Here’s to 2021 and keeping hope alive!!

I am going to make Gumbo again this New Year’s Day. I have shared this story before. I had what I thought was a great recipe in a cookbook titled “One of a Kind: Recipes from the Junior League of Mobile.” I took the cookbook to our husband’s aunt Tommie for her advice on the ingredients. A former New Orleans native and authentic Cajun (her father was from Paris and her mother, African American) known for her Gumbo recipe, which she guarded like a state secret. She took the book and crossed out (with great emotion) some of listed the ingredients and added no new ones.  I did not know that excellent Gumbo is simple. She did not use crab meat, chicken, or the gumbo file but just Andouille sausage and lots of shrimp. The secret is the roux and the cooking time.  The best okra is frozen, and do not cook it long. Add the shrimp and do not overcook. It only takes a few minutes if the Gumbo is hot. That gave me her special recipe, which I continue to make. I realize though the real ingredient is “Love.”

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” —Oprah Winfrey

The story of my Gumbo is one of loss but also of love. We lost Aunt Tommie from complications of  Alzheimer’s and have lost so many other family members since I acquired her Gumbo recipe. Now, COVID-19 has taken so much from us this past year. No holiday gatherings and the need to keep our families safe. No walks with friends or casual meetings. I realized that for me, this was transforming how I deal with colleagues and patients. Not being judgmental, but I am intolerant of dismissive attitudes about the disease and how it so easily spread, and the fact that it is leaving a trail of death and lasting effects worldwide. I had to face the deep hurt caused by the senseless deaths of unarmed African American males and females and a Black woman physician’s death from COVID that played out in real-time in what can only be racist. Every time I see these videos, I shed tears.  Our cell phone cameras have chronicled these countless moments of injustice. These acts demonstrated the systemic and structural racism in our country that permeates every aspect of our lives as African Americans. Maybe what pushed me over the edge was watching the video of an innocent 14-year old African American teenage male being accused of stealing an iPhone that was later found in an Uber and returned. The horror I felt as I witnessed her tackle him. I became fearful, thinking about what could have happened and thankful it didn’t. Taking the time to make Gumbo seems appropriate for this moment in history. I need to stir up some love. 2020 ripped my heart into pieces. What I lost and gained I am still trying to define for myself.  Hopefully, those mended pieces of my heart will heal, leaving no visible scars.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Being mindful of and not dismissive of historical injustices of the past, I made a weighty decision after reading all the information I could get. I took the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and will complete my second dose. It was my responsibility to step up and speak out for science. My goal is to make sure that factual and reliable information is shared and that I can be a voice to listen, inform and support my family, patients, colleagues, and friends as they make their own personal decisions. As one of only 5 % of African American physicians in the US, I must do my part.

 “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.” T.S. Eliot

New Year’s is a time of reflection and reconnection to one’s self. I always make black-eyed peas for good luck. My New Year’s commitment is to be a loud voice and advocate. I plan to get into some “good trouble,” and I know that you will all join me. We have so much work to do in 2021. Together the community of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, we must rebuild trust in our health care system, dismantle racism and rebuild trust in our government. We were asked to do that in 2020, and we will be asked to do it in 2021. The year 2020 saw us vote in record numbers, take to the streets to fight for justice, and make history in countless ways. The new year 2021 will require the same from us. Unfortunately for us in Healthcare, we will have to deal with COVID-19 surges and try to care our non-COVID patients.

We must remember to wash our hands, wear our masks and practice social distancing by avoiding indoor gatherings.

Happy New Year!

A different holiday celebration for a challenging year

This Holiday season has been different. In our waiting room, socially distanced, we gave our staff gifts quickly after lunch and then went back to work.   I miss walking with my friends, but I feel it is my responsibility to keep them safe.   So many people have lost their lives this year. To do my part to protect everyone, I continue to stay home except for going to work or food shopping, wear my mask, and to social distance.

I feel that the past 4 years, especially this entire year, have not been the best on record, but there have been bright spots that have been uplifting and have kept me resilient. I have mentees in medical school, residency programs, and even accepted into dental school.  We have submitted and have accepted and published articles in major journals about mentoring URM faculty, addressing racism, and abolishing minority taxes. Our URM mentoring programs have been recognized and supported. I am awed by the lives we are touching and the contributions they will make. 

We launched the Underrepresented in Medicine Initiative through The Society of Teachers Of Family Medicine. It started as a 2-year fundraising initiative, which was successful. The STFM Foundation Underrepresented in Medicine (URM) Campaign aims to increase resources and support for URM faculty, URM community teachers, and URM medical students and residents going into academic family medicine. The pandemic revealed the need to increase URM in the healthcare workforce and in academic medicine.  I choose to give to the STFM Foundation not only because I am President but because, for the past 20 years, the organization has provided me a place for mentorship and networking. The team that I am a part of is talented, committed and amazing.  The URM Initiative has four focus area:

Mentorship

  1. Create opportunities for developing meaningful relationships that lead to career advancement and leadership 
  2. Develop mentors who have the skills to help URM students, residents, and faculty improve resiliency, satisfaction, and retention

Leadership

  1. Increase the percentage of URM family medicine faculty in leadership positions 
  2. Raise awareness of the structural barriers to URM achievement

URM Faculty Pipeline

  1. Increase the percentage of URM students and URM family medicine residents with an interest in teaching
  2. Increase the percentage of URM family medicine faculty
  3. Increase the percentage of URM community preceptors who receive resources to improve their teaching skills

Scholarship

  1. Increase the percentage of URM students, residents, and faculty who have the skills to produce scholarly research

https://www.stfm.org/foundation/foundationtrustees/foundationtrustees

https://www.stfm.org/foundation/urm/

https://www.stfm.org/foundation/brightlights/overview/

This Thanksgiving is different

“Never lose hope. Storms make people stronger and never last forever.” — Martin Luther King Jr

I have such great memories of Thanksgiving. Always filled with food, and all of us packed into my grandparent’s home and later into my aunt’s home. It started when my parents divorced. We lived in my grandparent’s house until my mother and uncle moved into a place not far away. Later my mother would move us miles away, and that meant after our dinner, we would drive to my grandparents. We would start eating again—cake and pies at my aunt’s home. You see, my grandfather had acres of land, and my aunts had homes on that land. So, they all were within walking distance. We were and still are a close multigenerational family because my grandparents had ten children- my aunts and uncles. That meant so many cousins. COVID-19 meant the cancellation of our Giddens-Arrington Family Reunion.

So, my mother spent Thanksgiving with my sister. There are four of us. One sister and her husband got up early and brought  Thanksgiving dinner to his mother and mine. My mother also was cooking. My younger sister and her husband stayed home and grilled steaks while their son, my 12-year-old 5’9, 170 lb. nephew, was having chicken. My mother says one aunt is in Georgia with her son, and he forbade the rest of his siblings to come. My uncle is back home in Indianapolis, and my one aunt was cooking, but her daughter was picking up food. My sister, who cooked and delivered food, was back home and settled in.

My mother refused to go back home with my sister. She wants to be safe. She says that all the churches are closed. My aunt’s minister said he would remain virtual because he does not want to preach any unnecessary funerals. He is a chaplain at one of the hospitals.

We are not traveling. Not going to Baltimore and canceled our trip for our vacation. My husband’s cousin usually makes a fantastic dinner, and we have been going there for years. There will be just the three of us for Turkey dinner. This pandemic has changed how my family is celebrating. We will not be traveling for Christmas; I am working that week. This isolation is so hard for all of us, but I think it is tough on my family. We can turn any day into a family reunion. Our goal is to keep everyone safe for when we can have our reunion in Birmingham. We must protect those we cherish.

Stay safe.  Wear a mask.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”  Maya Angelou

Why I love my mother!!

My mother calls me every Saturday morning.  Last week, I missed the call because I was finally taking some time to clean my home. For the past few weeks, I have been having meetings on Zoom or working.

She asked as she always does,” are you working today”? No, I’m not working. I’m cleaning the house, so I missed your call. I was downstairs putting some clothes in the washer.”

“ How are you doing?” “I’m fine. I didn’t want to bother you because I knew that you had been working too much. I just wanted to check in to see how you were doing. Your uncle is going back to his home on Friday. Your cousin is coming to pick him up. He says he needs to get home to take care of some business. You know I think he was lonely.”

Of course, he is lonely. It’s challenging for older people at this time because they are so isolated from their families. It must have been terrible for him to be home with no one to talk to. She reminded me that he was still working at the age of 89.  The pandemic forced him home.  He’s been calling his sisters every day, sometimes two and three times a day. My mother and my two aunts are the older sisters.  They are all over 80, and two of them are over 90.  They are among the funniest and smartest women I know.  So that translates into up to nine touches with them each day. So many people don’t have such a close-knit family.  We are fortunate. 

My mother called again today to wish me a happy birthday and a blessed year.  I told her it will be after Tuesday.  She said, don’t worry because I just told God he has to answer my prayer.  She said she has been praying every day.  She talked to a friend who says she will leave the US and my mother asked to go with her.  I couldn’t imagine her not being here, but I can totally understand.  Besides, I can’t travel to see her anyway, and if I could, I would like it to be a great place. She deserves it.

I am holding my breath.  Four years ago, I was so sure of a victory, but this year, I am not because there are so many factors that can cause this to go wrong.  I am mourning the supreme court loss, the loss of federal court judges, the environment, trust in our government, and plain old honesty and decency.  This has been a tough four years. Whatever the outcome, we have to put ourselves together and recommit to the fight.

 “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.” Charles Dickens

The Third Wave

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within,” Baldwin wrote in his best-selling 1963 novel The Fire Next Time.

So, now it is the “Third Wave”. For many of us, all we can remember is the first wave because we have not stopped. We have been seeing patients, especially infants, and young children, to make sure they are immunized. The rest of the time, we have been seeing patients and rushing to get them in for physicals and routine screenings while we had the chance. Also, we have been pushing flu shots. I personally got my physical, flu shot, and lab work. I am also taking some time off. It is time. I found myself raising my voice and really pushing back. We must realize that we are in this for the long haul. There are no short cuts. We have committed ourselves to this path. I wished we could change it, but by this week, I told my boss that prayer was ok, but we need to have common sense and be proactive, not reactive. It just came gushing out. Maybe it was my frustration.

I am preparing for this fight. For election day, I have a face shield and mask. I know what you think, but we are going to vote in-person. I want there to be a line so I can witness firsthand people exercising their right to vote. For me, it is a path paved in blood, so I must be there. I have not missed voting in 45 years. I just like the idea of pulling that lever, especially in these trying times. I find myself humming songs like “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” “What’s Going On,” and “The Greatest Love of All.” I feel like the souls of all my ancestors are just pushing me forward. I may be sharing too much.

Getting back to this “Third Wave,” I am just measuring my strength, finding my place, and deciding my contribution. I feel like I put it all out there, and all I have now is the knowledge I gained. Will that be enough? We have rounded the corner, but we are now heading up the long hill and hoping that it plateaus.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” Baldwin wrote in a 1962 essay for The New York Times.

I wrote this in 2014

I wrote this back in 2014 when I really was upset that an African American female was not then-President Barack Obama’s choice for Supreme Court Justice. I have been thinking about this because here is our opportunity to make a history-changing decision to appoint the first African American woman to the Supreme Court. This vacant seat is ours to fight for and win. We have the first AA female running for VP, and we should not settle. Remember, it is not just that we need a female, but we need a legal scholar who equals and surpasses the late SCJ Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Growing up, two of my heroes were Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm. I was in high school and college when they took their places in the Democratic Party and changed it forever. They both were on my wall. I often think that the pick would have to be an incarnation of these two great women. Each woman would so eloquently pass the scrutiny of this Congress with courage and strength.

It was Barbara Jordan who was a lawyer, legal scholar and an educator who rose through the ranks and, to my memory, gave one of the best keynote speeches ever heard at any political convention. I was in my first year of college and getting ready to vote in my first election. We had hoped she would be the first black female to be appointed to the Carter Administration as US Attorney General, but that did not happen. It was a dream, “deferred”. Nevertheless, she went on to greatness.

Only two African Americans, Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, have served on the Supreme Court. There is only one woman of color, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Other qualified African American women have made their way through the ranks by doing excellent work and making a difference. They are waiting for the chance to courageously step forward. It is time for one of these African American females to take a seat on the Supreme Court.

This is a significant moment in history. The next SCJ should be nominated by the next president. We must make sure that it is not the present occupant of the White House. We have the once in a lifetime opportunity to fulfill those dreams and hopes that Barbara Jordan referred to at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIuB3b1NEwU

More importantly, these are the dreams and hopes of all those little girls empowered by two courageous women and who now are inspiring the next generation. If Biden is elected and follows through on his promise, his nominee would be the first black woman to serve as a justice.

For more information and a list of these qualified women go to Demand Justice:

https://demandjustice.org/page/shewillrise/

170 consecutive days of Meditation and counting

Starting March 30, 2020, I spent a week working in the hospital on a unit designated as COVID-19 free but on that day, it became apparent that we would not remain so. It became very noticeable how easily COVID-19 can be transmitted. Also, sheltering in place is only valid if people follow the rules. I wore my N-95 mask all day at work, but to protect people outside the hospital, I wear a cloth mask for walking around town and shopping. I have hit a milestone 1003 days of meditation since December 30, 2016. I have also hit 170 consecutive days since April 6, 2020. April 6 marked the first day after the end of my week on the COVID unit. I was exhausted, and I committed myself to dive into a daily mindfulness practice to regain my focus and perspective after an emotionally and mentally draining week marked by uncertainty, death, and sheer human suffering experienced by the patients and their loved ones.

This morning, I listened to the COVID playlist I created to wind down as I walked the 1.6 miles from the hospital to my home. I used music to keep me uplifted and resilient. Barbara Streisand’s Albums “Higher Ground” and “Walls” provided songs of inspiration. I rejoiced in the voice of Andra Day and her music “Rise Up” and tracks from her other albums. I also listened to Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, and Luther Vandross. I walked at least 10,000 steps each day. I did not carry my phone because of the need to use PPE and to prevent contamination. I had very few personal belongings with me.

I spent more time reading and learning about COVID-19. I also listened to Podcast on Social Justice and watched webinars on racism and the Pandemic. I posted articles and called my family. I wrote in my journal and created posts for my Blog. Then I realized the conferences I had planned to attend would be canceled and wondered what would happen. They switched to virtual platforms.

My work schedule changed each week, and then George Floyd was murdered. I watched the video and witnessed the very moment of his death, and my world plummeted into anger and the awareness of racism. I read more about racism and diversity, and then I knew that my world would never be the same again. My new normal involves wearing a mask all day and developing a virtual curriculum and seeing patients virtually and in-person. I will not be flying or eating out until next year if then. I am going to local farmer’s markets, food prepping and cooking at home.

Whatever is my new normal, the one constant is my meditation practice: one hundred seventy consecutive days and counting. So many lessons learned. I do not know what the next 40 days will bring; what the outcome of the election will be. The loss of a champion on the Supreme Court puts the fate of the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy. I can only hope that we will wake up, and at least the normal would be that racism, bigotry, and hate did not win.

One thousand three days and I faced so many challenges with calm and resilience. Looking forward to the next 1000 days.

To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is. Thích Nhất Hạnh

Is it a celebration?

I have been talking to my mother a bit more in the past few weeks.  She is such a joy to talk to, but our last call was a bit sad.  She told me that she is not watching the news.  She just can’t bear seeing the image of George Floyd’s death anymore.  She said,” I just can’t take watching as he calls for his mother, and they just killed him.” That is an unsettling image for anyone, but for an 82-year-old African American woman, it is too much.  She can only see her grandsons lying there.

I talked to her again because my cousin posted that his brother and niece were recovering.  We have a Family Reunion page.  I called her to find out if everyone was alright.  COVID-19 rates are increasing in Birmingham.  She called on the circle of sisters.  That starts with my aunt, who usually is always in the know.  Then the circle of cousins gets activated and resulted in the next call.  It is not COVID-19.

Family for us is so important.  It is a circle that keeps us grounded and secure.  It keeps me humble and inspired to keep pushing my limits.  I have always known that if I ever I fell, they are there to pick me up.  Fourth of July was a celebration in our family.  A cookout with my uncle operating the grill and producing the best ribs ever.

I am holding my breath as COVID-19 rates increase in the southern states.  My roots are there.  My mother, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and friends.  As the two pandemics rage, I have so much at risk.

Two solutions are evident.  Wear your mask and practice social distance.  Address racism and bias to make us truly free. July 4 has to mark a day of reflection.  Then a pledge to address these issues for the true manifestation of our freedom.

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, You may rejoice, I must mourn.” July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass

https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/nations-story-what-slave-fourth-july

https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july/

Happy Father’s Day

Father’s Day is a time to honor those men who love and support their families. Loving husbands and fathers make a difference during difficult times. I met my husband a few years after his divorce. After we started dating, I met his son and daughter when they were ages 7 and 8. I took the liberty of putting his daughter’s hair in a neater style. She was beautiful with the most expressive eyes. Black fathers have been the victim of stereotypes of being absent and uninvolved. My husband spent many days taking our son to the Pediatrician alone for shots. It was difficult for me to get away from my training and later the office. He did soccer games, tennis lessons, and all the homework. He was the Book Fair volunteer; he and another Dad would make sure the kids made smart book choices. He was the chaperone on the school trips; he made all the visits to the orthodontist for the brace: found the Barber for the haircuts, and scheduled the music lessons. He cooked all our meals and even did the laundry.

Now in this Pandemic, he has the patience to do our shopping and keep me calm. He has been the rock as I have been working from home: stepped up and made meals and just has been so supportive. I have spent hours on Zoom learning and meeting up with colleagues. He listens as I have my tirades and then makes me laugh.

Happy Father’s Day.

It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father. Barack Obama

 

We can never become complacent

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our generation became too complacent and wealthy. We lost track of what we were marching for back in the 60s and 70s.” This statement was the refection of a white colleague. I graduated from HS in 1975 and finished medical school in 1983. It became very apparent to me that white males dominated medicine, and they dominated the leadership positions in academic medicine. I had planned to be a Urologist.

There were many obstacles to achieving this goal. General Surgery was a white male specialty, and when I interviewed, it was apparent. At one program, when I showed up on the interview date, they told me I had not been scheduled for an interview. I had a letter, but they said I had been rescheduled. I never received that letter. At another program, I witnessed the side conversation of “Have we ever had a colored woman in this program? No, wait a minute, one, but she was only here a year”. When I did get into a program, it was not easy. I had the skills and knowledge but not acceptance. When I applied to Urology programs, I was told that they only were accepting men into the program. Even now, in academic medicine, as of 2017, of the 15,671 US medical school surgical faculty, 123 (0.79%) were Black/AA women surgeons, with only 11 (0.54%) being tenured faculty.

I decided to go into Family Medicine and then academic family medicine. For me, this was not a path to wealth but one of service. It became quite evident that even when I was negotiating contracts, that I was not aware of all the information that my white colleagues had. They had the advantage of inside information. It is no accident that even now, African Americans make up only 3.6 % of US medical school faculty as of 2018 AAMC data. Fed up with the politics of an academic medical school position, I left my position. My department chair told me I could come back if I met three criteria; increased scholarship, gain national recognition, and meet the institutional promotion requirements. I had to figure out how to do this because it was the criteria for all institutions. I had barely met these. For URM physicians and especially African Americans, it is hard because we spend most of our time in the patient care and community service areas, and we must learn to turn this into scholarly projects that meet criteria for promotion and tenure.

My path was different and often met with roadblocks that prevented movement into leadership positions that could lead to higher pay and recognition. After completing my FM residency, I was not offered a position in any of the practices. I was naïve to think that as an African American couple, the community would embrace us. We met racism in the small town we moved to and then again, when I entered academic medicine, not from the institution but patients. A smart African American husband is not readily accepted into many places, even if his wife is the new African American female physician. The assumption was that we would find friends in the African American community. We lived in a non-African American neighborhood for the school system, and this set us apart and often meant not being in places where the leaders were gathering and having your ideas used by others to promote themselves. I realized that some of my colleagues had generational wealth and privilege.

Unfortunately, many White leaders lose sight of how to create an organization that has a diverse workforce because it is a matter of self-preservation for many. It would help if you practiced conscious inclusion and equity-mindedness, which could lead to having URM colleagues that are “fully integrated, fully engaged, and fully empowered.” However, out of fear or ignorance, they dismiss us and the knowledge and skills we have acquired from the best institutions in the country. I have never lost sight of my goal and what was needed but met opposition from the White males and females in the room. My ideas and contributions dismissed.

I often wish I had the privilege of complacency, but this will never happen because I am the mother of two African Ameican males and an African American female. I mentor several URM faculty in many areas of the country.  I spend countless minutes fielding texts and calls from those who need support as they navigate racist environments. They are a constant reminder that I must continue to speak up when I get the opportunity too. I cannot forget them.