At this point in my life, Black History Month isn’t about the focused history lessons and bulletin boards around school anymore. We don’t get assigned famous African Americans to do projects on or do an obligatory reading of the I Have A Dream speech. When I think back over the month, no one was really required to think about the time as special, especially those outside of the minority group with little routine exposure to black culture. For me, it feels like as I get older it’s up to me and fellow minorities to keep it relevant for those around us–rightfully so. I’m thankful to be part of organizations like SNMA that celebrate and promote black history nationally, and to be friends with so many others that used their social media platforms to do the same on a smaller scale.
A couple of weeks ago, my medical school celebrated 50 years since its desegregation in 1967. So Black History Month had a much deeper resonance for me, as I shook the hands of Dr. Frank Rumph, a man who made it possible for me to sit where I’m sitting now. Fifty years ago, he and Dr. John Harper (who passed away in 2016) decided to accept the invitation for admission and get their medical training from MCG. I’m not sure if the weight behind that sentence really comes across. For context: MCG accepted black people because they were going to lose federal funding if they didn’t, not necessarily with wide open arms. These men knew their journey wouldn’t be easy and yet they had the courage to take that step and persevere as pepper flakes in a sea of salt. Both would later go on to work with admissions to ensure the door stayed open for more students of color.
I attend a predominately white med school and I’ll admit that sometimes it’s just exhausting feeling like you have to choose your battles, watching everything you say and how you react. And sometimes you feel like you’re belaboring a point when you want to bring up topics that are close to home. It makes you naturally turn towards those who look like you because you know that they will understand, and you don’t have to use filters when you talk to them. I couldn’t imagine being in school during a much more racially tense time and not having someone to turn to outside of one other classmate. The stress of constantly having to hold my tongue and watch my back would wear me out. Dr. Rumph and Dr. Harper stood strong, pushed through, and were successful despite the odds against them. I’m inspired to do the same.
Black History Month was a wonderful time to celebrate and pay homage to those who came before me–in medicine and just life in general. With all that’s going on in the world, I’m reminded that it’ll be a while before I feel fully accepted in this country. But being able to remember those heroic individuals who made life as I know it possible gives me hope and resilience as I continue along on my journey. I’m so grateful to God for placing trailblazers on this Earth and equipping them with the tools needed to weather their storms. The past 28 days were dedicated to them. Unfortunately most will tuck these notions away until this time next year, but I implore students to use their leverage to make sure that doesn’t happen–especially those in leadership of ethnically based organizations. Minorities are here to stay, and our issues and emotions are just as relevant and valid as the majority.
“You can’t be hesitant about who you are.” – Viola Davis