Black History Month is a time to honor the Black women and men who have paved the way for us to be here today. My life has been influenced by people as diverse as African Americans who have broken barriers in history as well as my own parents. I wanted to highlight a few important figures that have paved the way for me to become a surgeon and who have encouraged me to never give up on my dreams.

Rebecca Crumpler became the first female African American MD in 1864. She treated freed slaves after the Civil War and published one of the first medical books written by an African American. Daniel Hale Williams founded Chicago’s Provident Hospital, the country’s first black-owned, interracial hospital, in 1891. He performed the first-ever successful heart surgery two years later. Both of those figures encourage me to actively fight for my future patients and never let others tell me I can’t do something. While these historical figures have impacted so many people, Black History Month can also be celebrated on a personal level.

My mom taught me what is to be a strong woman. I was born three months prematurely and weighed only two pounds and nine ounces. My mom had to deal with a previous loss of a baby and she feared potentially losing me as well. As a baby, I couldn’t cry because my lungs were not fully developed, and I struggled with breathing problems for the first two and a half months. My birth was scary because at any time I could be gone. My mom continued to fight for me by checking to make sure I was breathing and by getting the best possible care for her premature baby. During that time, a lot of hospitals didn't have the proper care for premature babies, so my mom made sure I went to a different hospital that could care for me best. My mom continued to fight and sacrifice for me at an early age and she continues to do so. My mom’s example has taught me to always fight for my loved ones. My mom is a strong woman: even after losing her first child, she still decided to have my brother and me. She has continued to teach me how to be a strong woman by teaching me how to stand my ground and by actively supporting me, even when I was at my worst.

My dad has had kidney disease for most of his life. When I was in middle school, my dad’s kidney started to fail and he had to go on dialysis. My dad never showed that he was in pain and continued to do things for his loved ones. He would still drive us to school, support us at our games, and actively work for the community around us. The first lesson my dad taught me is how to change my perspective in hard situations. My dad at many moments could have given up but he continued to work hard and set goals for himself. One of his goals was to have a six-pack, but kidney failure makes it harder to build and hold muscle. He continued to work every day to do so. While this can be seen as a simple thing, this was a great accomplishment for him. The second lesson my dad has taught me is to never give up and to continue to fight through my struggles. When my dad eventually got his transplant, he faced many risks and he could have died. He decided to be positive in the situation and believe in God’s plan for him.

Black History Month is a time to celebrate those who have gone before us in history, and it is also a time to celebrate on a personal level. We at GRIT are so excited to continue to celebrate the Black community, not just this month, but all year long.