How a 50-Foot Mural at Jacobs School Celebrates Medical Diversity

On a crisp morning that felt more like a beginning than a mere continuation, a vibrant tableau was unveiled at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, transforming a once static space into a dynamic celebration of diversity. Here, in Buffalo, under the roof of an institution known for its forward-thinking and dedication to the medical arts, the air buzzed with anticipation as a ribbon was cut, heralding not just the completion of a mural but the embodiment of a community’s soul.

Julia Bottoms pauses for a moment while painting the mural from the scissor lift. Photo credit: Sandra Kicman

Julia Bottoms, a Buffalo-based visual artist, has painted not just a mural but a testament to the human spirit. Stretching an impressive 50 feet wide and soaring 16 feet tall, her creation adorns the second-floor atrium of the Jacobs School, featuring figures that walk, talk, and jog not just across its surface, but into the hearts of those who see it. These are the faces of current UB medical students, residents, and alumni—real people with stories as rich and varied as the hues that bring them to life.

The journey to this moment began in earnest in 2019, spurred by conversations among individuals who saw a need for more color, more representation, in the new building of the Jacobs School. The mural’s inception was a collaborative effort, sparked by the likes of Raul Vazquez, MD, a proud Jacobs School graduate, and his wife, Toni Gaiter-Vazquez, EdD, alongside the late Jonathan D. Daniels, MD, whose vision for a more inclusive medical community set the stage for what was to come.

This artwork is more than a static image; it is a narrative woven from the threads of diversity, inclusion, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. Allison Brashear, MD, vice president for health sciences at UB and dean of the Jacobs School, captures the essence of this project, noting its significance as a reflection of the school’s commitment to an environment where every individual can thrive.

The backdrop to this mural’s story is as compelling as the artwork itself. The Jacobs School, in its quest to foster a diverse and inclusive student body, initiated the Second Look Weekend in 2018. This event, dedicated to underrepresented students accepted into the MD program, was a resounding success, nearly doubling the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds in its first year. It was a testament to the power of community and the importance of representation in medicine.

Daniel Olutalabi, MD, Jacobs School alumnus and UB medical resident, stands in front of his likeness in the Celebration of Diversity mural. Photo credit: Sandra Kicman

As the faces on the mural watch over the atrium, they serve as silent mentors to current and future students, a reminder that diversity is not just a goal but a journey. Each figure, from Daniel Olutalabi, MD, in his suit to Ifeoma Ezeilo, Class of 2025, as a jogger, tells a story of resilience, ambition, and the shared dream of making a difference in the world of healthcare.

Narayan Dhimal’s presence on the mural, a poignant symbol of his journey from a refugee camp in Nepal to the halls of the Jacobs School, underscores the message that diversity enriches and strengthens our communities. It’s a reminder that every individual brings a unique perspective to the table, contributing to a richer, more compassionate healthcare system.

This mural, funded by the Vazquez family and brought to life by Julia Bottoms, is more than art. It is a declaration of the Jacobs School’s dedication to diversity, a visual conversation starter that invites onlookers to ponder the stories behind the faces.

Lead image (L to R): Jazmin Corral , Narayan Dhimal, Daniel Olutalabi, and Parveen Attai stand in front of their images in the mural. Photo credit: Sandra Kicman

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