My Experience with Race Based Medicine at Columbia University

•March 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Let me wipe the dust off the account. Yep, we are still here. I’m currently on a journey to become a health provider and how I view the world is changing… changed. I have to reconcile past truths and knowledge while, making room new knowledge that saves people lives. Or, at least that is what is being sold to me, under the guise of my “education”.

“There is nothing wrong with being the first, the problem is being the one and only.” Vivian Hewitt, did not realize the impact that she would have when she shared these words with me.  I am one of the few Black women in my class at Columbia University.  I should be happy, proud, especially that I was accepted into my speciality area.   But, the last nine months have been bittersweet. I am excited, thrilled, sometimes scared by the knowledge and how my clinical recommendations or decisions will help families.  Yet, I am in a system that justifies and uses race based medicine and tells me directly and indirectly that I shouldn’t  always question race and there is value in being color blind.

Why should I consider race? I find that question interesting because, I am not colorblind. I consider race and its larger implications with every patient. We already know chronic conditions  such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus  have higher incidence and prevalence in people of color. We also know that Black people are less likely to get pain medication in clinical settings because of stereotypes (i.e. Black people don’t feel pain, they are drug seeking or it’s just not that bad for them).

Public health frames the way that I view the world and my experiences in the clinical setting. How do I reconcile that bias that impacts patients lives,  does not just lie in the system, it also lies with individuals. Individual clinicians and providers continue to help save lives or take lives based on bias. Bias that is implicit or explicit.  I want to say, I do not think that providers intentionally want to kill or hurt their patients, however,  the evidence is undeniable.  What we are doing, is not working. And, critical teaching and/or teachable moments are in classrooms, hospitals and the places that we live, work and play every day!  If professors, preceptors, and administrators do not receive social justice and cultural competency training what exactly is the path forward? If students, do not challenge those in positions of power, how exactly and when exactly will things change?

Where does that leave us?  For today, I’m on spring break. I’m moving slowly and taking my time to process all the feelings that I have around this. I am a couple of months away from receiving  my white coat. I am not going to wait until I get that coat to speak up. I hope that I can rest, recharge and carry the flame and passion that is needed for this heavy and trying work. I know that as long as Dorothy Roberts,  Dr. Mary Bassett and the FEW administers at my school, that dare to raise their hands and always speak up. I know that I can continue on this path and I will raise my hand and speak up each and every time.

Please feel free to share the times that you rose your hand and when you didn’t. I would love to hear about your experiences in the classroom, research lab or  clinical setting. Thank you.





KUUMBA: Slowly Making My Way Toward a Healing Space

•December 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Please note:  I wrote this post on November 27, 2014 after attending a short portion of the protest at Foley Square.  These were my initial thoughts after seeing and hearing many things that I found very difficult to process.  Since this initial writing, I went to the Millions March for Black Lives and have recognized the many ways that I can have my own personal misgivings become a catalyst for my own activism in the Black Lives Matter movement.  I am very much inspired and many of my feelings of apathy have waned.  What a difference a few days and thousands of people marching can make.  With this in mind, please read my thoughts and think about how you may be impacted by the current narrative and move to action in creating safe spaces for people to live throughout the world.  You can also check out a few of the article links at the end that really provided me some context and a voice to identify with when I was feeling “a certain type of way.”


I usually have a pretty low level of anxiety.  I usually feel pretty comfortable in my skin.  I usually…

The thing is something has changed. My anxiety has been high.  Super.  Fucking. High.   And I know it’s because of the death, the murder, the confusion, the harassment, the snark, the privilege and the many isms that I deal with everyday.  Usually I block them out.  Usually I am committed to my sanity.  Usually I walk the fine line of love and hate that keeps me focused on my ultimate goal: achieving social justice.

The problem is I am tired and at this point, feel pretty apathetic.  I am searching, seriously searching for purpose.  It seemed simple.  I would translate science for communities of color and low income.  I would work at the edge of justice, science and advocacy.  But my foundation has been rocked and now I’m trying to find my feet.

I walked toward Foley Square thinking about it.  I walked toward Foley Square thinking about it.  I walked toward Foley Square thinking about it.

I stood in Foley Square watching white faces snap instaphotos of a beautiful black family.   I stood in Foley Square watching white faces snap instaphotos of a beautiful black family.   I stood in Foley Square watching white faces snap instaphotos of a beautiful black family.

I spoke to my friend and held back tears of anxiety. I stared at the police and took deep breathes for relief.  I embraced my friend with a laugh and smile as I conquered what I needed to find we.

I feel confused.  I feel sad.  I feel exhausted.  But most of all I feel like I conquered one small piece to get me closer to WE.


A few articles/blogs that I found refreshing and imperative for my own healing process.

Remembering Our Names

Black Girl Dangerous

Peace B. Still


Becoming a Global Citizen: Part 2

•December 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Authors Note: Please excuse me for the delay. Our guest blogger, Bianca Monet shares her honest experience of becoming a Global Citizen. Where are you on your path of becoming or embracing global citizenship? What were the challenges and small things that you have started to make this path more difficult or lead you to reconsider this path?

After receiving and accepting the job offer, I returned to the United States, as a part of new South Africa immigration law, to apply for and obtain a work permit. I started this process in July. A process that includes, but not limited to, fingerprinting (I’ve gotten fingerprinted in South Africa and locally and federally in the States), statements from my further employer, medical and radiology examinations, and South Africa educational equivalent certificate stating my education is legitimate. The last piece of paper that is required is a letter from the South Africa’s Department of Labour. This letter will confirm the job offer is in consistent with South African standards, the org is real and righteous; I’m qualified; and there is no other South African who can fill this position. This process takes 20 to 30 days to complete; for the South African Department of Labour uses this time to actually locate another candidate. If they are successful, my further employer has to evaluate the candidate. This letter and this process makes me cry. Daily. On the street. On the train. At dinner.

I am one email away from realizing my dreams, personal and professional. This is frustrating and painful. But there are other reasons I cry. I cry because I’m stuck. This form of transformation/transition means my life is on hold. I can’t date. I can’t work (and earn money). I can’t make any plans longer than a week out. This year I even struggled making birthday plans. My birthday, the only holiday I celebrate, is usually the highlight of my year. But the planning and re-planning was sad and disappointing. Fortunately though I had a perfect evening with friends who brought me to more tears, of course, as they filled the celebration with words of love, encouragement, and support. But this is rare. Which brings me to another reason I cry. This transition phrase has ended and questioned many a relationship. In the past 2 months my most intimate relationships have ended. Blown the fuck up. People have out right said they don’t support moving to Africa while others slyly ask, “Its taking so long, do you really think it’s for you?” Other “friends” have just been mission in action. Thankfully others have offered their couches and shoulders for me to lay and cry.

I often have to explain to people that this process, although new to me, is simply compared to when my African comrades try to visit, study, or work in the U.S. I have friends who had to wait for 2 years to get a visa to study in this country. So I try to stay humble and patient. Furthermore, I’m going through this because even with these moments of discomfort, my soul is fed in South Africa. I thrive off of the adventure and the possibilities of each day.

I don’t have the desire to obtain a corporate card or trigger exploration only during my 10 days of vacation. I like waking up not knowing what my work day will bring. I’m all about the discovery. I am not a mundane, do-what-others-do kinda chick. And simply, I listen to myself and my self says, “Bianca be in the world!”

Becoming a Global Citizen: Part 1

•November 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Authors Note: Our guest blogger, Bianca Monet shares her honest experience of becoming a Global Citizen. Her story will be shared in two parts. Where are you on your path of becoming or embracing global citizenship? What were the challenges and small things that you have started to make this path more difficult or lead you to reconsider this path?

I cry often. I cry while on the train. I cry walking down the streets of Bedstuy. I’ve cried while at the club during a friend’s birthday party. And today, I cried as a friend paid the lunch bill.
My tears build and fall wherever and whenever. Today they were trigged because of kindness. See, when you are in transition acts of kindness are overwhelming. Let me explain. About a year ago I decided to become the author of the life I want. I put dreams into action by relocating to South Africa. I, a Brooklyn/Bay Area girl, decided it be time to activate my global citizenship. Since I was 12, and after my first international trip, I knew that I wanted, really needed, to live outside of the United States. Throughout my teen and young adult years everytime I was abroad I blossomed, actually glow when exiting planes and planting my feet on “foreign” soil. I ate fresher foods. Lost weight. Skin cleared up. And generally, found overall mental peace. It happened time and time again to the point where I even considered a career as a pilot. To further illustrate my point, I met up with a friend for happy hour and she immediately said, “the world looks good on you. You are glowing.” I love being in the world.

At 33, single, uncoupled, mortgage free, and jobless I final took the leap. Global citizenship! With a few professional appointments scheduled I moved to South Africa. I moved there with the intent of connecting with the arts community. After successfully applying for a job (the same job) three times, I was offered a post managing a gallery space. A dream job, of sorts. I will be facilitating opportunities for artists to create and display their works to ignite dialogue between various publics. This is a major feat. Not only are emerging artists spaces exceptional, but more importantly I am accurately aware that art is usually a soul revealing for the artist. Art reflects the subconscious thoughts and understanding of the artist’s self, environment, and sometimes, the world. Artists bravely put their mind on view, for all to criticize and react. It’s an act of courage. And as an administrator, and in this case gallery manager, I proudly take on the role of organizer to aid artists in actualizing their dreams as artistic output. It’s my contribution to the world.

But for a little ice cream on my cake, I will be doing this at an outstanding organization. An organization that during apartheid brought together, all races to train youth into budding social journalists. This is an institution profoundly dedicated to art education and social responsibility in a country often overshadowed by its brutal recent past. Now, you understand how this organization’s mission motivates me to endure the visa process. A process which cycles back to my crying.

The other day I saw an interview between Oprah Winfrey and author, Elizabeth Gilbert. In this interview Gilbert confesses that transformation and transition is not a day at the beach. Furthermore, she says, “”Expect to be hurt. Expect to feel lost. Expect to feel despair. Expect to be double-guessing yourself at every turn.” I watched this interview and exhaled. Someone finally got me and explained how I feel every single day. I had moments of this while in South Africa but ironically, now as I sit on a friend’s couch daily I feel these emotions along with anxiety, confusion, and sadness.

Part Two to come on Monday!

Visits with the Sick and Dying

•July 21, 2014 • 2 Comments

The last time, I went into the small three story house in Queens, there was so much music and people coming in and out of the house, it was clear a celebration was going on. The house had so much energy and laughter, that no one seemed to remember or be concerned with death. Last week, when I back to the house. The place seemed a little smaller and everyone in the home moved a little slower. The delicate balance of supporting and caring for a loved one that is dying, was tiring and everyone wanted to be called out of the game and desperately needed a break.

The few months, consist of calls throughout the day but typically include “L, ____ fell or is the hospital, come if you can”.  In the beginning, I used to ask, if they were ok, if they were still alive.  Lately, I just left for the  hospital.  I realized  that the last time that I got the call, I needed to know more. At that point, I was becoming numb and scared of what I was not feeling. How could life be so polar? How could it be that I was just waiting for this person to die? I thought maybe if I did not distance myself or provide care and support from far, maybe I would start feeling again for this person.

Somewhere in between grieving, being in denial and doing my own thing I fell on the floor in their home, crossed my legs and surrendered to my treasure chest. There was not A Rough Guide or Lonely Planet for watching a loved one die slowly. One of the places in this home that holds memories was the chest with photos. Thousands of photos and proofs from the seventies until early 2000s are in this piece of furniture.

Totally unorganized. Just like that persons life. Before, all the falls , this loved ones health was deteriorating. My memories of this person were so polar. Good, bad. Mean, happy. Young, old. Healthy, sick. Then I went into the treasure chest, the place that I went when I needed to cry, laugh or just think. Photos I had never seen before, things that I learned, things that I barely remember, were all there. They were documented and would be left behind even when this person was gone. And, at that moment, things were not so polar.

I woke them up and said “where was this taken?” Sure enough they remembered many of the details and closed their eyes and laughed a little and I held onto the pictures.  After my visits, instead of focusing on the physical changes, their difficulty to breathe, their crankiness, or less than stellar updates from their doctors. I look at the new pictures, that I am starting to collect in my home,  after visits with my family member who is dying a slow death.



The Little Boss :)

The Little Boss 🙂 




Me with the Yellow Bows

Guest Blog: I Made a Decision

•May 19, 2014 • 3 Comments

Editor’s Note:  Today, I am posting the guest blog for my child hood friend Andrea Johnson.  She is an adventurer, sister, friend and all around awesome person.  She writes about her choice to take some time and explore the world.  I hope that you all find this story as inspiring as I did. 

Love & Laughs,



What makes a perfectly happy 28-year-old female with a good job, an adorable downtown apartment, great friends and loving family decide that she needs to throw it all away to travel the world? It’s a good question, and even though I happen to be that woman, I still don’t have a good answer for you.

The desire to “get away from it all” isn’t something that sneaks up on you; it’s something that is there all along, bubbling below the surface. My parents took me traveling as I was growing up and always encouraged exploration, so maybe that is what planted the seed. But somehow I don’t think so.  Maybe it was something I was running away from, but I must admit that I was actually pretty happy. So that can’t be it either.  I am inclined to think that it has more to do with breaking the image of perfection.

Growing up, I was always the girl who got straight A’s in school; I didn’t often get into trouble, I was dependable and reliable.  I was, and still am, someone who likes organization and having a plan. I don’t like to fail. I graduated from college with a degree in Business, got a good job in banking, and continued my success into adulthood. So why run off to see the world, leaving all this behind. Wasn’t I already doing all of the things I was supposed to be doing? Why not continue checking off items on society’s How to Live a Perfectly Happy and Successful Life List?

I suppose I wanted to see if I could do it: go from earning a healthy salary, drinking wine and eating tapas on the weekends with friends, coming home to my own apartment… to essentially being homeless and unemployed. This is a frightening challenge. In fact, it scared the shit out of me. Here I am, someone who likes plans and certainty: “why are you not putting a down payment on a house? Why not move up in the company, take that promotion? Why not think about long-term relationships and marriage?” I asked myself. But a little voice inside me said, “just go.”

And I listened.

I quit my job, gave notice at my apartment, and got a storage unit for anything that I couldn’t fit in my newly purchased 65-liter backpack. I sorted out a visa for Europe and then I bought a plane ticket: one-way.

The day I left, I was still doing last minute things like saying good-bye to friends and doing a final cleaning of my apartment to make sure I would get back my deposit. In retrospect, I think I subconsciously did this on purpose. I stayed so busy that I didn’t give myself time to think too hard about everything… or change my mind.

When I was finally ready to leave, I headed to my mother’s house and hefted my backpack into the backseat so she and my father could drive me to the airport. I went around the other side of the car to get in myself and everything hit me. I started to cry and panic. I couldn’t help it. Tears streamed down my face and my emotions got caught in my throat, choking me.

Luckily, mothers have the amazing habit of knowing just what to do at the right time to make everything better. Without me saying a word, she came over and hugged me.  Then my father put his hand on my back, too. We stood like that for quite a while before my mom looked me in the eye and told me that it was okay to feel what I was feeling; it was okay to be afraid. She reminded me that something deep inside me, something I didn’t really understand myself, was telling me to go. And I needed to listen.

Now when I think about that moment—a moment that seems so far away—I think two things: Firstly, I laugh that I was so scared. Once you take that initial jump, the journey is so much easier. Traveling the world—new food, new cultures, new languages, new challenges every day—is not as hard as it seems. And secondly, I am thankful. I am thankful that my mother could be so brave to send her daughter off into the big, wide world; that she could be strong for both of us, setting her own fears aside to help me face mine.

In the past two years I have been in twenty-two countries on five continents. As I write this, I am sitting in a hostel on the island of Koh Lanta in Thailand, and I have at least five more countries to go before I look at settling somewhere. I have climbed to the top of Machu Picchu and felt closer to religion than I ever had before; I rode a camel through the desert in Morocco at sunset; I mushed my own team of sled dogs through the Arctic wilderness under the northern lights in Norway; I have swam in seas and oceans and rivers and lakes and had more tan lines come and go than I can count. I have fallen in and out of love, made new friends, and strengthened friendships I already had.


(Wat Chiang Man; Chiang Mai, Thailand)



(Dog sledding in Tromsø, Norway)

10002653_10101176237502478_2039127703_n                                      (Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand)


I have lived. And I have proven to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to.

I know I won’t travel forever. I am not the type of person that wants to be a permanent nomad, I still have too much desire for structure and plans and stability pumping through my veins for that. I have not found the “answer” to life by traveling; all of my problems or concerns have not vanished into thin air. When I decide to stop, I will still face the same questions everyone does: where to live, where to work, how to cultivate relationships with friends, family and my community. But traveling has given me strength and the knowledge that I can face every challenge as it arises. It’s okay to take the route that wasn’t planned: it may seem scary at the beginning, but the journey can be truly wonderful.



(Erg Chebbi sand dunes; Sahara Desert, Morocco)

Guest Blog: Transitions are…

•May 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

This is another update from one of our favorite guest bloggers, Bianca Mona.  

Where do I start?  Let’s see…

  • Change is HARD and constant.
  • Transition is usually longer than expected.
  • Following dreams brings discomfort, isolation, and loneliness.

Hmmmmm… I’ll start with this.

Relocation/starting new/new beginning is hard.  It’s emotionally taxing.  You doubt and question yourself constantly. “What am I doing?”  “What is the purpose?”  “What do I want to get out of this?”  Most days I am fine.  I explore new spaces and meet with new folks.  I live.  But there are other moments.  Moments when I’m crabby and sad.  Moments when I feel like it’s me against the world.  It’s with this energy that I write this piece.  As I write, I am tearing up, mostly out of isolation and fear of the unknown.

Upon my arrival, I was reading tons of travel and expat blogs.  I was looking for tips and suggestions on A) what I should be doing with my time and 2) mechanisms to cope and adjust.  I didn’t find any of this.  I did however, find a posting that questioned why one relocates.  It asked the reader to consciously consider what she intends to get out of this relocation.  Now, believe it or not, this was the first time I really thought, “Bianca, why are you really in South Africa and what do you want to get out of it?”  My initial thoughts around going to South Africa were simple:

  • I was ready to leave the US.   I consider myself a global citizen and way back in 6th grade I told myself that I would live around the world.  I had reached a professional and personal lull in the US.  No great job thing happening.  My relationship was rocky and slowly coming to an end.  And I was living with my momma. So I thought, why not?
  • I wanted to live in Africa.  Yes, I do have aspirations to go many places in the world but after many trips to the Caribbean and Central America, I thought it time to travel to my ancestral home continent, even if not in the exact location.
  • Last, I needed to be somewhere, where I could continue to work as an arts educator, administrator, and curator.  South Africa was great for that as its major cities are cultural and artistic hubs.

But now that I am here, (and after reading that blog), I now am faced with reevaluating those initial reasons.  South Africa is nothing like what I expected.  Cape Town in particular can be homogeneously like any other beach town in the world.  The city itself, as well as its environs lacks cultural distinction. I don’t necessary feel like I’m in Africa and thus am not being challenged by the everydayness of a “developing” nation.  So, I’m not feeling too global here.

In addition, I am currently not working and so my hopes of developing professionally are stalled.  This halt definitely has me evaluating why I’m here.  For years, I’ve said “a job doesn’t define me.  I am so much more than a career.”  But let me be real here, for a moment.  Someone like myself who has two Master’s degrees and about to begin working on a doctorate is more than concerned with making a professional dent.  I have knowledge and skills that I want to utilize and am frustrated that these organizations aren’t valuing these assets.  (Yes, I know this is ego talking.)

So now I’m faced with some internal reflection.  “Why and what Bianca do you hope to get out of this adventure?”  I don’t quite have an answer but when I evaluate how I have grown, I do see progress.  Here’s what I have some up with (surprisingly).

I actually am overwhelmingly proud to say that I have survived, at times thrived, in South Africa.  This is with limited resources and a tight budget.  From when I arrived I have continued to build both professional and community networks with the help of friends, friends of friends and others.  I have learned the layout of two major cities and survived their public transit systems (which leaves a girl’s head spinning).  Personally, I have flourished.  Prior to moving to South Africa, I was a wall flower.  No really.  I was notorious for going to art openings and not speaking to a soul.  If I was with my mom and saw a neighbor, I wouldn’t even speak.  My mom would greet them and I wouldn’t say a word, rationalizing this by thinking of her as the family representative. (Yes, I know a hot mess!)  But I have changed.  I go up to strangers and introduce myself.  I make jokes and smile at strangers.  I ask all types of questions, to get information, until I’m blue in the face.  I’m finally personable (without mentally preparing myself to be).  And in general I ask for what I want and will not take no for an answer.  I’ll take a compromise but not no.

All this to say, I don’t really know why I’m in South Africa (this is not totally a bad thing) or what I hope to get out of it.  But I do know that I am open and will stay here until it’s time for me to go.  And that’s still to be determined.

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