December 23, 2019
“It was so powerful to think that our ancestors walked those same grounds over 100 years ago in bondage. And then here we are retracing their footsteps – this time as doctors in training.”
The Inspirational Story Behind Black Medical Students Photo On Former Slave Plantation
Jasmine Taylor is one of the inspiring Black medical students whose portrait in front of a former slave plantation was shared by thousands last week.
“I couldn’t help but be reminded of their strength, resilience, perseverance,” she said. “All of that paved the way not only for us to exist but thrive. I think we all felt empowered and inspired. We’ve come from so far, still have a way to go, but we are moving in the right direction.”
Jasmine and her colleague Russell Ledet this week told HuffPost UK the moving story behind the creation of a photo that has been seen by thousands of people on social media. They now plan to print and distribute 100,000 copies to schools across the US.
Second-year student Russell said he had been imagining a conversation with his ancestors as the picture was taken.
“I thought about how they might say how proud of us they are, how happy they are to see us,” he said. “How much it means for them to see us standing on our two feet, no lashes on our back, smiles on our faces, resilience in our eyes. 
“In that moment, when we posed for the photo on the porch, in my mind I imagined our ancestors looking at us saying: ‘Look at our babies; damn, somebody did a good job with them kids.’”
Russell and Jasmine said overcoming their own obstacles as Black students had helped them come up with the powerful image.
Russell, 33, is the first generation in his family to graduate from university. 
Last year, he visited the plantation with his then eight-year-old daughter, who said to him: “Think about how far we had to come. We were just on a slave plantation and now you’re almost a doctor. That’s a long way.”
When the photo went viral a year on, his daughter’s friends asked him for selfies with him, saying they too were going to be doctors when they grew up.
His brother told him: “A lot of things might seem impossible but seeing what you and your classmates are doing [...] shows it is not that far-fetched to be Black doctors.”
Russell said of the reaction: “It reminds me that even though we go through hell in medical school there’s a lot of people looking up to us, counting on us. Some people who are vicariously living through us. They say: ‘You can’t stop. If you stop, what hope do we have?’ That puts things into perspective.”Standing in front of the slave quarters of our ancestors, at The Whitney Plantation, with my medical school classmates. We are truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams ✨✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/d8E1g2Ojbm— Syd✨ (@_botttt) December 14, 2019Experiencing medical school as Black students is difficult. Tulane University, where the students are training, has an office of multicultural affairs and inclusion with an “amazing” director, Bennetta Horne – but Russell and Jasmine say there’s still a long way to go.
Jasmine told HuffPost UK: “There’s a lot of different emotions that come from being Black in medical school. When you walk in that first day and see that class of 190 students and only 20 look like you, it’s hard. You’re proud for yourself but also wish you saw more people like you inside of your class.”
According to the Harvard Business Review, African Americans make up 13% of the US population, but only 4% of US doctors and less than 7% of US medical students.
Similarly, Black people only account for 4% of doctors in the UK, according to the Nuffield Trust. Moreover, Black doctors in the NHS are paid on average almost £10,000 a year less than their white counterparts, which highlights a bleak reality in medicine.This is chilling, but EVERYTHING. So proud of all of you. Always keep your heads up, even when it seems impossible. Don’t listen to anything that says or implies otherwise. The hopes & dreams born inside that house are inside of you now. Don’t forget to pay it forward.— Merle Carter (@emedpd) December 18, 2019So the 15 students in the photograph created a community when they started medical school to support and empower each other.
“We tell each other all of the time: ‘You’re beautiful, you’re smart, strong, amazing’ – affirmatory comments to uplift each other and carry each other to the finish line,” said Russell. “Because we know of these underlying vulnerabilities that we’re trying our best to overcome.”The message posted with the image by fellow student Sydney Labat, whose post went viral, echoed Russell’s own thoughts: “We are truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”
One person wrote in response to Sydney’s post: “This is the most powerful picture of our generation that I’ve ever seen. Well done, and congratulations! You are all amazing.”
Another said: “This is chilling, but EVERYTHING. So proud of all of you. Always keep your heads up, even when it seems impossible. Don’t listen to anything that says or implies otherwise. The hopes & dreams born inside that house are inside of you now. Don’t forget to pay it forward.”
Russell told us: “Black people have a historical context for being in white spaces and yearning for it to be Blacker. The Blacker it is, the less inhibitions you have for being your whole self. 
“I think, in our psyche as African Americans, many of us grew up thinking that there was always more to do in terms of capability. The need to do one more thing in order to be perceived as equal to everyone else. The thinking that you may not have not earned your way here, that you’re very fortunate to be here.
“But the reality is I earned my way here. Nobody gave me this. You’re fortunate when you get hit by a bullet and it misses vital organs. You’re not fortunate when you work your ass off and you get what you deserve.”
The photograph has even been the topic of conversation in local community hotspots such as Black barbershops, Russell said.
Hours before she spoke to HuffPost UK, a member of Jasmine’s church congregation recognised her from the photo and told her: “Thank you for the positive representation.”
Jasmine added: “As soon as my family saw the photo they were like: ‘Wow – this is so powerful.’
“I was just so happy that something that we did is really making such an amazing impact and hopefully we’re able to inspire so many generations that are going to come after us.”Visiting the plantation was bittersweet for Jasmine, she said.
“I feel like I experienced every emotion: I was sad, happy, angry, frustrated, empowered. I truly felt everything.”
Russell added: “We hope that this changes the narrative around who’s capable of being a physician and who isn’t – who can don a white coat. We want to empower Black and brown children but we also want the rest of the world to think the same way.”Related... Internet Swoons Over Miss Nigeria's Thrilled Response To Pal's Miss World Win Cambridge University Returning The Benin Bronze Now Is Too Little Too Late I’ve Been Racially Abused In The Run-Up To This Election. Here’s Why It Matters
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