Day 2 of my challenge, I have chosen to write about Jocelyn Elders. Confirmed as the sixteenth surgeon general of the United States on September 7, 1993, Jocelyn Elders is the first African American and the second female to head the U.S. Public Health Service. During her fifteen months as surgeon general, Elders added tobacco use, national health care, and drug and alcohol abuse to her list of major concerns.
Jocelyn Elders was born Minnie Jones on August 13, 1933, in the farming community of Schaal, Arkansas. She took the name Jocelyn in college. Living in a poor, segregated (separated based on race) area, she and her seven siblings worked in the cotton fields and attended an all-black school thirteen miles from home. Home itself was a three-room cabin that lacked an indoor toilet and electricity.
One of Elders's earliest memories was of being taught to read by her mother, who had an eighth grade education, which was quite remarkable for an African American woman at that time. By the time Elders neared graduation from high school, she had earned a scholarship to the all-black Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. Initially college looked doubtful for Elders because her father did not want to let her go. However, her grandmother persuaded Elders's father to let her attend. Elders's family picked extra cotton to earn the $3.43 for her bus fare to Little Rock, and she became the first in her family to attend college.
At school, Elders was especially interested in the study of biology and chemistry and wanted to become a lab technician. Her goal changed when she heard a speech by Edith Irby Jones (1927–), the first African American to study at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine. Elders, who had not even met a doctor until she was sixteen, realized that she wanted to be a physician. After graduating from college, she joined the U.S. Army's Women's Medical Specialist Corps. In 1956 she entered the Arkansas Medical School on the G.I. Bill, which provided financial aid for schooling to former members of the armed forces. During this time she met her second husband, Oliver Elders, and they married in 1960.
After studying pediatrics (an area of medicine involving the care of children) at the University of Minnesota, Elders returned to Little Rock in 1961 for her residency, or medical training period. Over the next twenty years, she combined a successful office practice with research in pediatric endocrinology, the study of glands. She became an expert in growth problems and juvenile diabetes.
It was this branch of science that led her to study sexual behavior. Recognizing that diabetic females face a health risk if they become pregnant too young, Elders saw the urgent need to talk about the dangers of pregnancy with her patients and to distribute contraceptives in order to limit those dangers.
It was Elders' study of sexual behavior and the fact that she did not shy away from politically sensitive subjects such as: teen sexuality, abortion and legalization of drugs - that eventually ended her career.
n 1994, she became a lightning rod for criticism after she said schools should consider teaching masturbation to students as a means to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. The Clinton appointee was forced to resign from her position after 15 months in office.
"We have a multiheaded dragon in our midst that for too long has been waging a domestic war on our young, our poor, our elderly, and our underserved. The faces of this dragon sometimes manifest themselves as poverty, the source of the most pervasive health problem we have in America. Sometimes they manifest themselves as diseases such as AIDS, sometimes as violence, and sometimes of racism, sexism, and classism. For too long our “isms” have pushed our young, our poor, and our minorities to the back of the social justice bus. I think it is time for us to ask the question “Do we feel that every American should have a right to health care?” In our society, we feel that every criminal has a right to a lawyer. Shouldn’t we feel that every sick person has right to a doctor?" - Jocelyn Elders
“Health is more than the absence of disease. Health is about jobs and employment, education, the environment, and all of those things that go into making us healthy.” - Jocelyn Elders