Civil rights pioneer now crusades against cancer
On Aug. 28, 1963 Rudy Lombard was 24 years old.
That was the day he listened to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. give the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. Fifty years later, Dr. Lombard is a civil rights pioneer and research scientist at NorthShore University HealthSystem’s John and Carol Walter Center for Urological Health.
On Aug. 28, 2013, his day included educating the Evanston community about prostate screenings. September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. With that message and timing, Lombard, a prostrate cancer survivor, feels compelled to reach out with a handshake to his network of Evanston community service providers.
It’s the same hand that shook the hands of the King.
“Well, the first time I saw Dr. King in person was when we did what was called a non-violent workshop in Miami, Fla.,” Lombard said. “At a black-owned hotel called the Sir John, it was a workshop that lasted three or four days.”
Dr. Lombard made several stops around Evanston. The Rev. Mark Dennis welcomed him at Second Baptist Church at 1717 Benson St. Both men reminisced on how they spent Aug. 28, 1963. As they bantered, President Barack Obama’s speech delivered on the same Washington D.C. steps played back on church’s basement speaker.
“I was there, a 24-year-old activist, and I was proud to be there,” Lombard said.
Dennis was in college then, and recalled: “I had to work, could not get provisions to leave so I celebrated that march from Atlanta, Ga."
“That day, that weekend, it has always been deep in my spirit and my mind and forever will be.”
Dr. Lombard’s career as an activist started early. When he was a boy, he played ball with a white child near an all-white playground in New Orleans. He became a leader of the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and participated in sit-ins at a local lunch counter. He was arrested, and a lawsuit in his name, Lombard v. Louisiana, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled in the protestors’ favor causing discussion about striking down segregationist public accommodation laws and practices.
His co-authored creole cookbook was edited by famed author Toni Morrison. While he says his mother was the best cook, Lombard really has no favorite dish except to maybe dish with under-served patients benefiting from his medical knowledge.
As a prostate cancer survivor, Lombard speaks from experience. Community leaders, like Evanston Health Department Director Evonda Thomas-Smith, invite him to address audiences and reinforce the message.
Minority men undergo prostate screening and seek treatment for the potentially deadly disease at much lower rates than Caucasian men. Churches are an excellent way to reach these populations, Lombard said.
“If you want to reach the black community, churches are the single most important institution to do outreach,” he said. “That’s the way it’s always been in America since the days of slavery.”
For Lombard, marching today through Evanston to spread the word about prostate cancer screening is not far removed from the steps he took in Washington all those years ago.
“I am a witness that has a testimony that means that I am willing to share with other people who are at risk."
“I’m grateful and blessed to have that opportunity,” he said. “It’s the same disposition that me and other people from the civil rights movement had 50 years ago."
“So I still think we’re doing the Lord’s work and I think it’s the kind of work that Dr. King would have made an affirmation about if he was still with us.”