Narrated by: Dr. Patrice Dupart, Vice-President of Pharmacy, Apothecary-in-Chief New York Presbyterian Hospital with Commentary (Italics) by: Dr. Yashoda Pramar, Malcolm Ellington Endowed Professor of Pharmacy Xavier University of Louisiana

July 09, 2020

From Slavery to George Floyd; The Good, the Bad, the Ugly – and the Hope

As experienced by a mother, a professional, a Black American citizen


The Good

Twenty years in my career as a pharmacist with varying degrees of support from my colleagues and supervisors have culminated in this job at NYP – for which I am inordinately grateful. None of the senior leadership in my prior places of employment have truly embraced the idea of racial harmony and race reparations and inclusivity at the level I have witnessed at NYP. The compassion and commitment demonstrated by Drs. Corwin and Forese both prior to, and since the horrific incident with George Floyd, are unlike anything I have experienced in the past. And for this, I am thankful. This is the ‘Good.’


The Ugly

When I first saw the George Floyd video clip, I couldn’t move. Witnessing a man being murdered by a police officer with his hand in his pocket, unfazed by the camera recording him, with no sense of urgency to stop; even a certain smugness on his face – the unrepentant brutality of the scene is enough to enrage you, and to break you. This was a modern day lynching. The grief that overcame me was hard to bear, I literally “could not breathe”. My first thoughts went to my four sons and my sweet grandchildren. His blatant demeanor, flaunting his conviction: “I am allowed to do this because you are not human”. Killing a black person on flimsy pretexts has no consequences in today’s America. Police brutality is the ‘Ugly’. Police brutality is emblematic of larger societal issues faced by blacks in every aspect of life – ranging from education, to housing, to health care.


The Bad

The murder of George Floyd has pulled the blinders back – in the nation and in the world. It has also awakened something in me that I chose to ignore. The realization that I have been conditioned to live in two worlds. The white one and a parallel black one. As a black person, we hide our true selves, our histories, our challenges, our beginnings, our roots.... As a black person, we are conditioned to assimilate, to keep our guard up, and we teach our children to do the same. We suppress our feelings, we are  trained to be submissive, to not offend, and to ‘act white’. This submissiveness has allowed White Racism to place its knee on the neck of Black America since the days of slavery – with impunity, without consequence and without remorse. This is the ‘Bad’.


Why was it different this time? Because there was a video; because the murder took a slow, deliberate 8 minutes and 46 seconds; because the world watched a man die because of a $20 bill – in broad daylight. The days of conditioned submission may finally be over. This is the Emmett Till moment of our generation. There is no turning back. The world has seen enough – the protests include all manner of people, not just blacks. This is a teachable moment – the lesson being, it is not enough to ‘not be racist’, it is not enough to be passive; it is essential that we are actively ‘Anti-Racist’, that we act when we witness racism, injustice, brutality... 

  

Like most Black Americans, I have a story. I am the great granddaughter of Sally and Raff Garner, descendants of slaves and sharecroppers. I am the granddaughter of Adele Morris, who caught and sold shrimp on the levees of New Orleans. She also worked as a domestic help, cleaning houses and as a seamstress in a department store – a store that would not allow her to try on the clothes before buying them. I am the daughter of Arnold, a laborer and Shirley, who barely finished eighth grade. My parents are not college-educated; what they lacked in sophistication, they made up for with discipline, love, hard work, integrity and a desire to improve the lives of their 14 children. They taught us how to survive in the “white world” – to always show respect (sometimes to excess), to be dignified, to be deferential, and to show grace. My father was constantly cautioning my seven brothers about how to behave if stopped by the police; how to behave with white women; and how to conduct themselves in public. And the daughters were trained not to be loud, not to call attention to themselves (no angry black women), to work harder than white people, and to be grateful for any opportunities given to us. Our parents also taught us to be kind, open to all people and races, and to treat people the way we would want to be treated.


My ascent to Vice-President of Pharmacy at NYP has been an incredibly long and arduous road. I married very young and had 3 children by the time I was 26. I started college but didn’t finish. At the urging of my baby sitter who was attending UCLA, I was encouraged to go back to school. Her exact words were “Patrice, you are smart”. Eventually I did enroll in a weekend college program and decided to go to pharmacy school. After moving three times, and attending six different colleges/schools in several states from California to Texas, I finally arrived at Xavier University College of Pharmacy in my hometown of New Orleans. In my very first year of pharmacy school, I became pregnant with baby number four - yes, it was an unplanned pregnancy. Despite this setback, I made the Dean’s list almost every semester and finished pharmacy school on time with my class. My Doctor of Pharmacy degree involved 10 years of hard work and determination – while simultaneously dealing with financial challenges, childcare and other issues faced by a non-traditional student. I could have stopped there. I didn’t. I went on to do a Pharmacy Practice Residency, then to obtain a Master’s degree, and finally to become Board Certified in Pharmacotherapeutics. There was no extinguishing the fire that had been lit in college – the desire to learn, to know and to grow – to be the best pharmacist I could be. 


My four sons watched their mother go to school – the same mother who nurtured and nourished them when they were young, the mother who read books to them, who helped them with their homework, who taught them to love and respect each other. These sons who are now in their 20s and 30s, these sons are now fathers, these sons phone their mother every day, and these sons have never seen a gun, don’t do drugs or engage in mayhem.... My sons are smart, gentle, kind and respectable citizens. 


One of my sons, Patrick loves Jeopardy, The Big Bang Theory, Chemistry, his wife and his baby Penelope. He has a PhD in Chemistry from VCU. A few years ago, this same son was rushing to pick up his little brother David from high school, and was driving slightly above the speed limit in a school zone. Haven’t we all done this at some point in our lives? Aah, but Patrick is a black man, he is 6’2” and weighs over 300 pounds. He was stopped by the police. He had his University parking decal in the window, he had his book bag on the seat of his car. The police asked him whether he had a gun in his book bag. I had to endure the pain of my son, ‘Dr. Patrick Dupart’ asking me with such genuine incredulity “Mom, why would the police think I would have a gun? Why would he drill me to see if I have drugs?” One false move could have gotten him killed, like reaching in his book bag to answer the phone in case David called him. Does a white boy have to slither around the world in meek submission like this? And this black mother had to give him “the talk” yet again... “The talk” that he will one day have to give his daughter Penelope...



And so it is every day, this black mother has to fear for the safety of her sons... This black mother has to worry about the next encounter with racist America... This black mother has to worry about her sons being harmed by the very people who are supposed to protect them – the police...


I worry about my youngest David, when he is driving the car I bought him for graduating summa cum laude from high school. Will the police think it is stolen? Because David is a black boy? David - who has won numerous awards and scholarships; David - who spent a summer abroad studying in Europe; David - who volunteered to teach English to Hispanic immigrants. And David who must be taught to slither through life in meek submission. 


I worry about my son Dustin when he checks on my house in a gated community of New Orleans. Will a neighbor think this black man does not belong there and call the police? If it could happen to Henry Louis Gates in Martha’s Vineyard, could it not happen to Dustin? And could it not escalate? Like it too often does with the police confronting black men for no discernible reason. And what lesson should Dustin teach his little one-year old daughter Autumn for the day when she has sons?


I worry about my oldest, Damon traveling to small country towns in Louisiana on work. Will someone see him and think he doesn’t belong in the area - not knowing that he is the engineer inspecting the site? And what life lessons will he give to his two young sons and his daughter? It is a mindset that is generational. Slaves are to be hunted, captured, kept in check, beaten, lynched... by the white man. Free people of color are to be re-captured. Slaves escaping to freedom through the Underground Railroad need to be hunted, tortured, and taught a lesson... The mindset of law enforcement demands that blacks be submissive and deferential at all times; society demands that blacks know their place and act accordingly.


The Hope

NYP gives me cause for hope. The CEO makes it his mission to foster diversity, tolerance and inclusion... I couldn’t have asked for a better work environment. It’s not perfect. It never is. I have had to respond to questions whether I am in the right place when I enter a room reserved for senior leadership meetings. Eyebrows go up when the realization hits that the Vice President of Pharmacy is a black woman. I have had to work twice as hard compared to my non-black counterparts to earn the same respect and recognition. Blacks know this, and accept it.... Why? Because society expects submission. It is time to understand how it feels to walk in the shoes of a black person. It is time to undo the dehumanization of the black race. 


I have witnessed the Rodney King riots, Hurricane Katrina, the COVID 19 pandemic, police brutality..... These are the many faces of racial disparity. Racism is toxic. The world has finally erupted in fury. From Slavery to George Floyd – it has been a long journey. Now the world sees it too. No one is born a racist. Racism is taught. It is time to erase this particular lesson from the psyche of White Supremacist America; from the consciousness of Confederate America... Conversations, engagement, leadership by example...these initiatives are needed to make reparations for 400 years of wrong. And I believe NYP is poised to be a beacon in this endeavor. And I am proud and encouraged to be included in this process.


What to read next

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