As I began to write this post, I hesitated. Why were things I was now sharing important to the story? I began to feel as if I might be rambling. I took a step back and thought long and hard about it.
These things became important to me because of how the press handled it. This all started with the death of Donda West following her surgery. Yet here’s the catch. There is not one instance, one report, that says, let alone document, that the doctor did anything wrong. The city attorney reviewed it, other doctors reviewed it, the medical Board of California reviewed it, lawyers reviewed it and so did the press. The fact was, and is, that her surgery and care were all within the standard of care (frankly better than most).
That is why this case never went to court. But here is the question to ask, if Conrad Murray is negligent in the death of Michael Jackson, why isn’t the nurse “with an advanced degree” that abandoned Donda West the morning after surgery, with her helpless and having taken narcotics for pain, not negligent?
This documentation of who I am is necessary to keep the story on point. The press, particularly TMZ had nothing; they couldn’t attack the message, so they went after the messenger.
We were all sad, and mad, about Donda West. It shouldn’t have happened. But it happened at home because the nurse with an advanced degree, her nephew, had abandoned her. The press, the city attorney, the Medical Board of California, and everyone else interested should have been looking there.
The story is taking the turn it is taking because it makes no sense to continue unless we, now that we have heard the press’s take, take a look at the facts of who I am.
I needed to look inside, to remember who I was. Constant hammering in the press, particularly when it is wrong, exacts quite a burden. I was tired and more importantly I was tired of the people I loved being hurt by the inaccuracies.
In order to begin the healing, in order to get my life back, I had to turn inward to remember who I was.
I remembered my time at Harvard and my opportunity to play basketball as an alternative to the loss of football. I was blessed. The greatest reward in playing was the camaraderie I established with the upper classman. The pertinent lesson was a confirmation of my mother’s wisdom: stay in the game, which is the game of life.
Harvard’s varsity basketball team was quite impressive when I arrived, much more so than us on the freshman team. They boasted six high school all-Americans including James Brown, who is now a sports commentator for Fox and CBS, Floyd Lewis from Washington DC, Tony Jenkins from Detroit, and Marshall Sanders, who was from the South. More
importantly, they took the time to mentor those of us who were black on the freshman team.
As a group, they, the upper classmen, were a lot more socially conscious than we were. I loved just hanging around and listening to them talk. JB had a sense of spirituality and conscious that gave a little sense to the world. He helped keep the Harvard experience in perspective. I suspect you could sum it up by saying that they, unlike us, had value processed in the early 60’s and were indeed socially conscious.
Ray and I continued to grow closer as friends and to do those things that college kids do. What was hilarious was how hard we worked at trying to do nothing. I was pre-med and Ray was studying economics and business. At the start of the second semester Ray came running into our dorm room very excited. “Jan,” he said, “I’ve got the course for us: Statistics. They’re actually doing multiplication.” Thinking that we had found the ultimate “gut” course, we both signed up for statistics that semester. The course began with combinations and permutations and in fact Ray was correct, it was a gut (to start with). But then the course advanced into chi square and other analysis. I remember
laughing hysterically as we were both completely lost. We made it through that
course, but so much for guts and so much for listening to RaySwagg. From then
on, we decided it was just better that we study the courses we needed to
It was at that time that I also met S. Alan Counter, Ph.D. He was the young black biology professor from Tennessee. He became my mentor. He was good looking. He was smart. And his wife was absolutely beautiful.
Dr. Counter took me under his wing and it was from him that I became interested in neurobiology. By that time, I had decided to major in psychology with an emphasis on neurobiological systems. My first research project was with him studying the hearing systems in katydids and crickets. (Don’t laugh – they’re very interesting.)
Crickets have large front legs and their hearing systems are actually in their knees. They make noise by rubbing the feathers together on their back. What we studied was “lateral inhibition”.
If you’ve ever heard yourself on a tape recorder, the one thing that you notice is that it doesn’t really sound like you. Your hearing system dampens (blocks out) your own voice when you talk so that you don’t directly stimulate yourself. It is in fact a very protective
device. We were studying how much noise the crickets were making as compared to
how much they heard.
That was a good time for me. I felt connected to him and it helped me psychologically to move on, to move away from football and more into studying medicine.
Ray and I made friends with Ernie Carter and Barry Lee, both of whom were pre-med. They had also been in the program I had attended in New York City the summer before coming to Harvard. That was really the beauty of the program. It gave you friendships and a support system on arrival to Cambridge. We decided, that for sophomore year, we would set up a rooming group together, but that was our second disappointment. Harvard was incorporating Radcliffe into the system at that time and it meant that a number of us would have to live at the Radcliffe dorms rather than at Harvard. It was unfortunate because, I, as the first name listed, was considered an athlete. That was one of the factors considered in moving people to Radcliffe. Besides, none of us were legacies, and the houses like Elliot, Leverett, or Adams were not in our future.
I believe it’s fair to say that during that time I went from a small town hick, who really didn’t know that much about the world, to learning about kids from places like Washington DC, New York City, San Francisco, California, and places in Europe I had never even heard of. Each of us brought our own culture and experiences to the Harvard
experience. That was also one of the benefits of Harvard and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The first snow in Boston that year brought out the freshmen from Southern California. They were wearing shorts to enjoy the snow. We considered them crazy and they never served to disappoint us.
The first truly white friend I made at Harvard was George Vaughn. George was from San Antonio, Texas. George and I spent a lot of time getting to know each other and challenging our belief systems and prejudices. George’s family owned lumber yards in Texas. They were also part owners of the San Antonio Spurs.
George gave me the greatest compliment that anyone could have given me at the time. A friend of his from South Dakota was also at Harvard. His friend was required to write a paper on race relations, and George suggested that he sit down with me. I thought that
was fantastic. He believed enough in me, and cared enough about who I was as a person to suggest that I might be able to offer some insight. I’d like to think I did, although I never learned what grade his friend received, or whether what I did have to say made it to print. I loved being the authority though.
During the time that I did research with Dr. Counter, I also took a leave of absence for six months to really decide what I wanted to do. I certainly wanted to go to medical school,
but my interaction with him really opened my eyes to solving problems. There was a real consideration on my part to pursue a Ph.D. in biology. I opted for medicine. I was concerned that I had begun to isolate myself much too much.
Once again, the words of Thoreau came to me: “…I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the
whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience….”
Even though I thought I had been hurt enough by life and people, I still desperately needed them. One of the consequences of being “parentified” is the need to define yourself based on what you do for others. That, for all intense and purposes, defined me. In
spite of my firm grasp of individualism, experience had defined my need for the
approval by others.
The only choice for me ultimately, was medical school. The only choice for medical school was Ohio State University-College of Medicine. I had interviewed at Cincinnati and at Case Western Reserve, but the one turnoff for me was how important the interviewers at these institutions thought they were. I found them condescending. My attitude was, “Dude, I’m about to graduate from Harvard and trust me, no matter how you slice it, either one of you academically will be a step down.” My purpose wasn’t to minimize either of them. Frankly either would have been an excellent choice. But there is also something in me that had resolved a long time ago that I don’t want to be anywhere where people
don’t want me. In Middletown, it was why I stopped playing golf. The only place
to play was the private club, oddly enough not to far from our house, but blacks weren’t welcomed there, and I didn’t pursue it. In that instance, I guess I had opted out of the game.
At least Ohio State was happy that I considered them. More importantly, I was happy to be going home.