A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Because it’s time for a glimmer of light, here is a dazzling group of black students from Tulane University School of Medicine in front of former slave quarters at Louisiana’s Whitney Plantation museum – proof of improbable distances traveled and what Russell Ledet calls a heart-lifting “collective vision for the future.” The visit was organized by Ledet, a second-year medical student and Navy veteran with a Ph.D. in molecular oncology from NYU who says of growing up in Lake Charles, La., “I don’t think (I) ever saw a minority physician.” After an earlier trip to the museum with his eight-year-old daughter and her poignant response – “This is not fair. This is not supposed to happen” – he pitched the trek idea to fellow members of the Student National Medical Association, which supports black medical students, arguing, “We need to do this for ourselves.” About 15 of the 65 turned out, each with a different, often tearful response. Many later posted photos on social media with hashtags like #whatatimetobealive and #yeahwecandoboth; they hope to install the photos in schools across the country to inspire other black students. Says Ledet, “We’re here as living proof that it’s possible.”
“As physicians in training, we stood on the steps of what was once slave quarters for our ancestors,” noted Sydney Labat, a classmate who grew up in rural Mississippi, likewise rarely saw black people in positions of authority, and posed looking unapologetically determined to “embody the strength of the people who lived on those grounds.” Her message: “For our entire community, keep striving. Resilience is in our DNA.” Ledet echoes her, citing both past and future. “We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” he says, imagining them “in heaven looking at us and being so happy. They’re saying, ‘Look at them. They’re doing so well. Their resiliency is shining.'” “We wanted to make sure that we remain tied to our history and remain humble, you know, and understand whose shoulders we’re climbing on – and pay homage,” he says. “Medical school is grueling. That goes beyond your race, ethnicity or your sexual orientation…But I can look at that photo for motivation. I look at it and feel like ‘Yo, we going.'” And staying, plantation slave quarters in their past and all: “This place is meant to destroy us. This place is meant to devalue us. But we here.”
First published in Common Dreams.