Tuesday, March 5, 2019


"Baby, you will rise. Limit is the skies. 
Don't you let nobody fill your head up with their lies."  

- Amel Larrieux

I was once sitting at a table after giving a lecture as a visiting professor at a medical institution. I'd mentioned in my talk about how I'd applied to Emory for both medical school and residency but how I wasn't granted an interview either time. How my grades were good but my standardized test scores weren't at a high enough percentile to make the cut. Then I went on to share how later I would join the Emory faculty and build a successful career there--in spite of all of that. The message, geared toward medical students primarily, was about grit and resilience--both of which are critical to the success of any physician. They seemed to receive it well.

Over coffee and dessert after the lecture, I made small talk with the nearly fifteen senior faculty members, medical students and esteemed guests sitting at my table. Of all the people there, not a single one looked like me. Or even close to like me. But still. They spoke kind words of affirmation and asked polite questions. And I answered them all and it was fine.

But then, this happened. A subtle microaggression straight from the mouth of a grey-haired full professor who, I guess, meant well.

Him: "Your talk was so inspirational. Thank you for that."
Me: "Thanks. I appreciate your kind words, sir."
Him: "It looks like things really worked out for you. I guess I'm just wondering how we zero in on the ones like you and not overlook them. When they don't quite meet the standard, how do you reconcile that?"


Me: "Well. I guess the first thing I will say is who defined the standard? Perhaps that standard isn't the best measure for everyone. You know?"
Him: "I'm not sure I understand."
Me: "People like me weren't there when those standards were being created."
Him: *still not getting it* "I hear you. But I guess what I am wondering is how do you know that, if you DO take a chance, someone will be scrappy like you were? How do we not pass on the ones like you? The diamonds in the rough?"

He smiled showing all of his big, yellow teeth. I did not smile back.


Me: *in my head* "Did this dude just call a visiting professor 'scrappy' and 'a diamond in the rough?'"
Me: *out loud* "Sir, where I came from? I was able to shine from the very start. I got my education at Tuskegee and at Meharry. I always was a diamond right out in the open. I was never in the rough. Not then and not now."

I swallowed hard and held his gaze without smiling. He needed to know that I wasn't kidding. Because I wasn't. And even though a tiny piece of me wanted to cry, I pushed it down because even if he didn't know and even if they didn't know way back when, I was always enough. Always.

After that, we all sat in an awkward silence. Me sitting with my spine stick straight with a relaxed facial expression. And him, along with several others, looking nervous and apologetic.

I let them squirm.

I didn't say much after that. I was pleasant for the rest of the dinner and was gracious to my hosts when I left. Even the grey-haired dude. But here's what I wish I'd said:

"You know what? I am scrappy. But not the kind of scrappy you think. Scrappy in that I know who I am. Scrappy in that I know how to put my mouthpiece back in and fight even when the fight isn't fair.

That kind of scrappy.

And also. . . you, sir, don't get to call me that. Because just maybe the 'rough' you speak about is in your eyes and was never the students like me at all."

People say some crazy stuff sometimes.



He hurt my feelings. But that's okay because I'm scrappy. Now playing on my mental iPod. . . 


  1. I'm glad you let them squirm. Maybe the standards need to include kindness and compassion and humanity and not just marks.

    1. Yeah. I am certain that he had no idea how those words landed. And yeah, standardized tests weed out some of the best people. But as my daddy told me years ago: "The great will be great." Glad I believed him.

  2. Some people just have no idea how what falls out of their mouths sounds to others.

    1. Totally. All I kept thinking was, "Did he realize that he just called a visiting professor scrappy in front of like 20 people?" I hate that he felt like that was okay. I am not so sure everyone would have gotten that adjective in mixed company. Bummer.

  3. Preach! I love what you wish you'd said, but what you said was pretty darn great too!

    1. I had to coach myself to be brave. I'm glad I was a self advocate --and one for every other person like me. No one tried to move the needle on the record or anything. They just at there and let him tell me that I was like that one time a person wins the Powerball. But what I needed him to know was that, betting on kids like me isn't a long shot. With support, we win.

  4. You are so amazing! I often see you at Grady making rounds but had no clue you are such a wonderful person. I hope one day he will realize just how offensive he was to you. Your poise inspires me but in my heart I wished you had let him have it for being so rude.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

Related Posts with Thumbnails