Award Winners Honored at Cook Society Annual Dinner, Feb. 21

Evelyn Schmidt, the retired director of Lincoln Community Health Center, will receive a "Sammie" award

Six members of the Duke-Durham community have been selected as 2012 "Sammie" award winners, named for Samuel DuBois Cook, the first African-American faculty member at Duke.

The winners will be honored at the 15th annual dinner and awards ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. All were chosen in appreciation of their work in furthering Cook's legacy.

Cook was a political scientist, educator and human rights activist at Duke. The Cook Society was founded in 1997 to recognize and celebrate the African-American presence at the university.

Dr. Evelyn Schmidt, the director of Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham, has been selected to receive a "Sammie" distinguished service award. Lincoln provides health care to thousands of people each year regardless of their ability to pay. Schmidt was its director from 1970, shortly after it was founded, to 2011 when she retired.

Schmidt, who was one of the first female medical students at Duke, has turned Lincoln into a national model of community health. She recognized early on that good health is dependent not just on medical care, but also on proper nutrition and a safe living environment. Schmidt has also led efforts to improve housing in Durham and reduce gang activity.

She has been honored by numerous medical organizations, receiving the 2004 Morehouse School of Medicine Excellence in Clinical Leadership in Primary Care award and the 2000 NAACP Freedom Fund Honoree. The North Carolina Primary Health Care Association established an award in her name, the Dr. Evelyn D. Schmidt Award for Outstanding Service, in 1998.

William J. Griffith, Duke's vice president for student affairs emeritus, will be honored with the Cook Society’s special recognition award.

Griffith began his career at Duke in 1950 when he graduated with a degree in economics and political science. He recruited high school students as the Duke undergraduate admission field secretary and in 1952 became director of student activities and director of the student union. He later served as dean of Student Affairs, assistant provost and in 1979 was appointed vice president for student affairs. 

In 1996, Griffith was awarded the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service. Former president Nannerl O. Keohane said he had "not only sparked the creation of the Duke Student Union, he helped shape it as a national model for cultivating student leadership."

In permanent recognition of Griffith's service to Duke, the Board of Trustees officially designated a theater in honor of Griffith and his wife, Carol, a Duke Nursing School graduate. The William J. and Carol T. Griffith Film Theater is in the Bryan Center.

Other winners are:

-- Allison Curseen, a doctoral candidate at Duke who researches 19th century American literature, African-American literature and child studies. For the past three summers she has taught creative writing at Duke and co-instructed a literature seminar at Orange County Correctional Center in Hillsborough. She has been active in numerous programs for young people including the John Hope Franklin Young Scholars program, the Walltown Children's Theater and a Stepping Stones program supported by the Orange County Literacy Council.

-- Alexandra Swain, a Duke junior and Durham native, is majoring in political science and music. Swain is the Duke Student Government's vice president of Durham and regional affairs. She has been involved in a number of activities at Duke, serving on the East Campus Council, the Young Trustee Nominating Committee and the Duke University Symphony Orchestra. As a campus leader she has encouraged Duke students to use public transportation, to increase interaction with peers at North Carolina Central University and provided opportunities for students to communicate with Durham's elected officials. 

-- Chandra Guinn, director of Duke's Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture since 2005, serves as a counselor, adviser and role model to Duke students. Under her leadership, the center explores black life, promotes the study of black history and cultural expression across the African diaspora. She models for students the idea that leadership should be a way of life and encourages them to take advantage of the wide range of campus resources, challenging them to rise above expectations.

-- Rev. William C. Turner Jr., a professor of the practice of homiletics and the pastor of Mt. Level Baptist Church in Durham, has been invested deeply in the life of the university as a student activist, administrator and faculty member. Turner joined Duke in 1966 as an undergraduate football player. He was in the fourth class of African-Americans to integrate Duke and subsequently earned three degrees: a bachelor's in electrical engineering, a master's in divinity and a doctoral degree in religion. Turner was instrumental in the birth of the African-American studies department, black faculty recruitment and retention and the university's divestment from South Africa. 

For more information and to find a list of past award recipients, visit