Healthy You - Every Day

Greg Singleton, MD, Reflects on Black History

Learn more about his journey and recognition of the background of Black History Month.

Greg Singleton, MD

Gregory Singleton, MD, is an anesthesiologist with LVHN, Co-Chairperson of LVHN’s Multicultural Professional Development Group (MPDG) and member of the African American/Black/Caribbean (ABC) Colleagues Aligned as Resources for Engagement and Support (CARES) Group. He looks forward to LVHN’s continued efforts and commitments towards promoting DEI and as a result, realizing its full potential as an organization. When we know each other, we value each other, and our patients benefit as a result. 

I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to whom would be considered lower class Black parents during the Civil Rights Movement. Despite meager resources, my parents successfully navigated my brothers and me through an average primary and secondary school system in Long Island. I earned an Ivy League undergraduate degree in Harlem and successfully matriculated through medical school and residency in Brooklyn. As it turns out, none of that part of my journey through life adequately informed me about American history. Despite my New York City education, the only part of American history I learned, as it pertained to Black history, started during the enslavement. I dedicated much of my free time over the past 10 years to learning about Black American history and have come to believe Black History Month should be a time when more people than usual should appreciate that African Americans are more than just sources of cheap or free labor. We are whole people, with dimension, with intellect, with hopes and aspirations for ourselves and for our families, and with capabilities on par or exceeding those of the greatest of us.

Inspiration to celebrate Black History Month

Black History Month is an opportunity to remind everyone, especially people of color, that our history started long before those hundreds of years of “legal” human trafficking that have become known as “Chattel Slavery,” that the ancestors whose origins began on the continent of Africa were descendent from humans that created the first great civilizations. Realizations like these give credence and attention to simple facts like, long before Hippocrates gained notoriety as the Father of Medicine, descendants of Kemet people had already been studying the healing arts that improved and sustained human health for millennia. Such understandings of history inspire the children of people of color to see themselves as possibly being subsequent purveyors of those efforts to similarly benefit and sustain the health and well-being of mankind. 

“In the spirit of Sankofa, we should all use Black History Month as a yearly springboard, a reminder that although we celebrate it in February in the U.S., there is no U.S. history without Black history.”

Culture influencing resiliency

While no one questions the veracity of the assertion that hard work builds character, the same can be said for how struggles in life can augment and promote resilience. Adversity continues to plague people of color in every area of activity, and has always been intolerable, but despite the fact that the choices have been to either tolerate it or to succumb to the consequences of not tolerating it, resiliency has been a common respite which often leads to what some may come to recognize as super powers. Not only do I often call on those powers when I think about the example of my now-deceased parents, I also call on them when I encounter those adversities even today. Being raised lower middle class, there was no clear path to my current occupation as a physician without the unsolicited promptings of my mother, who suggested that I become one when I had absolutely no designs on that occupation choice at 14 years old, and of my father, whose unfailing support despite minimal resources easily carried me through the process and beyond. There have been no shortage of challenges because of my ethnicity alone to this very day, and I gladly pass my powers on to my offspring and other willing acquaintances of color as they continue to navigate through a world plagued with distorted histories that often paint disrespectful pictures that promote hate. Although success is always the goal, a constant recollection of my path to that goal keeps me grounded and continues to fuel a desire to help others to realize and to utilize those same and similar skills to attain their own dreams and aspirations. This Sankofa Principal is and has been a very powerful African concept that reminds those who heed it to consider their personal undistorted histories as they navigate their futures.

Advice for fellow colleagues about celebrating Black History Month

In the spirit of Sankofa, we should all use Black History Month as a yearly springboard, a reminder that although we celebrate it in February in the U.S., there is no U.S. history without Black history. Being one and the same, consider that the self-proclaimed exceptionalism and the wealth and status of the U.S. came largely at the cost of the blood, sweat, tears and lives of humans who were forced to work for free by celebrated industrialists credited with greatness despite their immoral tactics and dealings. I would encourage us to be intentional about educating ourselves in our respective fields within LVHN, but also about the true history of the U.S. as it relates to health care. Lastly, note that the silver lining in the book-burning cloud that currently hovers over the U.S. unwittingly highlights those books that challenge the incomplete, skewed history of the United States. These books can be used to fill in the gaps.

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