“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” -Frederick Douglass


I met my best friend in the public library when we were 14. I thought she was rude, aggressive and too foreign. She thought I was bossy, loud and too intense. In high school she’d call at 6 am to ask to borrow my textbook. I never understood why she couldn’t just meet me at school.

Today, she is a practicing physician. She’s wanted to and has prepared to become a doctor since before she was born. She speaks about epidemiology and public health with such passion and zeal that it inspires me to actually learn science! She can commit to a task—no matter how complex or mundane– for as long as it takes to achieve mastery or to get the job done. She is relentless and unflappable.

Her wisdom and our friendship have helped me
1. Reflect on my sense of purpose and vocation.
2. Understand how to be less of an ugly American.
3. Respect and appreciate the impact and importance of community on identity development.
4. Aspire— set goals and develop the discipline and grit to actualize them.

I first became an educator because I struggled with issues of representation. When I graduated, I was determined to help bridge the gap, to work in under-served communities with students who looked like me and who would’ve been on their way to becoming inspiring leaders, exemplary students, and committed, life-long learners if not for the low expectations and cultural insensitivity that plagued education.

Working for institutions that support students’ intellectual and academic development (and the economic opportunity that accompanies that progress) has given me great joy. Yet and still I’m perpetually concerned that such institutions are lacking socially-conscious critical thinkers who reflect on their own social location, and reflect on the ability of that location to be a barrier against quality care and customer service.

The Hippocratic Oath is attributed to Greek physician Hippocrates, who is affectionately known as “The Father of Medicine.” Although the oath does not explicitly state, “first, do no harm,” it has served as a reminder to health professionals that life is important and should be protected; that we should recognize our limitations; that we should maintain sound ethical standards in the care of others, and that we should be careful not to create or to exacerbate personal harm, social harm or injustice.

The social service community at large would be greatly improved

  • If we treated students in GED programs with the same courtesy and reverence as those in ESL programs.
  • If we treated students in vocational certificate programs with the same grace as undergraduates.
  • If we believed that emotional and mental health were as important as physical health.
  • If we believed that the quality and care that we show have the ability to impact others’ emotional health— for better or for worse.
  • If we understood that our prejudices and biases, if left unchecked, can negatively impact our professional courtesy and care.
  • If we put individual’s dignity ahead of our deadlines, administrative challenges and egos.
  • If we pursued and maintained relationships with people who challenge us and hold us to a higher standard.

If we respected everyone’s struggle.


4 thoughts on “First, Do No Harm

  1. Pingback: Day 3, Week 4

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