rep. Charles Rangel helped pass legislation establishing the first Friday of February as a day to acknowledge the contributions of black nurses to the academia and society.

Thomas-Smith said she feels “excited and humbled” to receive an award from peers in the same professional field and celebrate the day’s 30th anniversary with excelling nurses from diverse backgrounds.

“I’m gracious that I’ll get to see other nurses who … I stood on … the shoulders (of),” Thomas-Smith said. “Some of their work have improved and informed my work, so it’s a great celebration to be part of.”

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