In my Launch Week Day 2 post, “Self-Care is the Best Care Part 2: The Best Lesson of the Worst Year of my Life”, I briefly touched on how conflicted I felt while trying to succeed in the Ivy League bubble while maintaining connections to the world in which I was raised, but there’s so much more to this story.
When someone hears that I grew up in the projects or come from an underprivileged background, they often respond with pity. Let me be the first to say that pity is nowhere near what I need. Instead, I need people to better understand and explore their own biases, whether explicit or implicit, to help ensure that humble beginnings do not preclude people from extraordinary futures. Furthermore, I need people to use this enlightenment to advocate for systems and laws that support diversity, inclusion, and equity. THIS has become a major professional goal and personal passion of mine, and it stems from lessons I learned and feelings I felt while growing up not only in a single-parent, low-income household, but also as a racial minority in a predominantly white town.
On TV and movies, the depictions of “the projects” are quite different from the public housing in which I was raised. There were no “drive-by’s”, neighborhood “crackheads”, or other major negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media. There were just parents, mostly single mothers, struggling to do the best they could for their children. Bullets were not the biggest threat to our survival, but a sense of complacency certainly was. The cycle of struggle got passed down from one generation to another, no one ever felt empowered to break it, and the systems under which we live were often little to no help. I quickly noticed this trend among not only low income families, but also black families in my neighborhood and surrounding community. When I strived for things outside of my comfort zone, academically or personally, I often found myself being the only black face in a sea of white ones. Moreover, I was sometimes even made fun of by the other low income or black kids with whom I grew up (and even adults) for “talking white” or “acting white” along my journey to overcome the veil of complacency and demand better for myself and my family. To be clear, I was not talking or acting white. I was simply speaking clearly and moving strategically in order to solidify my success. The ignorance of those people who believe that a certain race has a monopoly on such success prevents them from fully empowering themselves to achieve their full potential.
I was not talking or acting white. I was simply speaking clearly and moving strategically in order to solidify my success. The ignorance of those people who believe that a certain race has a monopoly on such success prevents them from fully empowering themselves to achieve their full potential.
Even as a kid from the projects, I had a happy, fulfilling childhood. In fact, my projects were my playground, and if you asked me as a kid, I was living it up! I was so happy that I spent a great deal of my childhood being oblivious to my family’s finances, or lack thereof. I remember having an eye-opening lesson about the societal stigma of low socioeconomic status as an elementary school student. My mother had just begun working as a janitor at my school, and I remember being so excited that I could see my mom throughout the school day. As a kid, it did not occur to me that people would begin to approach me differently by treating me as a charity case or shunning me altogether. However, my interactions with some students, their parents, and even teachers began to change in that direction. Over the years, while I don’t recall instances of being directly bullied (I wish a kid would! So did my big sister and cousins!), I continued to notice more and more instances where people clearly perceived me as “less than” once they figured out more about my background or simply based on my physical appearance. Little did they know, they only added fuel that further ignited my desire to not turn out to be the statistic to which they ignorantly had me pegged.
To be continued…
With Love and HAPPIness,
The HAPPIest MD
P.S. BONUS POST ALERT!!! Tune in later today for Launch Week Day 4 BONUS POST, continuing with another Authenticity principle post, “From the Projects to the Ivy League Part 2: How I Learned to Apply the Best of Both My Worlds”.