McGovern Medical School’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted students, faculty, and staff in an annual Black History Month program, Feb. 6, “Celebrating the Impact of African-Americans in Medicine” featuring a keynote presentation by Garvin Davis, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science.
“African-Americans have and continue to make great contributions to the advancement of medicine. Often fighting biases along the way, contributors such as Vivien Thomas, Charles Drew, Levi Watkins, and others have improved outcomes for the entire world. Trusting patients such as Henrietta Lacks live on in the history of medical research and have saved incalculable lives,” Davis said.
“As many physicians know, human nature can lead to the omission of certain facts. If we do not celebrate the accomplishments of the past and accurately credit the pioneers who achieve them, we run the risk of discounting the ideas of some of our current colleagues and demoralizing the future generation.”
As part of his presentation, Davis projected a photo of the ‘Lone Ranger’ who many people in the audience could identify. He then shared the story of the real ‘Lone Ranger’ on whom the legend is based -an African-American lawman named Bass Reeves. Historians edited many aspects of the life of the real ‘Lone Ranger,’ including his race, Davis said.
Next, Davis had everyone in the audience stand as he then projected five photos of African-American pioneers in medicine on a screen. Those who knew more than one of the individuals featured could remain standing, the rest he asked to sit down.
“Almost everyone, including myself, sat down,” said Esther Osuji, a second-year medical student and president of the McGovern Medical School chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA). “I realized at that moment I was doing myself a disservice of not knowing more about these amazing men and women. I see Black History Month as a time to acknowledge the achievements of African-Americans who are breaking barriers, but must remind myself to celebrate their achievements throughout the year and not just in the month of February.”
First-year medical student Biosha Jones who introduced Davis as the keynote speaker, found the experience of attending the Black History Month program empowering.
“Many black people from humble beginnings made large impacts, and we are no exception to the power of change, impact and influence. The sacrifices made by black icons in history, and in the present are the reason why I am able to pursue my dreams today. I hope that the life I lead can one day make my ancestors and my family proud. So many greats who came before us faced large challenges and rose above them. We must choose to rise above, even when the weight of the world continues trying to pull us in the opposite direction,” Jones said.
After the various performances and Davis’ presentation, Jones walked away remembering why she came to medicine – because of her grandmother’s personal journey of illness, love, and strength which has become the center point of her purpose in medicine and in life.
“Because of her and so many others, I am working to become the first doctor in my family, and to inspire others to never be afraid of what is difficult or unseen. Take a deep breath and go beyond your wildest dreams. Someone somewhere will thank you for that,” Jones said.