Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Visit to Philander Smith College

Friday August 28, 2009 was a busy but exciting day for me. I had to stay up late the night before to wash and pack so I was pretty tired when the alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. The drive to Plaquemine, LA from my home is about 30 minutes and I had to be at the prison where I provide health care to inmates by no later than 6:15 a.m. I had only 4 patients to see so if I timed it right I would be in Plaquemine by 4:00 a.m. and on the road to the prison by 6:00 a.m. After shower, shave, shine three sets of pushups, jump rope, and abdominal work, along with preparing fresh juice with my new Breville Juicer, I made it on time to both the hospital and the prison. Everything went smooth and I was at my office to see patients at 9:00 a.m.

Friday’s are half days at the office. I thought it would be an opportunity to let my staff get home a little early and have a light day. Unfortunately for them, they are workaholics and use the afternoon to catch up and get things accomplished that they can’t get done with me around. After seeing patients I headed to Ville Platte, Louisiana, about an hour and a half drive, to speak to middle school and high school students on the negative impact of drinking and driving. Over three hundred students attended the event and I think the presentation went over very well. I drove back to Ryan Airport in Baton Rouge ready in some nasty weather to fly to Little Rock Arkansas, home of Philander Smith College. Despite a relatively smooth flight, I don’t sleep well on planes so I read articles on the health care issue and flipped through a cooking magazine I bought in the airport. Check in went smoothly at the hotel and after checking emails, listening to my daughters sweet “goodnight Daddy” message, and unpacking, I was in the bed at 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning.

Saturday August 29, 2009 brought in pleasant vibes. I woke up early and went for a run in downtown Little Rock. The weather was perfect and I had a chance to collect my thoughts and refresh for the day. Due to the short stay in Little Rock, I was not able to visit the Bill Clinton Museum, but I did run by the buildingJ. I had a scheduled brunch with former Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders which gave me just enough time to go over my presentation for the students of Philander later that evening. After speaking to my daughter about how she slept and what she had planned for the day, I headed down to brunch to meet with Dr. Elders, Dr. Creshelle Nash (Arkansas Minority Health Commission Medical Director), Dr. Billy Thomas (President of the Arkansas Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association), and my cousin Dr. Anika Whitfield (Podiatrist).

I would be remiss if I did not tell you a little about my connection to Little Rock. My father, the oldest of six children, was raised in Little Rock. I spent several summers there and visited frequently as a child. My Uncle Bob, his wife Connie, their daughter Anika and my Uncle John still live in Little Rock. This trip was more than just going to speak to students; it was like the homecoming of one of Little Rock’s own. I had not seen my aunt, uncles, or cousin in sometime so I was very excited to see them.

At 11:45 a.m. I had brunch with Dr’s Elder’s, Nash, Thomas, and Dr. Anika. We discussed among many things the state of health care, President Obama, and life in general. Dr. Elders is not only very knowledgeable but a pleasure to hang out with. She gave me some very good insight on the public health of our nation and ways that the younger generation of doctors could make this nation healthier. “We have the best sick care in the country,” she said. “We have to do a better job in providing preventative services and health education to our communities.” At the end of brunch we took several photos and upon walking her out bumped into Ozell Sutton, my fraternity brother. Mr. Sutton was the 26th president of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc (1981-1984) and one of the most important Arkansas political activists at the height of the civil rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s. Brother Sutton was a key player at many of the movement’s most critical moments—both in the state and throughout the South. He knew the Whitfield family and mentioned my father’s successful efforts to integrate the “white only” swimming pools in Pine Bluff, AR. I was standing with history… Jocelyn Elders and Ozell Sutton- whoa!

After hugs and handshakes we all went our separate ways as I was moments away from meeting the students at Philander.

I arrived on campus about an hour before my scheduled talk. I was a bit anxious, but very excited and honored to be a guest lecturer on the campus. After being greeted by staff members and made to feel at home by Michael Hutchinson who is Assistant to the President, it was time to get busy. The ladies would be the first to hear my presentation. It was an excellent turnout and I got a lot of really good questions. We discussed both general and sexual health. There was some great feed back as well from faculty that attended the session. Of course I had to give them a little taste of what Tha Hip Hop Doc could do on the microphone and I think they were impressed- shocked for sureJ.

The second session was with the boys. When I bumped into the “Hip Hop President” in the Atlanta airport earlier this year, I had no idea how passionate, determined, and personable he was with the students. I don’t remember hearing of school president’s being so accessible and friendly. Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough is the epitome of cool and understands that as a world leader, when it comes to education,” it is imperative for us to graduate more students from college and not to admit them and simply hope for the best.”

I would have dinner with the men before speaking and was introduced to members of the Black Male Initiative. These young men have it together and under the leadership and guidance of Michael Hutchinson, they prepared an excellent program for that evening. I was asked to choose the menu and to explain why this meal was important and healthy. The meal consisted of a fresh salad with lime vinaigrette, blackened chicken, greens with smoked turkey, and a fruit salad desert. Traditional sweet tea and water was served with the meal. I was introduced by the students and then gave my presentation entitled “Health: Your Most Important Possession”. The event was well attended. I was surprised to see my Uncle Bob and Aunt Connie come out. Cousin Anika stayed with me most of the day with Kevin Holloway who took photos for the event. The talk was about an hour, however I stayed and answered questions and talked with the students until almost 10:00 p.m. I only left because I had to stop by and see Uncle John. I felt so at home and was inspired by the questions and comments given by both administrators and students. This was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had.

We headed over to my grandparents home where my uncle and aunt now live. Uncle John was still awake ready to talk and catch up. Although the house had been renovated some, it was still the home I remember. I had visions of grandma Whitfield in the kitchen cooking and Pepper, the friendliest dog ever looking through the screen door ready for us to play outside. I was walking through the house like a tourist reminiscing and have visions of hanging out there when I was a child. Uncle John shared with me the pictures he took with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and Governor Mike Bebee. Uncle John was honored as the Adult Easter Seals Ambassador of the Year and given his award by the Governor at a black tie affair. We are all very proud of him.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I was spent. The high of speaking to the students and hanging with family was overwhelming and I fell asleep on the bed in my clothes.

Sunday August 30, 2009. It was time to head home, but not before doing a radio interview with Brother Wayne Burt of KABF radio station 88.3 FM. Brother Wayne is an activist in the Little Rock community and wanted to discuss health care and Philander. It was a fun and informative interview. I arrived at the airport safely and had a very pleasant flight back to Baton Rouge. While on the last leg of the trip, I sat next to a student who had been honored by my chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha here in Baton Rouge. He had been in Brazil for six months. He is attending Dartmouth and is now fluent in Portuguese. It really reinforced how wonderful and important it is for our young people to be educated.

If you ever get the chance, visit Philander Smith in Little Rock. I know you will be greeted like family and you will definitely be impressed with the vision of not only the President of this fine institution but its faculty and staff. Little Rock is not only the home of Central High and the Little Rock Nine, but the place where my father was raised and my family still lives. This was truly a wonderful and inspiring visit for me and I plan to return soon.

1 comment:

Ms. Williams said...

This is great. Your experiences while in Arkansas has me wanting to visit the place and see Philander. I was with you every step of the trip as I read your blog...all I can say is Wow! You really do a marvelous job and that shows what a caring person you are; and not just for us your patients, but for the living!