Choosing to take a picture in front of the slave quarters was the way these medical students illustrated their “ancestral resiliency.”
Fifteen Black Tulane University medical students posted a powerful picture of them standing tall in front of the slave quarters of a Louisiana plantation. The image has captured the attention of the internet and is sending out a moving message. "We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams," R.J Ledet, the brain behind the image wrote on Twitter. He went on to explain, "In the background, an original slave quarter. In the foreground, original descendants of slaves and medical students." The tweet has been liked more than 19k times and retweeted more than 4.5k times.
We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.✨— R.J. Ledet, Ph.D. #MentalHealth4DaHood (@drrussellledet) December 14, 2019
In the background, an original slave quarter.
In the foreground, original descendants of slaves and medical students. #whatatimetobealive #yeahwecandoboth pic.twitter.com/INOUMmc1cx
Sydney Labat who is one of the 15 doctors explained that the Whitney Plantation is a museum in Wallace, Louisiana, which focuses on sharing the histories of enslaved African Americans instead of the wealthy families who owned them. Choosing to take a picture in front of the slave quarters was their way of illustrating their “ancestral resiliency.” Speaking to Good Morning America, Labat said, "I think I speak for myself and my classmates that it was an extremely humbling experience, to say the least. We would not be here without the strength and determination of those enslaved and their strength to live and to press on."
Standing in front of the slave quarters of our ancestors, at The Whitney Plantation, with my medical school classmates. We are truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams ✨✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/d8E1g2Ojbm— Syd✨ (@_botttt) December 14, 2019
They all wore jackets from the white coat ceremony which stops at the waist, signifying they are medical students, Labat explained. Once they graduate, they will receive a longer white coat. "It was incredibly unifying. We all have our own stories, but we can all relate and feel the power in this space," Labat said. "Hopefully that resonated when other people saw it." The emotional impact the picture has and portrays is undeniable. "The idea of the photo was to illustrate our presence essentially, and the history behind where we are today," Ledet added.
“[I said,] ‘I think this will be iconic and a lot of people will relate to it — this idea of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve gotta go,” Ledet told PEOPLE. “For us, the struggle in medical school is real.” He went on to explain, “My 8-year-old daughter was like, ‘Dad, it means a lot to be a black doctor in America. If you think about where we started… we made it pretty far.' I was like ‘You’re right, I think more of us should see this.'” He also said that he was inspired to bring his classmates to the plantation after he visited it with his friend and eldest daughter.
He knew it would make a huge impact on not only his classmates but also those who get to witness the image. “Initially, I didn’t understand what was going on because the emotions rushed through me,” Labat stated. “I started to cry thinking about [how] these people, who we’re descendants of, had the harshest life and the harshest conditions and wanted nothing but better for themselves and better for their children.” He continued, “I am grateful that they were resilient because that allows me to be resilient and that allows me to be in this position that I am today. It was really overwhelming. I hope that I make them proud even in the smallest ways by living out my dream and being able to exercise my freedoms. A lot of us felt that way.”
This was also where these 15 students came together to establish the 15 White Coats. As per their website, "We are a group of medical students who have recognized that we have a responsibility to affect change. We are not just photos that have gone viral. We are devoted, insightful, determined leaders who are committing to reimagining what children from our communities see. We want them to know they are brilliant, talented, have worth, loved, and there is a future for them. The 15 White Coats emerged out of a pursuit to inspire and support the community, and a desire for actions to speak louder than words."