A group of Black students from Tulane University’s School of Medicine broke the internet when they clicked a photo in white coats at Whitney Plantation.
Black people in the United States have been facing challenges that their white counterparts might have not even imagined. Systemic racism in white America affects every single part of a black individual's life - from maternal mortality rates to education or career opportunities. Therefore, when a group of black medical students from Tulane University’s School of Medicine took a photo on a former slave plantation in their white coats, no one was really surprised that the powerful image quickly went viral. In an interview with PEOPLE Magazine, two of the students revealed how incredibly moving the experience was for them.
Dr. Russell Ledet, who recently completed his Ph.D. and MBA, and is currently working towards earning his MD, came up with the idea when he visited the former slave quarters at Whitney Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana with his friend and eight-year-old daughter. He explained, "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.'" So he decided to gather his fellow medical students and take the now-viral photograph with them.
@CNN @NPR @GMA @PEOPLE @ABC now comes the real work. We want to put framed copies of this photo in 100K classrooms nationwide. How do we get this effort started because if we aren’t inspiring these babies that are coming behind us, it’s all just a stunt.#TheBabiesFirst pic.twitter.com/JGULZ9rrfu— Syd✨ (@_botttt) December 18, 2019
Ledet stated that the photo would represent "this connection between America’s past and America’s present" as well as promote unity and inclusion between his classmates as they pursue a career path that he claims lacks racial and cultural diversity. "[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," he shared. "For us, the struggle in medical school is real." The rest of the group agreed and headed to Whitney Plantation on Saturday. When they reached their destination, each student had a different but powerful experience taking it all in.
For Ledet's classmate Sydney Labat, the experience was incredibly moving. She revealed, "Initially, I didn’t understand what was going on because the emotions rushed through me. I started to cry thinking about [how] these people who were descendants of had the harshest life and the harshest conditions and wanted nothing but better for themselves and better for their children... 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."
The medical student continued, "I kinda imagined this ancestral conversation where our ancestors looked down on us from heaven and said, ‘Look at our babies, they doing so well. I hope they’re happy, I’m so glad they came to see us.’ That kinda stuck with me... We literally are what no one thought we could ever be." The photo has now become symbolic of the Black struggle in America. Both Ledet and Labat envision that the photo will become an essential part of the narrative of racism in the United States. "I’ve told a number of my classmates that I think we did something right and 50 years from now, people will still talk about this image," Ledet said. "No matter how you feel about it, it’s a visceral reaction to ‘Here is what our country essentially started with and here’s how far we come.' There’s a time gap in between where we’re standing and the house behind us that’s undeniable, that you have to recognize. There is a time gap that is literally filled by [the] landscape."
The iconic image is a picturization of the resilience they have inherited from their ancestors. Ledet stated, "The hope of the image is that people understand we’re trying. No matter what the system was initially set up for, we’re trying to go against that grain. There are still systemic issues that prevent [the] full flourishing of all people in America." He proudly concluded, "It’s an illustration of our ancestral resiliency. We could’ve just failed and said, ‘We don’t have it in us,’ but we’re here. We’re gonna all be MDs and we gonna all be MDs in our brown skin." Now that's what you call perseverance.