Today, on “World AIDS Day,” I honor the memory of my neighbor, friend, and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother, Dr. Philip Juan Browning, who died in 2004. Dr. Browning an imminent scientist- physician was well -regarded as the first director of the Developmental Core and an essential member of the team that started the internationally esteemed Vanderbilt Meharry Center for AIDS Research. From his Vanderbilt laboratory Dr. Browning became one of the world’s leading scientific experts on viruses, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
In 1994 only a dozen or so researchers were doing work on the pathogenesis of AIDS Kaposis Sarcoma. Philip Browning (Vanderbilt) was among that small band of scientists and physicians engaged in studying the intricacies of the disease.
Vanderbilt colleagues will remember Dr. Browning as a man of science, a man of faith, and a man who always pushed himself and others to make the world a better place. Here are some of their reminiscences:
“Phil worked tirelessly to help increase the ranks of minority researchers and physicians working on HIV-related problems. Excellence was the essential criterion for success in his eyes. He demanded that we set high standards as teachers and that students reach them. We will continue to work toward the goals that he valued so highly, and in so doing, we will honor and perpetuate his memory.” (Dr. Richard T. D’Aquila, Director, Vanderbilt Meharry Center for AIDS Research)
“Philip was truly loved by his colleagues and especially by the post-docs and students he worked with, not only in his own lab but throughout the cancer center. He constantly challenged himself and those around him to do and to be better. His courage and his commitment will continue to inspire us. Vanderbilt and the cancer center are better places because of the time he shared with us.” (Dr. Harold L. Moses, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center)
“Philip has been more than a colleague, he’s been a true friend. He was someone who truly relished life and was the kind of person you want to be, or you want your son to be. He truly was a remarkable individual.” (Dr. David H. Johnson, Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor of Oncology)
“Dr. Browning was one person in the cancer center who always made you smile, whether we were talking about science or about family. We were among the first cancer center recruits and had labs right next to each other. “He was an outstanding scientist. Over the years, we developed a wonderful friendship.” (Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol, Professor of Biochemistry and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research)
A graduate of Fisk University and Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. Browning was Associate Professor of Medicine (Hematology/Oncology), Cancer Biology, and Cell and Developmental Biology. His wife of 24 years, Renee Upchurch-Browning, is a member of the VICC Clinical Trials Office.
After his diagnosis with colon cancer in four years ago, he saw his own experience as an opportunity to reach out to others. “Life is a temporary assignment, and we only have a little bit of time to make a difference,” he said.
My personal connection to Dr. Browning began in our native city of East Chicago, Indiana. He was a family friend. The childhood memories flooded when I discovered photographs of Philip and his three brothers .The Browning family including parents and five siblings were a huge part of my personal developmental years in a neighborhood that believed in the African Proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a Kappa man at Fisk, I proudly pinned Philip and my brother Kirk the night they crossed the Burning Sands and became lifelong members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
Dr. Browning was one of six children said that, as a child, he never considered becoming a doctor. Instead, he wanted to be a “revolutionary” because growing up in the diverse city of East Chicago, Indiana shaped Philip’s broader political and worldview.
When I interviewed him in his laboratory at Vanderbilt University Hospital and Medical Center in Nashville in 2002, Dr. Browning stated that ”as a young man he felt he had few if any options for meaningful political expression, that he needed to become actively engaged in resisting systems of injustice, and the seemingly intractable, systemic problem of race discrimination and oppression.” But in the 70s believing then that education was not the most effective answer he dropped out of Fisk University having “given
-up on “the system” he even began living in a Black Panther Party commune; convinced
that racism could only be countered by the ideology of Black self-reliance.
Young Philip Browning, eager to make a difference within his community and the world joined the Chicago wing of the Black Panther Party engaged in preparing urban youth through tutoring programs and serving pre-school hot meals under the Black Panthers’ widely publicized and effective community based feeding program for under-privileged inner-city school children. Philip eventually became disillusioned with the politics of the BP Party. During this period It was at the behest of his beloved mother, and family matriarch, Mrs. Clara Browning, who challenged him to examine what contribution he wished to make with his life that Philip seriously began contemplating a career path that would enable him to use his full talents, intellect and energy. Gifted with a predilection to math and science he decided to return to Fisk to study pre-med because he believed, he could make a greater difference in the world as a physician and scientist. “I decided that maybe I could be educated after all and still be the man I wanted to be,” he said.
While attending Fisk he sat for the MCATS examination designed to measure aptitude for success in medical school and scored in the top 1 % nationally on a test that determines admission to medical school. Admitted to Tufts Medical School in Boston, Philip graduated at the top of his class. He smiled broadly a familiar smile,of a neighborhood whom always quietly wanted to make a difference, adding “my life’s ambition is to find a cure for cancer.”
Dr. Browning completed an internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowships at Harvard Medical School, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the National Cancer Institute. He eventually received an endowment from Vanderbilt University to establish the University’s first Cancer and AIDS research Laboratory, The Vanderbilt, Meharry AIDS Research Center Laboratory, locally known as “Philip’s Lab,” which conducts groundbreaking research and pioneers experiments in early HIV/AIDS treatments and cellular structure of the AIDS virus.
The Philip J. Browning M.D. Minority Medical/Cancer Research Fund has been established at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Gifts can be made “in memory of Philip Browning” to the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, VU Gift Processing, VU Station B 357727, Nashville, TN 37235-7727.
R.I. P. Dr. Browning you remain in our hearts forever. R.I.P.
Pictured : The Browning brothers four incredible young men, from left, Dr. Philip Juan Browning R.I.P. 2nd picture Edward “Pumpkin”Browning, Dr. Philip J. Browning,Dr. Gerri Browning M.D,and oldest brother James “Snooky” Browning. The 3rd. picture, Dr.Philip J. Browning in his laboratory at Vanderbilt University. Drs. Gerry and brother Philip Browning on a family ski trip. D.Day 2014