Meet six Black Case Western Reserve University community members who are making history

From pioneering research to transformative educational and social initiatives, members of the Black community at Case Western Reserve University stand at the forefront of shaping history. While Black History Month usually focuses on the past, it’s equally important to consider who’s making history today. 

In honor of Black History Month, The Daily is putting a spotlight on some of the remarkable achievements of 11 individuals—students, faculty, staff and alumni—whose contributions are leaving indelible marks on the university and beyond. 

Read on to get to know six of these CWRU community members who exemplify brilliance and commitments to making lasting impacts, and stay tuned to The Daily this month to meet five others.

Biographies have been edited for length and clarity.

Photo of Honey Bell-Bey
Honey Bell-Bey

Honey Bell-Bey

Master of Public Health student 

“The beauty of all culture, diversity, and heritage, is that it should be embraced every single day of every single year. February reminds us of the opportunity to honor why Carter G. Woodson curated this time of acknowledging the many contributions, advancements and sacrifices of African Americans.”

A distinguished motivational poet and advocate for youth and communities, Honey Bell-Bey holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast production technology from Bethune-Cookman University. Her background with NBC affiliates, Sports South at CNN, and the Atlanta Olympic Games has made her a sought-after figure on the topics of substance abuse, youth work, and the integration of science and innovative practices.

As an Ohio Certified Drug Prevention Consultant and youth advocate, Bell-Bey uses creative arts strategies to engage both youth and adults. She serves as a trainer for esteemed institutions like the Mandel Center, Cuyahoga County Youth Work Institute, and Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.

In January 2020, Bell-Bey was appointed the first Poet Laureate of Cuyahoga County in 16 years, and was later named one of the country’s Poet Laureate fellows by the Academy of American Poets in May 2020. As founder and director of The International Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word, she successfully raised over $75,000 in 2015 to take the group to Paris, where they performed at significant venues across the city.

Now a student in Case Western Reserve University’s Master of Public Health program, Bell-Bey has garnered awards and congressional recognitions for innovative programming strategies engaging high-risk youth. In January of this year, Bell-Bey received the prestigious Citizens Artist Award from the United States Conference of Mayors and the Americans for the Arts, recognizing her outstanding contributions in professional artistic pursuits and philanthropic efforts to enhance societal well-being.

Photo of John Paul Stephens
John Paul Stephens

John Paul Stephens

Faculty member at Weatherhead School of Management

“I think celebrating the month is important because it helps the country as a whole focus on the important contributions Black people have made not only in the United States, but across the world. Black people are not a monolithic group so we need to take the time to learn about the diverse kinds of creativity, thinking and innovation that we have all benefited from.”

John Paul (J.P.) Stephens is the Theodore M. and Catherine C. Alfred Professor in Management and an associate professor of organizational behavior at Weatherhead School of Management. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Stephens completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology at Morgan State University and his master’s and PhD in organizational psychology at the University of Michigan.

Stephens studies work relationships and coordination in groups, focusing on how what individuals and teams perceive about their behaviors shapes complex interdependent work. This research has centered on the felt dynamics—emotions and aesthetic experiences—that comprise individuals’ experiences of relating with others in their work relationships and teams.

His research has found that these felt dynamics interplay with cognitive processes (e.g., attention) and behavioral processes (e.g., contributing actions or information) to enable group coordination, performance and resilience. His ongoing research, funded by Cleveland Clinic Foundation, focuses on the strategic structures and practices used to develop a culture of teamwork on large construction sites.

Stephens has been a sought-after speaker and facilitator, addressing a variety of topics in academic, industry and nonprofit venues. Ultimately, his engagements have all centered on how we can build more positive workplace relationships. Stephens is also an associate editor for the Academy of Management Review journal, chair of the Relational Coordination Collaborative Advisory Board and a faculty associate of the Center for Positive Organizations. 

Photo of Alexandria Johnson Boone
Alexandria Johnson Boone

Alexandria Johnson Boone (GRS ’81, organizational development and analysis)

Graduate of the Master of Science in Organizational Development and Analysis program

“I certainly enjoy and appreciate the celebration of Black excellence during Black History Month. All of the special programs and local and national recognition are important for Black people to know about and appreciate the many, amazing accomplishments of their ancestors. It is unfortunate that we have to have a celebration that is only one month of the year. Black excellence is everywhere, all the time and should be celebrated as such.”

CWRU alumna Alexandria Johnson Boone, president and CEO of GAP Communications Group in Cleveland, leads a full-service PR, advertising, marketing, and events firm. Renowned for her role in shaping LeBron James’s media persona, Boone is also the chairwoman and founder of the Women of Color Foundation,a group focused on the education and empowerment of women and girls.

A graduate of Cleveland Public Schools and holder of a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University, Boone is an accomplished business leader. In 2014, she founded C L Magazine, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024.

Boone actively participates in various community organizations, including the SHINE Foundation, Urban League of Greater Cleveland, and the Urquhart Memorial Foundation. Boone has received numerous awards, including the 2016 National ColorComm Circle Award and the 2016 Trailblazer of the Year. She founded the radio show “C L Magazine LIVE!” in 2018 and has been recognized in Smart Business Magazine and local PBS documentaries. In 2021, she received the National ACME Award and was nominated for the Cleveland Foundation’s “Soul of Philanthropy” Legacy Award.

In 2022, Boone featured on ABC News 5 and Fox 8 News in Cleveland, and was highlighted in CODE M Magazine. The following year, she received the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s 2023 Community Impact Award and was recognized as a Notable Nonprofit Leader/Board Member in 2023 by Crain’s Cleveland Business. Boone continues to make impactful contributions, cementing her legacy as a dedicated community leader and trailblazer.

Photo of Phillip Rowland-Seymour
Phillip Rowland-Seymour

Phillip Rowland-Seymour

Staff member at the School of Medicine

“The interplay between Black history and American history is seamless. Regrettably, not everybody possesses the eloquence to dialogue about it with the depth it deserves. Embracing Black History Month is invaluable as a chance to tap into a wealth of resources, enriching our understanding of our shared past, current possibilities, and envisioning a future that unites us all. It calls for us to dream inclusively and chart a course forward globally, as well locally and domestically.”

Phillip Rowland-Seymour believes he’s a rather unremarkable human being—and he likes it that way. As director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Rowland-Seymour interacts with many student-facing offices, including those focused on admissions, student affairs, curricular affairs, and evaluations/assessments.

His mission is to empower all current, future and former students to feel they can be their best authentic and evolving selves in the learning environment. He emphasizes that all of them, inclusive of their identity, unequivocally belong in the medical school and in the field of medicine and that their patients will be better off because of their authenticity.

Rowland-Seymour often cites New York Times columnist David Brooks, who succinctly describes how Rowland-Seymour navigates his role at SOM: “The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral—whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” 

Rowland-Seymour, a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., has spent time refining his “résumé virtues” but is most invested in growing his eulogy virtues. He serves in a role that provides the space for him to explore the deepest parts of himself and shares that journey within the CWRU community.

He is intentional about developing meaningful relationships and encouraging us to embrace our individual and collective journeys. Rowland-Seymour’s goal is to help foster a community of doctors who are versed in practicing the art and the science of wellbeing—doctors who are clinically skilled, kind, brave, honest, faithful, and capable of deep love. 

Photo of Constance Hill-Johnson
Constance Hill-Johnson

Constance Hill-Johnson (WRC ’80)

Graduate of the bachelor’s in communications sciences program

“Black History (Month) is important because it’s American history, and this history should be lifted every month, not just in February.  For too long, the achievements of African Americans have been minimized and gone unrecognized.  With the current banning of books across the country and the rewriting of our history, this month it is even more important to showcase the beauty, majesty, intelligence and accomplishments of folks who look like me.”

Connie Hill-Johnson, owner of local business Visiting Angels, is certain of one thing—her heart belongs to Cleveland. A graduate of Case Western Reserve University and the University of Southern California, Hill-Johnson spent many years working in both the financial services and healthcare arena. She is regarded as both a dynamic motivational leader and speaker who shares with audiences her entrepreneurial journey owning a homecare agency, which began 21 years ago in her early 40s.

She also shares her journey as an adult caregiver to a mother with dementia. Hill-Johnson describes herself as the “quintessential entrepreneur” in that she virtually eliminated all startup costs, outside of her initial investment in the franchise.

Her commitment to her community is unwavering. She is the first African-American woman to serve as board chairperson for The Cleveland Foundation, the oldest community foundation in the country. Cleveland Magazine named her one of 2024’s Most Interesting People and Crain’s Cleveland Business recognized her in 2023 as a Notable Nonprofit Board Leader.

In 2020, she was honored as a YWCA Greater Cleveland Woman of Achievement winner and, in 2017, was honored as a Crain’s Women of Note. She is on the board of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and serves on the board of Adults at Risk (Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry).

Photo of Ronald Hickman
Ronald Hickman

Ronald Hickman (CWR ’00; NUR ’06; GRS ’08, nursing; NUR ’13)

Faculty member at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing

“Black History Month compels us to boldly highlight the often overlooked contributions of Black trailblazers in science and society. It prompts us to acknowledge historical oversights, appreciate their profound impact, and create a future where recognizing diverse perspectives is not just essential for scientific innovation but also integral to societal progress.”

As a nurse scientist, Ronald Hickman is the inaugural Ruth M. Anderson Professor and associate dean for research at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. He is known for his research focused on technology-based solutions to improve chronic disease self-management and end-of-life care. His research and innovative training programs have received funding from the National Institutes of Health and several foundations, and his impact on nursing has been significant.

Hickman has accomplished many significant achievements that have positively impacted nursing and the university. He holds the distinction of being the first African American man to graduate from the School of Nursing’s PhD program, serve as the associate dean for research, and receive an endowed professorship.

His dedication to mentoring students has earned him the university’s top honor: the J. Bruce Jackson, MD Award and the John S. Diekhoff Award. In 2020, Hickman was named an Emerging Leader in Health and Medicine by the National Academy of Medicine, becoming the second nurse scientist to receive this prestigious distinction.

Hickman has been an integral part of the Case Western Reserve community since his undergraduate years. As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., he played a critical role in establishing the Black Greek Council, a student group that promotes the representation of historically Black Greek letter fraternities and sororities on campus.

Almost two decades later, Hickman’s efforts paid off, and in May 2023, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., became the first Black Greek letter organization to have a monument installed on campus to acknowledge the presence and contributions of Black men who are members of the fraternity and the campus community.