Feel­ing Out of Place Inside the Capi­tol

The Washington Post Sunday - - Close To Home - — Lawrence Green

I’ m a 25- year- old black man who grew up in sight of the Capi­tol. Yet be­fore last fall I had never set foot in the build­ing. Do­ing so, to at­tend a health fo­rum at which ex­perts ad­dressed fed­eral fund­ing in the treat­ment of a ma­jor dis­ease, turned out to be an eye- open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, one that stays with me many months later.

Walk­ing to­ward the Capi­tol was dif­fer­ent that day. I’d passed the build­ing count­less times be­fore with­out car­ing about what went on inside. As I rode the Metro that morn­ing, I imag­ined peo­ple run­ning around inside with brief­cases full of pa­per, hur­ry­ing to their next meet­ing or news con­fer­ence. I was com­pletely wrong about what to ex­pect. The halls were rel­a­tively quiet, and they seemed to be re­served for tourists.

As I walked through the metal de­tec­tor, a black se­cu­rity of­fi­cer asked where I was go­ing. “ S- 207,” I an­swered. “ Re­ally?” she replied. I asked her if she was sur­prised that I was go­ing to this fo­rum. I re­call her say­ing, “ The peo­ple who came in be­fore you weren’t that di­verse.” I had as­sumed that there would be few non­white at­ten­dees. I was also pre­pared to be thor­oughly searched and even in­ter­ro­gated, if need be. Hav­ing been stopped by U. S. Capi­tol Po­lice of­fi­cers once, for al­legedly run­ning a yel­low light while driv­ing home from high school, left me well pre­pared for the most ex­treme treat­ment. Hear­ing the ob­ser­va­tion of the of­fi­cer at the de­tec­tor con­firmed my ex­pec­ta­tions of be­ing one of the few black at­ten­dees.

An­gry and anx­ious, I pro­ceeded past the of­fi­cers to the fo­rum.

My fam­ily his­tory com­prises the full spec­trum of suc­cess and fail­ure within the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, I’m ashamed to ac­knowl­edge that I felt some­what out of place.

The seat in which I sat seemed re­served for some­one else, not a young kid from South­east who went to Anne Beers El­e­men­tary School, Hine Ju­nior High, Arch­bishop Car­roll High School in North­east and even­tu­ally Tem­ple Univer­sity in Philadel­phia. Know­ing my en­slaved an­ces­tors helped build and fi­nance the Capi­tol with their forced la­bor didn’t help my con­fi­dence, ei­ther. Yet some­how I knew, deep down, I had ev­ery right to be there.

I couldn’t help but no­tice that there were three other black peo­ple among the 60 peo­ple in the au­di­ence. That two ar­rived late and that one seemed to snooze through the event. That Lati­nos seemed scarce, too. And that all four pan­elists were white.

Why was there this gap in rep­re­sen­ta­tion? Did any of the other at­ten­dees no­tice it? I know dis­par­i­ties ex­ist in many forms ev­ery­where we go. But that day it seemed to ex­plain, par­tic­u­larly vividly, why there are gaps of in­jus­tice in medicine — and in Amer­i­can life in gen­eral.

The pre­sen­ta­tions and ques­tions asked dur­ing the fo­rum were in­ter­est­ing. At one point, in re­sponse to a ques­tion from an au­di­ence mem­ber, two pan­elists ac­knowl­edged that eth­nic and racial dis­par­i­ties do ex­ist. They said they were “ do­ing their best” to ad­dress the prob­lem. The pan­elists seemed well in­formed and driven but dis­con­nected from the com­mu­nity from which I have come.

As I left that morn­ing, I felt re­lieved. I’m hope­ful that my next visit to the Capi­tol will be a bit dif­fer­ent.

Beltsville The writer is a pro­gram as­sis­tant at the non­profit Ed­u­ca­tion Net­work to Ad­vance Can­cer Clin­i­cal Tri­als. His e- mail ad­dress is lawrence. green@ enacct. org.

BY BILL O’LEARY — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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