Visible Man: An Illumination of My Black Father

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” The subtle yet remarkable line from Ralph Ellison’s book Invisible Man published in 1952 continues to be a declarative voice in today’s society: Black men do not play a role in raising their children. There are so many, including my grandfather and my own father, who have proven this stigma to be incorrect.

Despite being considered invisible, black fathers have remained beautiful statues to emulate for their children. It was the year 1972 and a young black man, trunk packed and ticket in hand, boarded a bus headed towards Philadelphia with his parents’ directives echoing in his head’— “Work hard and good luck, son.” For the first time in his eighteen years of life Thomas Campbell was leaving home in pursuit of a college degree—the first of his siblings.

The opportunities many black fathers have generated are now profoundly evident in the accomplishments of their children. One of eight children, Thomas Campbell was born in 1953 in the Northeast corridor of Washington D.C. A year after his birth in 1954, the Supreme Court reversed Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Fifty-three years later, I was graduating as one of a few African-American students from a private high school in Washington D.C.—a vicarious atonement of what may have been for my father had his parents been able to afford the tuition when he was accepted to a similar school. “I wanted you and your sister to have more than I could have ever dreamed of as a kid. When I grew up my family never had a car and never went on family vacations,” he remarked.

There are a multitude of young black men changing the world owing the qualities that have made them successful—dedication, commitment, and perseverance—to their black fathers.

“Jason, remember you can be whatever you want when you grow up.” As he tightened my tie on that Easter morning looking his ten-year-old son in the eye. “If you put your mind to it, then it’s yours.” Nineteen years later as I climbed the six shallow stairs in the auditorium at my medical school graduation ceremony my father’s words reverberated. A story nothing short of recurrent and delivered dreams: receiving a private school education followed by three more degrees—the last one permanently attaching the initials MD to my last name. What even I struggle to fathom is what my father must have felt when I walked across that stage and was declared a ‘Doctor.’

The magnificence of my achievement truly belongs to my father. Despite having grown up in a home where his own father could neither read nor write he journeyed to earn his law degree. Subsequently, he cemented a path for me and my sister to earn five degrees between the two of us. My father’s example serves as a declaration for my sister and I that boundaries do not exist.

Grown J and dad

Like a multitude of black fathers, Thomas Campbell exemplifies a vision of the world where the finish line is not dictated by the starting line.

Once invisible men—now visible. They are black fathers.

“Every Scar On My Face Is Worth It”

In London, an unexpected head injury led me into the hands of a plastic surgeon.  When I was rushed to the hospital via ambulance to receive the services of the National Healthcare System—the very institution that I had come to England to study—I felt nervous and frightened.  Countless questions swirled through my head as I attempted to assess the trauma I endured.  All of my questions were ultimately answered by the confident and charismatic plastic surgeon who ultimately mended my lacerated head.  The way in which he explained each step before executing it gave me much needed comfort that night.  His passion for his job and his expertise were evident, but even more so was his ability to treat me as an individual. I have no recollection of this doctor’s name nor could I spot him in a crowd; however, my perception of this man epitomizes a good doctor—someone who is passionate, a healer, and gives positive reactions to unfortunate actions.  I will not only be forever grateful to this physician, but I will forever remember what he did for me in hopes that I can do the same for someone else.

“Code99.” I heard on the overhead speakers in the hospital. Politely and quickly, I excused myself from the patient I was interviewing. Rushing to the front of the Emergency Department, I met my attending physician who had just grabbed the orange airway bag. Together we began rushing to the elevator as a set of nurses followed briskly behind with the stretcher and backboard. He clicked the basement button, and moments later the elevator doors opened. As I stepped out I saw a man on his knees, a puddle of blood adjacent to his limp body.

“Jason, Jason, are you ok?” I flashbacked to that night in London where I had received my very own head injury, when it was my shock, my limp body on the floor with blood adjacent to me.

“Does anyone have a pair of gloves,” I yelled down the hall as more people began gathering around to see what all the commotion was about. “Yes, Doctor… here,” a gentleman handed me a box of latex gloves. I put the gloves on and removed my stethoscope as I asked one of the nurses to hold it for me. Coming up behind the gentleman, I introduced myself and told him I was there to help him. I pulled him up and onto me as I laid us both onto the stretcher. Once he was safely on, I slid myself out moving to the head of the stretcher where I supported his neck as we rushed up to the ED triage area. After we stabilized him, we sent him to the CT scanner to ensure there was no internal bleeding in his head. As he came back from the CT scanner, he was now more lucid but still unsure of what had occurred. I explained to him that we observed the video footage in the hospital and it was highly possible he had suffered a seizure. I moved the loose gauze that was covering his head wound and ½ of his left eye. A 5 cm wound 2 inches above his left eyebrow looked back at me.

“Hey, I’m one of the plastic surgeons here. I hear you had a little accident. Don’t worry, I’m going to fix you right up.” One of my classmates held my hand while my mother was on the speaker phone with another one. The plastic surgeon began numbing the skin to circumvent the wound he was about to suture on my left eyebrow.

“Hello sir, I am Jason again—one of the new resident physicians here. You’ve got a decent size gash above your left eye, but don’t worry. I am going to fix you right up,” I told him as the nurse began cleaning the wound. I extracted the bupivacaine with one needle, then switched the needle on the syringe to one I could use to inject the numbing medication emulating the plastic surgeon from nine years ago. Then I grabbed the nylon suture, the needle driver and began. One suture at a time, I worked diligently and judiciously as my attending peered over my shoulder with a look of approval on his face. Five sutures later I was proud of my work. Well, I was truly proud of the many attendings, residents, and senior medical students who took time out of their hectic schedules to teach me, show me, and create for me the ability to succeed that day.

When I was done, the patient stretched out a smile on his face—he told me I had done a good job today and thanked me. His wife thanked me. And I thanked him for his service to our country and for allowing me to take care of him.

I peered back over my personal statement from medical school when I got home. I read, “I will not only be forever grateful to this physician, but I will forever remember what he did for me in hopes that I can do the same for someone else.” Today was that day. I did what he did for me.. for someone else.