Three Black doc­tors de­tail their jour­ney to suc­cess

South Florida Times - - NATION - CHEVEL JOHN­SON By

NEW OR­LEANS (AP) — One used to deal drugs on the streets of New Or­leans. An­other grew up in Chicago with two drug-ad­dicted par­ents. A third sur­vived the tough streets of New York and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where he once stared down the barrel of a gun.

All three young black men be­came board-cer­ti­fied doc­tors.

In an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, Pierre John­son, Maxime Mad­here and Joe Semien Jr. said they knew the odds were stacked against them when they en­tered Xavier Univer­sity of Louisiana in 1998 with hopes of be­com­ing doc­tors. Black men make up a small per­cent­age of doc­tors in Amer­ica, and they knew get­ting through col­lege and med­i­cal school wouldn’t be easy.

Their early lives, col­lege strug­gles, and vic­to­ries are chron­i­cled in “Pulse of Per­se­ver­ance: Three Black Doc­tors on Their Jour­ney to Suc­cess.” They said they wrote the book to show African-Amer­i­can boys that ath­letes and en­ter­tain­ers aren’t the only ex­am­ples of black achieve­ment and suc­cess.

Mad­here, an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist in Ba­ton Rouge, said they’re for­tu­nate and have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to share their ex­pe­ri­ences with the next gen­er­a­tion.

“Young boys need to know it’s not a game in these streets. They need to know that we are com­pletely marginal­ized as peo­ple of color when we mess up. They also need to know you don’t have to rap or shoot a ball to get out of their cir­cum­stances,” said Mad­here.

Semien, John­son and Mad­here each set a goal early on to be­come a doc­tor. Semien, an ob­ste­tri­cian/gy­ne­col­o­gist from New Or­leans who prac­tices in Lake Charles, de­scribes in the book how he be­came in­trigued by a sixth-grade anatomy class. Mad­here dis­cov­ered his love for medicine af­ter vol­un­teer­ing at a hos­pi­tal. John­son said he “just knew” he wanted to heal peo­ple af­ter deal­ing with his par­ents.

Get­ting there, how­ever, wasn’t easy. Four per­cent of doc­tors in the U.S. are African Amer­i­can, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Med­i­cal Col­leges. The men chose Xavier, knowing that the na­tion’s only his­tor­i­cally black Catholic in­sti­tu­tion con­sis­tently places black stu­dents in med­i­cal school.

John­son, an ob­ste­tri­cian/gy­ne­col­o­gist work­ing in Chicago, writes about Xavier’s nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment, which helped spark the trio’s friend­ship.

John­son said he of­ten saw Mad­here in class and around cam­pus but no­ticed that he, too, was “al­ways in the li­brary.”

“We started a con­ver­sa­tion about how things were go­ing and the strug­gles we were go­ing through in class and ul­ti­mately de­cided we needed to band to­gether ... and we saw that same en­ergy in Joe,” John­son said.

“We held each other ac­count­able,” Semien re­called. “When one was fall­ing short, the other would pick him up.”

Semien had to shed a street rep­u­ta­tion that in­cluded deal­ing drugs and an anger prob­lem that got him in trou­ble. He dropped out of Xavier at one point, joined the mil­i­tary, re-en­rolled, dropped out again, and fi­nally re­turned and met John­son and Mad­here.

Mad­here de­scribes in the book the trou­bled Brook­lyn neigh­bor­hood where his mother lived af­ter di­vorc­ing his fa­ther. He re­calls one day when a young black man was shot in front of her apart­ment build­ing.

“This was my first en­counter with death. The im­age of this man dead on the pave­ment, with the po­lice and paramedics swarm­ing around him, was im­me­di­ately burned into my seven-year-old mind. It re­mains there to this day,” he wrote.

John­son writes of be­ing three when he and his mother fran­ti­cally ran from his fa­ther “who was high out of his mind.”

“We sought refuge at my pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents’ house ...” he writes. “We crawled un­der the cov­ers; I thought for a mo­ment that we were safe. A few min­utes later, my fa­ther came into the bed­room, dragged my mom into the hall­way by her an­kle, and beat her.”

Both par­ents strug­gled with ad­dic­tion, and John­son wrote: “I learned as a young boy that one of my pur­poses in lif e was to help oth­ers who could not help them­selves.”

The three doc­tors de­cided to tell their sto­ries in one project be­cause they’d al­ready proven they could work to­gether. John­son said he plans to push his friends to write a fol­low-up.

“If this book does what we hope and plan, to in­spire kids ev­ery­where and to push peo­ple to achieve suc­cess through all cir­cum­stances, def­i­nitely a sec­ond book is in the mak­ing,” he said.


AGAINST THE ODDS: Three Black doc­tors share their tri­als and vic­to­ries in their quest to be­come med­i­cal doc­tors.

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