I remember going to a late night showing of Fruitvale Station after a long day at the hospital during residency. Although I wasn't a mom at the time, I was looking forward to having some time to myself. I remember making it through most of the movie seeing how Oscar Grant had some slip ups but worked to improve himself in order to make a better life for him and his family. I already knew how the movie was going to end but I cried for hours after the movie was over. I tried to make myself understand how someone who was sworn to protect and serve could be so cruel to kill a man when he was down. After the killer of George Zimmerman, a wanna-be neighborhood patrolman who didn't make the cut to be a police officer, walked free, I had enough. Once I saw the social media posts about a protest that was starting in the lower part of Manhattan and ending all the way to times square, I knew I had to be there. My husband was apprehensive about going so I went alone but I texted some of my other physician colleagues who worked with me or at nearby hospitals and they met me there.
When I became a part of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) back in 2015, I was so happy to be a part of an organization that was vocal about social justice. In fact, the first Black Lives Matter press release I saw was from CIR and when it was time to speak out or protest, we were there. It felt so good to be standing side by side with physicians that I didn't have to explain the "why" to about why these protests were important or why racism kills.
Now that I have chosen my career as a Family Medicine Physician that does OB and have picked a suburban place to call home (that's a whole different story), I feel alone. The morning that I found out about George Floyd's murder, I realized that didn't have a friend/colleague to lean on locally. I was interested in figuring out how to create change right here my own town but I had no one to strategize with. I only see the colleagues and call partners that I interact with monthly, if that; when we talk, it's about clincal matters. After attending the protest over the weekend and not seeing any familiar faces like I expected to, I shared a blog post explaining how I was feeling. I got a "like" to my text message and others reached out asking how they can help.
I have often struggled with whether I should even bring up current events to people who are work around and with. I cannot believe it took such a horrendous murder in for me to reach out for them to ask how I was doing. I guess I got spoiled living in New Jersey and New York for all of those years. Remember the 2018 CIR convention when we had Dr. Michael Byrd give a presentation about racism and health care. So many of our brothers and sisters of our union were ready to learn more.
My friend Kate begged me not to go to the protest on June 5th but I felt like if I was afraid of the threat of violence towards a peaceful protest, change would never happen. She told me that she needed me alive and that I was risking my life. As I looked in the mirror before the protest, I told myself that I was willing to lay my life on the line for my husband and my son. It was for Franklin and for my husband, I told myself. It was for my patients, it was my friends and it was for my black male colleagues. I decided to go in scrubs because I happened to be on-call and I highly doubted that our antagonizers would shoot a physician in the middle of the Downtown Square of New Braunfels. When I showed up to the protest, I was received with applause. I felt really embarrassed because in my hand, the cla[s were because I was the first health care provider to even be out there. Over the weekend, I attended the other protest and I sent the City of new Braunfels an email thanking them for allowing a peaceful protest without antagonization or harassment by the New Braunfels Police Department. And that day, decided to put my money were my mouth was and introduce myself to them as a member of our community. After a slight amount of awkward hesitancy, I was mostly met with smiles and hellos. Ask me 5 years ago and I would have never gone up to a police officer in fear for my life. In my time of running my own practice and having so many different patients from different occupations, I realized that we are humans, we are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. I was really surprised that one of the police officers told me that he did not support the actions of the police officer who killed George Floyd and that he supported us and was happy to be out there today to make sure that we were safe. Although one of the hospitals that I delivered babies that is right down the street, no colleague of mine was there and some of their offices are right down the street. I guess living in New Jersey spoiled me because I had colleagues that were allies for social justice and we stood alongside each other to be the change we wished to see using the voice of our white coats.
However, a few days later, my assistant sent me a text that the Mayor of my town called my office and wanted to speak to me. When I called him back, I was invited to weigh on discussions about how to tackle current issues. The next day, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a text from a colleague of mine who invited me to a vigil being hosted by the Martin Luther King Association in Downtown New Braunfels. We heard from the heads of both the City Police Department and County Sheriffs who publicly stated what they were doing to improve community relations and that they were proud to not use 9/10 deadly force maneuvers. I was joined by two other family doctors, their spouses and geriatric psychiatrist whom I had not met before.
I guess I wasn't the lone wolf anymore and I am hopeful that things will continue to change. I am also very honored to be able to use my voice in my town to make change.
Attached are the sources for my most recent podcast.
Dr. Jessica Edwards