Honoring San Diego’s Black Physicians

Thank You, Healthcare Heroes
March 25, 2021

In honor of Black History Month, the American Academy of Pediatrics, California Chapter 3 would like to highlight the many contributions Black Physicians made to San Diego’s children and families.

We selected four Black Physicians: Drs. Leon Kelley, Gail Knight, and Akilah Weber with a special remembrance highlight for San Diego’s first Black Pediatrician, Dr. Joseph Joyner, for their tireless work to improve the health and well-being of our communities.

Recognizing Dr. Leon Kelley: Lieutenant Commander, Obama Honoree, Respected Physician

Leon Kelley, M.D. is a legendary and beloved pediatrician in the San Diego area. For 47 years, Dr. Kelley practiced pediatrics in southeast San Diego at an office in Lincoln Park before retiring in 2016. As the second African American pediatrician in San Diego, he was honored by President Barack Obama with a letter for his service to the community. Dr. Kelley had the distinguished honor of caring for generations of families in San Diego as he often had grandparents bringing in their own grandchildren for care as he was so well respected.

Dr. Kelley earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1964. As a naval officer for the United States Navy, he moved to San Diego and completed his pediatric internship and residency at Naval Medical Center San Diego. In 1970, he left the naval service as a lieutenant commander. Among his accomplishments, Dr. Kelley launched a program for sickle cell anemia screening in southeast San Diego. Despite being retired, he is still actively engaged in the pediatrics community serving as a mentor and currently sits on AAP-CA3’s Chapter Engagement Committee and is an active participant.

We thank you Dr. Kelley for all of your service to the San Diego community!

Honoring Dr. Akilah Weber’s Public Service To San Diego

Akilah Weber, M.D. is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology and is a fellowship-trained child and adolescent gynecologist. She is the founder and director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology Division at Rady Children’s Hospital and is an Assistant Clinical Professor of OB/GYN at UCSD. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Xavier University in New Orleans and medical degree from the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. She completed residency at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago and fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

A native San Diegan, Dr. Weber is exceptionally active in the community by volunteering her time speaking at churches and community organizations about puberty, contraception and making healthy choices for adolescent females. She is also incredibly politically active, serving as a La Mesa City Councilmember where she became the first African American elected to the City Council in La Mesa in 2018. Currently, she is running for California State Assembly District 79th. Additionally, she has traveled to Ethiopia with the World Surgical Foundation where she participated in basic gynecologic and reconstructive surgical procedures for adults and children.

We thank you Dr. Weber for all of your service to the San Diego community!

Recognizing the Distinguished Career of Dr. Gail Knight

Gail Knight, M.D., M.M.M. is a fellowship-trained, neonatologist and currently serves as the Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President at Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. She has been recognized for her distinguished career for exceptional clinical and leadership accomplishments. Notably, Dr. Knight was the first African American woman to be named chief of staff at Rady Children’s Hospital and clinical chief of the Division of Neonatology at Rady Children’s, San Diego’s only Level 4 NICU, before she was promoted to her current position. She earned both her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of California, San Diego. She completed both pediatric residency and neonatology fellowship at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

In 2011, Dr. Knight completed a Master of Medical Management degree at the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business. She has received numerous accolades, honors, and awards including the Tribute to Women & Industry Award from the YWCA of San Diego County and the Rady Children’s Quality Innovation & Improvement Award along with being named a U.S. News & World Report and San Diego Magazine “Top Doctor” on multiple occasions. Recently, she has been appointed to the County of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency’s COVID-19 vaccination clinical advisory group to assist with ensuring that disadvantage communities have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccination.

We thank you Dr. Knight for all of your service to the San Diego community!

Honoring Dr. Joseph Joyner, Co-Founder of the First California Medical Center Owned by African American Physicians

Joseph Joyner, M.D. was a pioneering pediatrician in the San Diego area. He began practicing in 1967 as the first African American pediatrician in San Diego. At 16, he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Army, serving in Europe, Africa, and the Philippines during World War II. He left the Army in 1946 to attend Morehouse College where he earned his undergraduate degree in biology — he would later study microbiology at the University of Chicago before earning his medical degrees from Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1962.

After completing a pediatric residency, Dr. Joyner went on to the University of Colorado to complete a fellowship in Infectious Disease. In 1973, he and 10 other African American physicians founded the Southeast Medical Center in southeast San Diego on Euclid Avenue. To quote a Journal of San Diego History article, “the center was the first California medical center to be owned and operated by African American doctors.” Dr. Joyner continued to inspire generations of community members and African American physicians in San Diego during his years of practice.

We thank Dr. Joyner for all of his service to the San Diego community!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Camille Robinson

Dr. Camille Robinson is the Adolescent and Adolescent Addiction Medicine Physician at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and serves as the chapter’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Champion. She also speaks on the topic of DEI through grand rounds at Rady Children’s Hospital and training sessions with AAP-CA3’s chapter board and staff.

Dr. Robinson’s efforts include helping AAP-CA3 improve our understanding of the effects of racism on child and family well-being and how we can play a role in dismantling racist systems.