Where The Brothers At? – Mentoring and Black Men Doctors

where the bros at photo“It’s good to see you brother!”  I had never met this man, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. With a large smile on his face and a look of pride, he extended his arm to give me a handshake.  “There aren’t too many of us doing what you do.  I’m glad we got some representation in here.”  I am a black man in the medical field.  When I look around, I don’t see many people who look like me.  So I have one question, “Where the brothers at?”

Interestingly, when I start to answer the question, two very disparate answers come to mind.  Let’s start with the entertainment industry.  In 2008, 75% of NBA players were black and 65% were black in the NFL!  Looking at these numbers, it is obvious that our brothers are in sports…Right?  Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t….   Well, maybe they don’t lie, but they can be misleading.  Let’s break it down a bit.  There are 30 teams in the NBA, each typically with less than 20 players.  In the NFL, there are 32 teams with no more than 58 players.  Assuming a liberal estimate of 600 players in the NBA and 1900 NFL players, that results in just under 1,700 black men in these two major American sports.  Okay, I’m not being fair you say…What about the other sports.  Venus, Serena…we’ve got tennis covered.  Tiger…there’s golf.  Of course I am exaggerating, but you get the point; the number of black individuals in other professional salaried full season sports (except baseball-but less than 10% of the ~900 MLB players identify themselves as black) is relatively negligible.  I understand that this does not include actors and musicians who are also in the entertainment industry, but how many black male musicians and actors can you count?  Certainly not more than 1,000.  So, with a generous 2,700 black men in professional entertainment, considering that there are over 19 million black men in this country, I can tell you with confidence that the majority of us are not there (i.e. no more than 0.14% of black men are in these professions).

Prison!  Aha….a lot of us are certainly there.  In 2009, ~850,000 black men were incarcerated!  That is ~40% of the male prison population.  Let’s think this through carefully…2,700 professional entertainers compared to 850,000 prisoners.  Not only does this baffle me, it upsets me.  It upsets me for multiple reasons; not the least of which is why we make up such a high percentage of this population.  Yet, another reason this number of 850,000 upsets me is that I have fallen victim to a delusion.  The delusion is this; most black men are in prison or entertainment (and within entertainment, predominantly sports).  How many times do you hear that fallacy?  Reviewing the aforementioned numbers, less than 5% of black men are in these areas.  Over 95% of us are elsewhere.

Black Men in Medicine is my focus for this article.  In 2004, approximately 3.3% of the physician workforce was composed of Black men and women.  In 2011, according to the AAMC,  the percentage of medical school applicants who were black males decreased to 2.5%!  I can write a book on the issues leading to this (literally since there are so many contributing factors) but that’s for a different place and time.   Rather, let me very briefly focus on one thing that I am passionate about…Mentoring!

I love the photo attached to this blog!  It captures so many elements pertaining to what young black men need. That being the case, I will briefly detail 5 aspects of the image which I feel are essential to maximize the mentoring process.

  • Presence: Perhaps most important in the mentoring relationship is the mentor’s presence. This photo was taken at the DiverseMedicine booth at the 2015 SNMA AMEC conference in New Orleans.  I watched in amazement as these premedical students chatted with this mentor for nearly one hour.  Their desire to gain wisdom and guidance was inspiring to the point that I had to capture the moment with a photo.  It is proof to me that young black men are looking for mentors.  But in order to mentor someone, you need to be present and willing.
  • Seniority: There is no question who is the senior member of this group. By senior I simply mean the one who is further along in his development for the topic at hand.  This photo clearly relates the direction in which wisdom is being passed.  Mentorship requires an understanding of roles.  There should be no question who the senior member in the relationship is.
  • Similarity: If for no other reason, the young men in the photo can relate to mentor because they are of the same ethnic background. I want to be clear about this; some of the best mentors I  have ever had are not black so this is by no means the most important thing in mentoring.  So by similarity, I do not mean solely race.  You can have similar interest, similar experiences, similar humor, etc.
  • Attention: It seems rare nowadays for young men to look older men directly in the eyes.  Not these gentlemen.  The image exemplifies their attentiveness to the mentor and from that, their desire to grow and be successful is evident.  Keeping the attention of a young black man in today’s world is no easy task. There are numerous distractions to overcome.
  • Respect: Just look at the photo.  The posture, the closed lips, the separation in positioning.  Need I say more?

Next time someone asks you, “Where the brothers at?  Why aren’t they in Medicine?”  Please do not say because they are all playing sports or in prison.  That is not true!!!  There are plenty of young black men who are easily accessible, and who are just waiting for someone to mentor them.  It is my firm belief that we will not be able to increase the number of black men in the medical field until we can take the imagery which I have highlighted in this photo, and put it into practice.  What we need is the Presence of men with Seniority in the field of medicine, who are Similar to our young black men, and who can capture their Attention and in doing so gain their Respect.  This is my vision. It might not be the best one, but it is one.  And remember, where there is no vision, the people perish!

Mentor with us at www.DiverseMedicine.org!

3 thoughts on “Where The Brothers At? – Mentoring and Black Men Doctors

  1. Profile photo of Kwesi WilliamsKwesi Williams

    This article was amazing however I look at it in a different perspective. Out of those 850,000 prisoners how much of them are serving a life sentence? Now for those that will not be serving a life sentence where will they go once they get out of prison….right back into the black communities in which they came from. Now lets take a look at those brothers in medicine and in entertainment. Once they’ve signed there multimillion dollar contracts or graduate from medical school where will they live? You see thats the big problem in my opinion. Brothers that make money are not easily accessable. Infact most of them live in communities that are highly gaurded. The average brother in the ghetto barely making it is most likely to be mentored by the guy in which he can easily access. Sure there are neighborhood centers that may have guest speakers that will come and talk about different opportunities, but how much young brothers show up to these things especially when FPL has threatened to turn their lights off if they don’t pay the past due bill. I think we as blacks need to set up more black wall streets. Those brothers back then knew what it took to get the ball rolling. If you took all of those black entertainers and doctors out of the communities in which they live, moved them into perdominantly black communities, and opened up businesses in those communities in which they live then you can get the ball rolling. That way we won’t have to get shot or be sick to go to the hospital and meet a black doctor that can mentor us becuase Dr. Smith or Dr. Aduaka would live two houses down. Then you will have no problem asking the question…. “Where the brothers at?”

    1. Profile photo of Dr. DanielDr. Daniel

      Hello Kwesi. Your comment makes a lot of sense. Successful figures can make a huge impact in under-served and less privileged communities. However, I also can see how difficult this can be. I currently reside and serve in the poorest county in my state. We are comprised of over 60% minority (Blacks and Native Americans predominantly). Unfortunately, this county also carries the title of having the most crime in the state. We have a number of minority physicians and being a small community we all live in close proximity to one another. I actually live across from section 8 housing.

      I do enjoy serving in this community and find it very rewarding. My patients are amazing. Nonetheless, I can understand why those you mentioned above may be reluctant or refuse to reside in a place like this. There are many factors one has to consider. For one, it is difficult to find good schools and safe areas to raise children. Many of my patients are actually trying to leave the area themselves and sports/education are tools used to escape. Secondly, you or your family can easily be targeted. One of our most beloved black doctors in his 60s or 70s was held at gunpoint and robbed 2 years ago while leaving clinic. Another physician who worked at my clinic had her car broken into while in the parking lot. My pastor got robbed as well. All this to say there is little to no discrimination in crimes. Thirdly, many financially successful individuals want to enjoy their hard earned money yet it is not so easy to do so d/t few resources and avoiding too much attention.

      I do think your vision would be beautiful and I know it has been done before. A local, recently retired NFL athlete plays basketball with us and I see how much of an impact he has made on the youth. Unfortunately, medical doctors aren’t emulated to that degree among the youth but Churches and barbershops seem to be welcoming in these parts. I applaud the idea of bringing successful people to under-served areas in general but I am not quite sure how to overcome the many barriers that keep the lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors, athletes, etc out of the these under-served communities.

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