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From the Earth (a special Black History 2.5-for-1 note) February 11, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

“You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car! Everybody gets a car! Everybody gets a car! Everybody gets a car!…. You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!”

– Oprah Winfrey on The Oprah Winfrey Show, original airdate: September 13, 2004

This is the “missing” Black History note for Wednesday, February 8th. It’s later than usual, because I got misled, bamboozled, tricked – tricked, I say – into believing something that doesn’t appear to be true. The thing is, it would have been really cool if it had been true and here’s why: When The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered on September 8, 1986, Oprah Winfrey became the first African American to host a nationally syndicated daytime talk show. She was following in the footsteps of Della Reese, Pearl Bailey, and Barbara McNair – whose talk shows were not aired nationally and did not last nearly as long as Oprah’s 25 seasons – and her show was one of the most popular, most watched, and most awarded daytime talk show in television history. Whether you are (or were) a fan or not, there’s no denying that Oprah and The Oprah Winfrey Show changed the way people interact and interrelate. It would also be hard to dispute the fact that the show (and it’s spin-offs) created more opportunities for people to have real encounters and true meetings, like the ones Martin Buber described, rather than purely transactional interactions. Since one of the most popular segments on the show was “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” I thought it  would be cool to explain that one of my favorite things is having Ich-und-Du moments and then I could do my best Oprah impersonation.

At this point, you might be wondering why in the world I would even make such a random connection. Well, you see, as I mentioned before, I got misled, bamboozled, tricked – tricked, I say – into believing the show premiered on a certain day in February (which, clearly, it did not) and I got excited about the tie-in before I did my due diligence and fact checked the fact checker. That’s what I do, and what I encourage others to day: check, double check, and cross check – which is why I use 5 to 8 translations when I’m doing my sūtra studies. Normally, I do my cross-checks before I put pen to paper or fingers to keys. But, I was running late as I got ready for Wednesday practices, and left my fact checking to the last minute.

Double checking the facts (as you know them) doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, it just means that you are practicing that dedication to the truth – and the truth was very important to two women born on February 8th in two different eras.

Yoga Sūtra 2.36: satyapratişţhāyām kriyāphalāśrayatvam

– “When a yogi is established in truthfulness, actions begin to bear fruit. [Truth is the foundation for fruitful action.]”

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: When and where (and under what circumstances) a person is born matters. Those factors play a part in what opportunities a person has, how hard or easy it is to take advantage of those opportunities, how a person envisions their goals and desires, and who supports them – or gets in their way – as they make their dreams come true. Many people born in the last few decades have had the advantage of the times, what with the internet and other technology giving people access to information and experiences they may not have been able to imagine in an earlier era. If those same people were born in certain countries and grew up in certain socioeconomic circumstances, they also may have had the advantages of location. On the flip side, someone born in the next few years – especially in certain parts of the world, including the United States – may find their access to knowledge is limited and therefore their opportunities are limited. That’s a theoretical scenario, based on current events. What is not theoretical, however, is that that exact scenario has played out several times throughout the history of the United States. It was definitely at play when Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (née Davis) was born on February 8, 1831.

So, how on Earth did she become the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States back in 1864?

Dr. Crumpler, herself, said that a lot of it came down to timing and location.

“It may be well to state here that, having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylvania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others. Later in life I devoted my time, when best I could, to nursing as a business, serving under different doctors for a period of eight years (from 1852 to 1860); most of the time at my adopted home in Charlestown, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.”

– quoted from the Introduction to A Book of Medical Discourses, In Two Parts by Rebecca Crumpler, M. D.

As far as I can tell, Rebecca Davis was born a freewoman in Christiana, Delaware. I am unclear about the status of her parents, Matilda Webber and Absolum Davis, but I do know that Delaware was still a slave state when the future doctor was born and that, for some reason, her parents sent her to live with an aunt in Pennsylvania. Again, I don’t know why she was sent to Pennsylvania at a very young age, but it could have had something to do with the fact that Pennsylvania had abolished slavery in 1780 and the family had the means to send their daughter away. (There is another, slightly scandalous, possibility for why she was sent away, but I haven’t been able to cross check certain court records.) The aunt’s primary occupation was caring for the sick and young Rebecca grew up learning the trade of being a caregiver.

When she was twenty, she married a formerly enslaved man from Virginia named Wyatt Lee and they moved to Charleston, Massachusetts where she started working as a nurse. Mr. Lee’s young son, from a previous marriage, died within a year of their move. This could have sharpened Rebecca Lee’s interest in medicine, especially as it related to children, and it is an event that could have contributed to her interest in medical school. Keep in mind that this was long before anyone could earn a nursing degree in the United States. This was also at a time when white medical schools typically turned Black students away and long before there were any Black medical schools. Don’t get me wrong, there had been Black physicians practicing Western medicine – like Dr. James Durham (or Derham), who was enslaved in Louisiana and learned the medical arts from his slave owners; however, the first African American M. D. and pharmacy owner in the United States, Dr. James McCune Smith, actually earned his medical degree at the University of Glasgow (Scotland, 1837). Exactly ten years later, Dr. David Jones Peck became the first African American to earn an M. D. in the US.

In the 1850’s, the different doctors with which Rebecca Lee worked might have had different expectations about the roles and responsibilities of their nurses. Yet, she distinguished herself and several doctors recommended that she go to medical school. Now, it is possible that this was just something they said and they wrote recommendation letters without actually believing she would be accepted. Remember, at the time, 1860, most medical schools were white-only and less than 1% of M.D.s in the United States were women… white women.  It is also highly probable that the suggestion was for her to go to medical school to become an even more phenomenal nurse. It is also possible that the physician(s) who recommended her had some pull with the medical school board. Whatever the case, she was accepted by the New England Female Medical College and received a tuition award from the Wade Scholarship Fund. She was the only African American student in the school.

Her husband died of tuberculosis in the Spring of 1863. Almost a year later, on February 24, 1864, having completed her coursework, written her thesis, and paid her graduation fees, she and two of her classmates faced the medical school faculty for their final, oral exams. Although, the board expressed some concern about her preparedness (to be a doctor), Rebecca Davis Lee and her two classmates were recommended to the board of trustees. On March 1, 1864, she was declared a “Doctress of Medicine.” She would be the New England Female Medical College’s first and only Black graduate. Dr. Rebecca J. Cole become the second African American woman to earn a medical degree in the U. S. when she graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867. That same year, Robert Tanner Freeman graduated from Harvard University, becoming the first African American to receive a degree in dentistry from an American university. Howard University (established in 1867), where my father earned his Ph.D., opened it’s medical school in 1868.

“Her later writings give no indication that she was aware of her status as the first black woman MD in the United States; indeed, until the later twentieth century, scholars had assigned that distinction to Rebecca Cole….”

– quoted from the profile entitled “Crumpler, Rebecca Davis Lee” in African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

In May of 1865, Dr. Rebecca Lee married Arthur Crumpler, another Virginia-born man who had escaped slavery and was determined to buy the freedom of his family members, and became Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. Records show that they had a daughter (born in 1870), but it appears she died before reaching adolescence. While Arthur Crumpler worked as a blacksmith for the Union Army, Dr. Crumpler stayed in Boston, where she continued her training and cared for (often poor) women and children. When the Civil War ended, she re-joined Mr. Crumpler in Virginia, where she not only tended to veterans, but also treated formerly enslaved people and trained them on how to care for others. A lot of what she called her “real missionary work” encouraged other African Americans to seek formal training as healthcare practitioners – even though she knew, first hand, that Black physicians and nurses were not always welcomed by others in the field. The Crumplers eventually returned to Boston, where Dr. Crumpler established her practice at 67 Joy Street. Throughout her career, she focused on preventative measures and what might be considered “alternative medicine.”  She strongly believed that people would be healthier if they had a better understanding of their bodies.

Around 1880, the Crumplers moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts and it appears that Dr. Crumpler stopped actively practicing medicine. Three years later, however, she published A Book of Medical Discourses, In Two Parts. Dedicated to mothers and nurses, the book featured notes from her years of practice and offered guidance in the care and tending of women and children. The first part of the book focused on “treating of the cause, prevention, and cure of infantile bowel complaints, from birth to the close of the teething period, or until after the fifth year.” The second part “[contained] miscellaneous information concerning the life and growth of beings; the beginning of womanhood; also, the cause, prevention, and cure of many of the most distressing complaints of women, and youth, of both sexes.” She covered everything from “How to Marry” (the first chapter) to “Artificial Nursing” (chapter nine) to “Teething made easy” (chapter seventeen) and it is one of the first medical publications authored by an African American.

While there are lots of little historical breadcrumbs related to Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler’s life, there’s very little known about what kinds of obstacles she faced. In addition to the concerns expressed by the medical school faculty after her final exam – which may been purely a concern about her abilities or could have been related to race – there are records of male doctors snubbing her, pharmacists refusing to fill her prescriptions, and some people saying that, in her case, M. D. stood for “Mule Driver.” She did not, however, let any of that stop her from healing or from helping other people heal themselves.

“Let us strive to know more about ourselves, –it is human, it is Christian-like to do so. Then there will be minds from which to select students for the college, that may come forth to the community graduates in Pharmacy, Surgery, Dentistry, and Medicine. It is well known that many noble-minded women have graced the chambers of the sick with good service, in different conditions of need, too; but at the present women appear to shrink from any responsibilities demanding patience and sacrifice, or rather seem not to rely on the union of their strength with that of our great Creator, in time of need.

What we need o-day in every community, is, not a shrinking or flagging of womanly usefulness in this field of labor, but renewed and courageous readiness to do when and whatever duty calls.”

– quoted from “Chapter XIX. General Remarks.” in A Book of Medical Discourses, In Two Parts by Rebecca Crumpler, M. D.

According to the Bhagavad Gitā (2.31), everyone has a sva-dharma (personal duty) that “should be viewed as one’s responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma.”  To answer the call would mean being the kind of person Dr. Crumpler said the world needed – “[someone not] shrinking or flagging of womanly usefulness in this field of labor, but renewed and courageous readiness to do when and whatever duty calls.” – a person like Lisa Perez Jackson, who was born February 8, 1962. Rather than a healthcare practitioner, however, she is a chemical engineer who served as Commissioner of Environmental Protection of New Jersey (2/2006 – 11/2008) and Chief of Staff to the Governor of New Jersey (12/2008). In January of 2009, President Barack Obama named her as the 12th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), making her the agency’s first African American director, a position she held until she resigned in February 2013. She currently works as the environmental director of Apple. Interestingly, some aspects of her background are similar to Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler’s background.

Like Dr. Crumpler, Ms. Jackson (née Perez) was adopted; developed her scholarly interest because of a crisis she saw around her; and accomplished much while married and raising a family. In Ms. Jackson’s case, she was born in Philadelphia and then adopted at 2 weeks old (by Benjamin and Marie Perez). She was raised in Pontchartrain Park, a predominantly African American neighborhood in the 9th ward of New Orleans, Louisiana and graduated valedictorian from St. Mary’s Dominican High School, an all-girls private Catholic high school. She was a National Merit Scholar and received scholarships from National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering & Science and Shell Oil Company in order to attend Tulane University, where she graduated  summa cum laude (1983) before earning her Master of Science from Princeton University in 1986.

Knowing that she drove her mother out her flooding hometown in 2005, one might think that her interest in the environment started because of Hurricane Katrina. However, her interest actually started in the late 1970s when she, and so many others around the world, followed the coverage of the disaster that unfolded in Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York that was built on top of a landfill that leaked toxic waste. On August 7, 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared that the site posed a federal health emergency and, for the first time in U. S. history, requested emergency federal funds to clean up damage from something other than a natural disaster. Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as the Superfund Act, which would be administered by the EPA. But the damage was already done: a disproportionate number of residents were dead, dying, and/or living with birth defects.

“After a startling increase in [cancer,] skin rashes, miscarriages and birth defects, President Carter declared a State of Emergency over the site. [Eckardt C. Beck, an EPA scientist] warned that the ironically named Love Canal was far from an isolated case and there were probably hundreds of similar ‘“ticking time bombs”’ all over the USA. State health commissioner David Axelrod[*] presciently described the event as a ‘“national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations.”’”

– quoted from “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” in “2 – Poisoning A Planet” of Earth Detox: How and Why We Must Clean Up Our Planet by Julian Cribb

*NOTE: Dr. David Axelrod, who is quoted here, is not to be confused with the political strategist and advisor who worked in the Obama administration.

In addition to working for Shell Oil during the summers when she was at Tulane, Lisa Perez Jackson worked for a non-profit organization that advocated for the timely cleanup of contaminated areas while she was at Princeton. So, she got to see the environmental issues from two different professional perspectives. Not long after joining the EPA’s Washington, D. C, office as an engineer in 1987, she moved to the New York office and worked on the team administering the Superfund. She met her second husband, Kenneth Jackson, towards the beginning of her 16-year tenure at the New York office of the EPA  and they had two children within the first four years of their marriage.

Lisa P. Jackson had enough experience to know that when she became the first African American to head up the EPA she was going to be in sticky, icky, controversial situations. She had to know that one side of the aisle would almost always say the agency was overreaching and moving too fast, while the other side would simultaneously say that the agency was moving too slow and not reaching/doing enough. However, she had no way of knowing that an oil rig (Deepwater Horizon) would explode in the Gulf of Mexico, mere meters from her childhood hometown, a little over a year after her appointment. She had no way of knowing the disaster would lead directly to the House of Representatives passing a bill to cut the EPA’s funding or that she would be called to testify in Congressional hearings at least seven times in one month. Nor did she have any way of knowing that, before she stepped down (in 2013), she would be accused of mishandling private emails. All she knew, back in 2009, was that she was determined to make a difference – and make a difference she did.

Under her leadership, the EPA developed stricter fuel efficiency standards; recognized carbon dioxide and and five other gases as greenhouse emissions that create public health threats; and proposed limits on the amount of mercury, arsenic, nickel, and other toxic by-products power plants could routinely release into the environment. To this day, she especially works to make a difference in the lives of those disproportionately affected by environmental issues – those who, it turns out, are often found in the same groups that Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was serving back in the 1800s: poor people, minorities, veterans, women, and children.

“The first girls to attend [the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy] were previously at the city’s lowest-ranked middle school. This year the school’s eighth graders earned one of the highest scores of all public schools in Atlanta on a state exam.

They’re Jackson’s sweet spot, these kids. African-American girls, who, like her, may have faced obstacles but are full of promise. ‘Listen,’ she says, ‘if these young women don’t grow up strong and talented and committed to our environment, then our country’s gonna suffer, not just them.’

Her speech hits home: ‘You have a right to clean air and clean water,’ she tells the girls, touching on one of her core initiatives, environmental justice—that is, to give a voice to the people, usually poor minorities, who are most severely affected by environmental hazards and calamities. ‘You have a right to have a healthy school to learn in.’ But such heady rights come with responsibility. The girls must be willing to do their part, she tells them—to blow past the wheezing stereotypes that only young men wearing pocket protectors are good at math and science, and that black women don’t set policy or lead. ‘You will bring clean air to your community,’ she tells them. ‘Which you can’t do if you don’t have the education.’”

– quoted from the O, The Oprah Magazine (June 2011) article “Clean Power: Lisa Jackson Fights for Our Right to Healthy Air, Water and Land: Somebody has to do it. We’re lucky it’s her.” by Lisa Depaulo

PRACTICE NOTES: Similar to a practice I would lead on Earth Day, this sequence would be grounded… but also have some groove to it. I’d probably lean towards a “detox flow” with a good number of seated poses and twists (if I was going to stick with a straight-forward vinyāsa practice) or a Yin/Yang fusion with something for the meridians associated with digestion. Of course, I would throw in Vṛkṣāsana (“Tree Pose”) and emphasize prāṇāyāma (extension and awareness of the breath).

“Jackson’s to-do list is ambitious, particularly given how much time she could be spending defending herself. But that’s not her style. She’d rather stay focused on the things that matter. ‘Our challenges are serious,’ she says. ‘The longer we wait to deal with our deteriorating atmosphere, the harder and more expensive it may get to address it. I am also a woman of faith, so I believe that we have a moral obligation to care for creation and future generations.

‘The conundrum is that the richer and more prosperous we become, the more we think that the environment is all taken care of,’ Jackson says. It’s simply not the case. ‘I have seen land completely ravaged by pollution. Environmental protection is not a spectator sport.’”

– quoted from the O, The Oprah Magazine (June 2011) article “Clean Power: Lisa Jackson Fights for Our Right to Healthy Air, Water and Land: Somebody has to do it. We’re lucky it’s her.” by Lisa Depaulo

### “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.” ~ Jesse Jackson ###


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