Doctors' vision is a good medicine

The Baltimore Sun

On Saturday, Dr. Ashanti Woods, Dr. Taisha Williams and Dr. Darrell Gray II shared the podium as the commencement speakers at Polytechnic Institute's graduation ceremony.

This month, all three are slated to start their careers as physicians. They graduated from Howard University College of Medicine on May 12. All are Poly alumni: Woods graduated in 1998 and Williams and Gray in 1999.

Two years ago Woods, Williams and Gray were students in Howard University College of Medicine's Class of 2007 when I wrote about them in a column. Williams, who will start her four-year residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation next week at Franklin Square Hospital Center and Sinai Hospital, figured back in 2005 that Baltimore could use a positive news story for a change.

Wherever did she get that idea?

Probably from news reports of the time, no doubt. And the front-page article in yesterday's edition of The Sun indicates it's time for another positive news story. And once again, the trio of Woods, Williams and Gray are the ones providing it.

Baltimore is the second-deadliest city in the nation, according to The Sun article. (I don't even want to think about what No. 1 must be like.) This paper has reported on the demographic makeup of most of Baltimore's homicide victims and killers: young black men.

Woods and Gray are in the same demographic, but their lives took a sharply divergent path from those young black men in Baltimore who have ended up either dead or in prison. So perhaps it was fitting that Gray spoke about overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles. (Williams had a similar message and focused on her challenges as a woman in the medical profession.)

"The focus of my speech was on how God allows me to overcome most of the obstacles I've encountered," Gray said yesterday. He told Poly's Class of 2007 that two of those obstacles were his SAT and MCAT scores, which Gray felt should have been better. (Gray sets his standards high: He scored 1200 of a possible 1600 on his SAT and his MCAT score got him a full scholarship to the Howard University College of Medicine.)

Gray told the class that he cleared his test score hurdle. Then he mentioned another that might hinder those students still in Baltimore schools: some of those grisly crime statistics that include the number of Baltimore's homicides in May and some figures that show one in three black men in his age group can expect to go to jail or prison sometime in his life.

Gray will not be among them. Instead, on or about June 25, he'll join the staff of Duke University Medical Center for a three-year residency in internal medicine. His achievement could be attributed to his making the right decisions, which was the focus of Woods' speech.

"Poly has prepared them not only for college, but for the world," Woods said, "and that's going to come with good decision-making."

I asked Woods how that decision-making came into play for young black men who ended up in the clutches of the criminal justice system, as opposed to, say, graduating from the medical school of a prominent historically black university. I used for comparison the three young black men I saw last week in two different television news reports.

All wore sweaters or shirts over their faces so they couldn't be identified. They were supposedly gang members who had been in prison. All whined about how no one wants to hire them because of their criminal records and about how they got into gang life because of "police corruption."

Oh, so the answer to police corruption is to join a gang and thereby put yourself more at risk of encountering corrupt cops? Good thinking, guys. Now listen to Woods on the advantages of good decision-making.

"I think it came down to vision," Woods said of how he was able to steer clear of crime and trouble. "When I was 15 or 16, where did I see myself?"

Part of Woods' vision did include college, although he wasn't focused on medical school early in his high school career. In fact, it was only after a summer internship at a downtown law office that he learned a legal career certainly wasn't his calling. But he learned from the experience.

"I thought it was important," Woods said of the internship. "It allowed me to see how the judicial system works, and it put money in my pocket." The internship kept him off the streets and out of trouble. His vision soon focused on a career in medicine.

"It was the vision that helped me stay on the right track," Woods said. Well, the vision and two people named Mr. and Mrs. Woods.

"I was more afraid of my parents than anything else," Woods said.

A lot of young black men in this city could use a healthy gulp of "fear-the-parent" juice. It would cut down on the pitiful sight of young black men with their faces covered whining about how the system has done them wrong.

It's the same city with the same system -- police, courts and schools -- that produced Dr. Ashanti Woods and Dr. Darrell Gray II. Does that system reward some young black men while punishing others?

Or, as Woods told Poly's Class of 2007 on Saturday, does it come down to making the right decisions?

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