It was evening to honor one of the Valley's most prestigious Infectious Disease Specialists for the work she's done for the Mahoning Valley throughout the pandemic. From keeping the Valley informed about COVID-19 to improving equal healthcare access, all eyes were on Dr. Virginia Dee Banks as she reached this milestone in her impressive career Thursday evening at Youngstown State University. 

From 4 decades of work improving access to quality healthcare, vaccine awareness, and pandemic safety, Dr. Banks was honored with the Simeon Booker Award for Courage Thursday evening.

"It's given me an opportunity to be a trusted messenger in the community which I'm really most proud of," Banks said to 21 News before the awards ceremony. 

The world has looked to medical experts, heavily on Infectious Disease Specialists navigating through the era of COVID-19. Here in the Mahoning Valley, you've often seen Dr. Virginia Dee Banks answer to the discoveries and milestones of the pandemic as part of our 21 News Coronavirus team of experts.

"When I went into infectious disease in the late 70s, somebody said, 'Well, you're never going to have a job because everybody knows how to use penicillin," Banks said. "So, here we are with all these diseases that have come about and there aren't enough of us."

"What she has done for COVID-19, for healthcare in general within the entire community, especially the black community, has been nothing short of courageous," said Susan Moorer, Assistant Director, YSU Department of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Moorer nominated Banks for the work she's done for the Mahoning Valley. 

The Simeon Booker Award goes to someone who shows courage and tenacity similar to Simeon Booker, a Youngstown native who became the first black reporter for the Washington Post. The event was hosted by WFMJ's Community Relations Director, Madonna Chism Pinkard.

In her acceptance speech, Banks quoted Maya Angelou saying, "Courage is the most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."

Banks told 21 News it took courage to be an infectious disease specialist during the COVID-19 era. "People didn't know how you got COVID-19. Some were afraid to be around those of us who took care of patients," Banks explained. "To speak out on vaccines when these were new vaccines and trying to convince people they were safe and effective, took a lot of courage."

"WFMJ, the anchors, the reporters, were very helpful in getting me out there as a trusted messenger," Banks said in a video shot for the awards ceremony. "I was on WFMJ multiple times a week and always positioned myself as a trusted messenger. WFMJ was the station that pushed me to the front to answer to the pandemic."

Currently in practice at the Northeast Ohio Infectious Disease Association in Youngstown, Banks has also held positions with NEOMED, UPMC, and Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

"When COVID-19 was first originating, there was a lot of misinformation," Moorer said. "The community was very fearful of the vaccines and she was very instrumental in getting people to understand the vaccines were safe and effective."

"I really think I put Youngstown, Ohio on the map for things that I've done," Banks said. "And I'm most proud of that."

Anthony Ray Hinton was the National Award Winner after he spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. He was released from prison after a man named Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative took his case to the Supreme Court.