Guest blog by Temara Cross
I intend to be a doctor and practice in the community I grew up in, Buffalo’s East Side. As a 21-year-old Black woman in the United States, I’ve learned that I have to work ten times harder than my white counterparts to get to where I want to be.
I was 13 years old when I had my first taste of how many people in America view me—a potential statistic. Then, I constantly argued with my seventh-grade English teacher about why my peers would get better grades than me when we had the exact same answers or why he always seemed to find something wrong with my assignments. He always struggled to tell me why. When he found out I was accepted into one of the highest-performing high schools in Buffalo, I remember his exact words: “You’re smart; don’t become a statistic.”
There’s no way I’ll become the statistic he imagined. My family has always motivated and supported me, but I have always had intrinsic motivation that pushed me when I felt like breaking down and giving up. I want my people to equip themselves with the same intrinsic motivation I have because we have to take charge of our own destiny. We have to empower ourselves and each other to achieve optimum health. Sadly, the health statistics in my community are different from the statistics for white people who live on the west side of Main Street, Buffalo’s racial dividing line. I’m going to help change that.
Buffalo, New York is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. In the city, numerous intentional policies like redlining and old federal policies requiring residents of public housing communities to be of the same race have isolated Black people in Buffalo’s East Side. You can read about them and about my pursuit of medicine in the Say Yes Buffalo profile of the We Refuse to Lose series. In the neighborhood I grew up in, there was a highway built nearly 50 years ago that tore right through my community. It served as a physical barrier that produced health consequences, like higher prevalence of chronic illnesses for people living there. I was personally affected, diagnosed with asthma as a teenager. That diagnosis is typically delivered during childhood. Not in Buffalo’s East Side.
To adequately serve communities like mine, health professionals, educators, policymakers and others must be aware of issues that affect life outcomes like health and education. I believe education and health go hand-in-hand, and every person should have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. In the Buffalo area, there is an academic disparity between urban and suburban school districts. The same opportunities that students in Buffalo’s suburbs get are not afforded to Buffalo Public Schools students, which puts people in my community at a huge disadvantage when it comes to pursuing higher education and employment opportunities. That is why it is imperative for organizations like Say Yes Buffalo to invest in the education of students like myself.
Without Say Yes Buffalo, I don’t know where I’d be. I know where I am with its help: in college and in my first year of my combined Bachelors and Masters in Public Health program. You can read about the work Say Yes Buffalo is doing to help students like me take control of their destinies and the destinies of their communities in the Say Yes Buffalo profile.
I believe everything happens for a reason, and because of this, I know I have been placed in particular situations for a long-term purpose. From having racist teachers, to being wrongfully arrested at 17, to witnessing my grandmother pass away from preventative diseases, these experiences will help me change the narrative that others have created for me and my community. Although traumatized by some of these experiences, I came out wiser. They motivated me to continue my education and work to combat racism in healthcare and in other areas. They fuel the fire I have to enact change and work toward achieving educational, socioeconomic and racial equity.
As an aspiring primary care physician, I am driven to empower people in my community to take better care of their health so that we may live prosperous, healthy lives, despite the systems in place that have been built strategically to oppress us.
In other words, I refuse to lose.