From the streets of Youngstown to the heights of medicine and academia - Business Journal Daily |  The Youngstown Publishing Company

From the streets of Youngstown to the heights of medicine and academia – Business Journal Daily | The Youngstown Publishing Company

BOARDMAN, Ohio — Mr. Roy Wilson spent some of his formative years on the streets on the south side of Youngstown, occasionally clashing with the law.

The son of a Japanese mother and a black father stationed in Japan with the United States Air Force, Wilson had a childhood marked by parental absence, abuse, runaways, physical confrontations and frequent moves to different places. ‘other cities.

But with a little help along the way, he finally found his calling during high school and went on to an exemplary career as a physician and educator. Today, he is president of Wayne State University in Detroit.

Despite his many moves, he always considered Youngstown his hometown. This is where many of his relatives still live.

Earlier this year, Wilson published his memoir, titled “The Plum Tree Blooms Even in Winter.” In the book, he tells his life story beginning with his early days in Japan, and shares advice and wisdom for others to hopefully emulate.

On Saturday afternoon, November 19, he will be signing copies of his book starting at 2:30 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Boardman.

With her book, Wilson aims to inspire young people to achieve their goals. He is open in describing his personal struggles, including health issues and growing up in a bicultural family.

“The message is in the title of the book,” Wilson said in a phone interview, a reference to the plum tree not falling asleep in bad weather. He urges young people to embrace a mindset that reflects similar toughness and dedication.

“I meet a lot of students who don’t come from wealthy families and who have challenges in their lives,” he said. “I try to encourage them to persevere and get their degrees.”

The plum tree, he said, is a reminder that no matter “how dark and cold and dreary things get, something good and beautiful can come out of it. It is important to have hope and to persevere,” he said. “That’s the philosophy of Detroit and places like Youngstown, where there are challenges.”


He lived in Youngstown from approximately fourth to seventh grade. But it was just one stop for his military family; Wilson attended nine schools in several cities before graduating.

He credits a high school teacher he had in Maryland with taking an interest in him and changing his life.

With her guidance, Wilson went to college and later earned an MD degree from Harvard University. He has also served as president of four universities, dean of two medical schools, and deputy director of one of the institutes of the National Institutes of Health.

Wilson was born in Japan and lived there with his mother until his father returned and the family moved to Youngstown.

It was Wilson’s first time out of Japan. He lived in a small house downtown with his mother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, three aunts and uncles.
“In the book, I tried not to get into awkward things, but it comes out that things were pretty tough,” he said. “[It’s in] the way I describe my mother and my father. There were challenges, human weaknesses.

The message of the book, he said, is threefold:

  • The lesson of the plum tree, to persevere in adversity.
  • Recognize that we all have weaknesses, and not be judgmental but accept the fact that we are not perfect.
  • To practice acceptance and reconciliation, and understand that no matter what you’ve been through, you can look beyond.

The book also discusses how to navigate the academic ladder “whether in high school, college, medical school, or beyond,” and as a student, faculty member, or administrator, has he declared.

But its target audience is students.

“Many give up too soon and think they are facing an unbearable situation,” he said.


To this day, Wilson remains grateful to Judy Stephan, his high school English teacher in Suitland, Maryland.

Stephan, who had polio and used crutches, initially had a dislike for the athletic Wilson. It didn’t help that he fell asleep during his class.

“She confronted me one day and I explained to her that I had all these extracurricular activities, and I was also working, and I was just tired,” Wilson said. “She made me a deal: she would let me go to the locker room and sleep during class, then she would have extra homework for me later and meet with me to make sure it was done.”

Through her mentorship, Wilson read a range of books – far beyond what the rest of the class had been assigned.

“It opened my eyes to the wonders of reading,” he said. “She wanted to challenge me.

When it came time to go to the ball, Wilson expressed to her his fear of making a fool of himself in such a setting.

“She took me to a formal restaurant and taught me what to do and what fork to use,” Wilson said. “She also interested me in museums, in the arts. There was something she saw in me. I went to college and medical school because of her.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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