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"He has never lost
creativity and sense
— U-M Dean Kenneth Warner
so genuinely," Brilliant recalled in a
2008 commencement speech to the U-
M School of Public Health.
"He called us all to come up and
sit with him on this stage. We sat in a
circle around him and he spoke to us
of a dream of a country without dis-
crimination, where every woman and
man was treated equally. His words
were poetry — we felt as if he were
transmitting an ancient wisdom, a
calling, a commitment, a future.
"We sat still as stone for hours. No
one dared to breathe. It was a magi-
cal moment. Hearing Dr. King speak
was an invitation into a new way
of life. None of us who were on this
stage with him that day would ever be
the same again. That day ... without
knowing it, I joined a movement."
Brilliant's major changed from
nuclear physics to philosophy and eth-
ics. It inspired him to stand for racial
equality and civil rights; and he joined
a legion of student organizations, anti-
war and civil rights groups including
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, the Congress of Racial
Equality, the NAACP.
His original plan was law school,
and he was accepted into Harvard
Law. In his undergraduate junior year,
his father and grandfather died within
a week of each other. Brilliant's mom
asked him to stay with her after the
loss of her husband and father.
He chose medicine over law. After
WSU Medical School, he'd become
board certified in preventive medicine.
Fighting for the welfare of the neglect-
ed and working to solve major health
problems was his major calling. His
parents, Joseph Brilliant and Sylvia
Brilliant Bloom, also aspired for him
to become a doctor, many years before
he decided it for himself.
He joined the Medical Committe for
Human Rights, the group of doctors
that accompanied Dr. King at marches,
in his first year of medical school.
On State Street in Chicago, wearing a
white coat and borrowed stethoscope,
he protested the Vietnam War with
Dr. King and 5,000 other protesters
on State Street in Chicago. That day in
March 1967 would be a defining event,
when officers arrested hundreds of
protesters, including Brilliant.
After earning his master's, he taught
international health at U-M as an
associate professor of epidemiology.
In Ann Arbor, with his wife Dr.
Girija (formerly Elaine Feldman)
Brilliant, an accomplished public
health professional, he began to build
a family that includes two sons, Joe
and Jon, and a daughter, Iris, who is
currently a U-M undergraduate stu-
At U-M, he turned his passions into
a profession. Dean Kenneth Warner
knew Brilliant since his graduate
school days in the 1970s.
"He was an idealist back then,"
Warner said, and "he has never lost
his marvelous combination of ideal-
ism, commitment, creativity and sense
Warner saw this person-
ally as Brilliant launched the Seva
Foundation in December 1978. "This
remarkable organization, dedicated
to helping poor people in Asia who
suffered from cataracts, has restored
sight to more than 3 million people to
"Larry is one of our world's true
beautiful people. I stand in awe of
what he has accomplished and of the
enormity of his heart."
Mighty Heart on page 14
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