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Politics

Why Dallas Surgeon Dr. Brian Williams Is Running for Congress

The former Parkland trauma surgeon who made headlines after the July 7 shooting in downtown Dallas discusses how his career as a physician informs his platform.
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Dr. Brian Williams at Dallas Police Memorial following the July 7 shooting. Courtesy: Dr. Brian Williams

Dr. Brian Williams came to Dallas in 2010 because he felt patients at the county’s safety net hospital deserved the best possible care. He didn’t think he would stick around. He had no prior connections to the city, but his family has never left North Texas. Now he is running to represent Texas’ 32nd District in Congress.

Williams is bringing decades of experience working in public hospitals as a trauma surgeon. He spent time in Washington, D.C. in a policy role prior to announcing his candidacy. He made headlines in 2016 as the surgeon in charge of the emergency room trauma team on the evening of July 7, when Micah Xavier Johnson shot and killed five Dallas police officers, injured nine others, and wounded two civilians during a downtown protest about past police shootings. Three of the officers died at Parkland that night.

The July 7 shooting came after the deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana. Journalist Jamie Thompson wrote about Williams in an engaging feature about the doctor and his confrontation of racism for D Magazine in 2016. “You realize that no matter what you do—your accomplishments, your accolades, your titles—that you can easily be dehumanized based on the color of your skin,” he told her.

He hadn’t planned on speaking during the press conference after the shooting. But as the only Black trauma surgeon on staff, he felt he needed to. “This is much more complicated for me, personally,” Williams said then. “I understand the anger and frustration with law enforcement. But they are not the problem. I want the Dallas police officers to see me, a Black man. I support you. I will defend you. I will care for you. That doesn’t mean I do not fear you.”

The event set him on his current trajectory. “July 7 was the moment that ignited that feeling in me that there was something more,” he says.

Later, he brought his nuanced view of policing and safety to his role as chairman of the Community Police Oversight Board, a civilian group that examines misconduct complaints against Dallas Police Department employees. Williams began to see how different sectors of society work together and how they impact each other as well as the well-being of residents.

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Dr. Brian Williams Courtesy: Dr. Brian Williams

“I came to realize there was more I needed to do about the systemic issues in the community that continue to put my patients at risk,” he says. “What can I do to affect things outside the hospital?”

Williams’ path to medicine and politics was a winding one. He is an Air Force brat born in Massachusetts but has lived all over the world, including Japan and Hawaii. “All the people I met across the world gave me a global view of what it meant to be a citizen,” he says.

He grew up with an interest and proficiency in math and science and attended the Air Force Academy, where he majored in aeronautical engineering. He served in the Air Force as an engineer on classified projects for six years, an experience that left its mark. “The Air Force was transformative,” he said. “I learned about service above self and that there is no challenge we cannot meet without some degree of success.”

He later felt called toward a career change and moved into medicine, enrolling in medical school at the University of South Florida. He completed his residency at Harvard, and a fellowship in trauma surgery at Emory University in Atlanta. Then he made his way to Dallas.

His experience in public life continued to grow after July 7 and his time on the police oversight board. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams served as a special advisor for health equity to County Judge Clay Jenkins to ensure the county’s response to the pandemic was equitable throughout the community. He left Dallas to work at a hospital in Chicago and then moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as a health policy advisor to Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where he worked to pass one of the most significant gun safety laws of the last 30 years.

He ended his time in Washington as an advisor to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but his family had remained in Dallas. He knew it was time to come home. Last month, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred announced he would be challenging Ted Cruz in the race for the Senate and wouldn’t be running for Texas’ 32nd District again. Williams said he saw an opportunity to have the broad impact he had been looking for.

“To have sustainable change and improve on death and suffering, there are systemic issues that aren’t going to change with me in a white coat, but through policy,” he says.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Williams would likely be joined in the race to replace Allred in the Democratic primary by state Rep. Julie Johnson. Dallas City Councilman Adam Bazaldua is another name that has been mentioned. The election is still more than a year away. After redistricting, the 32nd is considered to be safely Democratic. Whoever makes it out of the primary will likely win the seat.

He would be the first trauma surgeon and first Black doctor to vote in Congress. As a Black man in medicine, Williams has acutely felt how identity impacts how people move through the world. “When patients see their doctor is Black, it is meaningful to them and their families,” he says. “I see my family in them. Presence is important.”

Williams shares more of his story of how his military service, medical career, and policy experience have helped shape his worldview in his memoir The Bodies Keep Coming. Williams says it touches on racism and violence and provides a blueprint for addressing the path to healing. It will be released on September 26.

“I now have a more global view of the systems we can improve to allow people to achieve the best versions of themselves. We need more leaders with real-world experience in Congress,” he says. “After all I’ve done so far, it has all been great preparation for what I want to do next and serve the community.”

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Will Maddox

Will Maddox

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Will is the senior editor for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He's written about healthcare…

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