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Tribute To My Ancestors

As a Black woman and reproductive health scientist, my academic journey in health science and global health is guided by the beautiful legacies of these SEVEN ANCESTORS (listed below). My philosophy is that historical memories
shape clinical encounters as well as the lived experience of both the patient and provider. Therefore, as a health scholar, these ancestors shaped me. To set the tone for my own well-being in health science, I will tell you a little bit about
my connection to each ancestor in my work on women’s health, pregnancy, birth, global health, and sickle cell disease.
Feel free to say their names with me, to give honor to their lineage:

photo - mary turner.jpg

Mary Turner

Is the first reported Black women who was lynched by White men, while being 8-months pregnant in 1918.

The story of Mary Turner is often forgotten in the discourse of maternal-child health.

However, I say her name
to honor the violence and trauma of
many prenatal stories, untold in

Overseer Annie Stanley Thomas

My paternal grandmother who was a traditional healer, orator, and medicine woman, who worked as a fieldhand on a cottonfield in rural Georgia. She only had a 7th grade education. She encouraged me to attend Spelman College, a historical  Black college for Women. In 2010, my grandmother’s prayers enabled me graduate as a first-generation college student from Spelman, with honors.

photo - paternal grandmother.jpg

Mary Miller Brown

My maternal grandmother who gave birth to 13 children (which my biological mother was the third oldest). My grandmother was the matriarch of our family. However, she was also paralyzed from the waist down and had type-2 diabetes. As a child, we would spend summers at her home in coastal Georgia, where she lived on acres and acres of land (owned by my grandfather). During those summers at her home, I learned how to be a caretaker for my grandmother, including preparing foods and how to give insulin shots to manage her diabetes. I would sit with my grandmother and read my poetry to her. Grandmother taught me how to be sensitive to patients.

Alice Washington

Is the first Black female patient I was assigned to on my rotations for data
collection. She was 90 years old and a Spelman alum Class of 1935. Mrs.
Alice would hold my hand say “You will be Dr. Poetry one day and I like
the sound of that.” Mrs. Alice passed away during my first-year as a PhD
student. The death of Mrs. Alice challenged me so much, but it also
gave me the strength to continue to study Black women’s health.

photo- alice washington at Spelman College reunion.jpg

Dr. Jane E. Smith

Was the former director of LEADERSHIP at Spelman College and one of my research mentors. In 2008, I studied abroad at University of Cape Town in South Africa. However, it was Dr. Jane Smith who purchased my flight to South Africa (when my parents could not afford it). Since I came from a working-class family with very humble beginnings, it was Dr. Jane Smith who told me “No matter
where you come from, you can travel the world, if that is what your heart
wants to do.” Going to South Africa changed my life and pressed me to
purse a career as a Global Health Scholar. Dr. Jane Smith died in 2020
during the COVID-19 pandemic. I never forgot her words and her impact
in my life, which has enabled me to travel the world to SO many countries.

photo - dr jane smith (getty images).jpg
Ancestor - my brother.jpg
Ancestor - my brother.jpg

Keith Thomas, Sr.

Is my oldest brother who was killed in a car crash by a drunk-driver. My
brother was declared brain dead, upon being airlifted to the hospital and
died after two days. Our family decided to donate his organs to
University of Miami School of Medicine in 2015 for scientific
research. I started my PhD program at University of Miami in 2015.
Everyday that year, I gave honor to my brother, because I felt we were
attending the same university, surpassing life and death. When I graduated with my PhD in 2020, I kneeled before his grave to tell him we graduated together.

Henrietta Lacks

There is so much that can be said about the legacy of Henrietta Lacks
(HeLa Cells). However, one connection is that Henrietta was a
Black American woman whose cells were taken by White scientists without
informed consent, due to racism. Her cells went on to create and generate
hundreds of drug discoveries, including treatments on sickle cell
disease. As I focus my research on Black women with sickle cell disease,
I honor the legacy of Henrietta Lacks. I truly hope that her family receives
the genuine credit that they rightfully so deserve for scientific innovations that has continuously elevated so many people with genetic conditions.

photo- henrietta lacks.png
Ancestor- My Dad.jpg

Milton Thomas Jr.

Milton Thomas, Jr (1949-2023). My dad was a singer-type artist and a gardener, by spirit. He loved to be OUTDOORS. This is my dad holding me when I was ONE-DAY old at the Hospital in Miami, Florida. My father transitioned in March 2023 while I was in Accra, Ghana.  He came to me in a dream and told me that he is at total peace with having lived a FULL life and that he is so PROUD of me. My dad taught me to be a free-spirit and to not allow this world to consume my soul. He said I will always be MORE than my accomplishments and my degrees. He taught me to be a "woman of the world" who is able to laugh, dance, and ENJOY LIFE! My dad was my best friend and my ROCK because he also helped me raise my daughter  (Zaiyah), so that I could focus on my PhD at the time. I will always miss my dad, but every day I am learning to be happy for his ANCESTRAL FREEDOM. Congratulations Dad, Servant--WELL DONE. 


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