This spring, Covenant House New Orleans hosted representatives from The 15 White Coats, a nonprofit organization founded by Black students at Tulane University School of Medicine, whose members seek to celebrate their African American heritage and inspire the next generation of physicians.
The event was led by pre-medical student Brian Washington (operations manager) and fourth-year medical student Russell Ledet, PhD (president and manager). Ms. Jane, Covenant House New Orleans’ director of educational and vocational development, said the visit from The 15 White Coats “made a huge impact on our youth.”
According to their website, “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.” As put by Dr. Ledet, their goal is to “impact children now, adolescents now, and young adults now, so that they can dream in the future.”
During their visit, Dr. Ledet encouraged the youth to tap into their superpowers. The conversation surrounded the question, “What do you need to do to achieve success?” Before answering this, the youth wrestled with creating their own definitions of success.
Each young person shared their questions and inspirations with Brian and Dr. Ledet. Some of their goals included graduating high school, getting an apartment, and being self-sufficient.
This work is deeply personal for Dr. Ledet, who, as a young person, believed there were only certain things he was “allowed” to do. While in college, he worked as a security guard at a hospital where he completed rotations for his medical degree. He feels he has a kind of bond with the youth at Covenant House. “I can talk to them in a way that not everyone can. Connecting with them is easy,” he noted. “We have something in common.”
Ms. Jane stressed how relatable Brian and Dr. Ledet were for the youth. She believed that the residents “saw themselves in [them].” After the event, one youth said that he had no idea that someone like Dr. Ledet and Brian would come to speak with them.
Community engagement is critical for The 15 White Coats. Dr. Ledet said that for our young people, “Having access to Covenant House and having authentic conversations about how they are approaching life is so meaningful.”
One takeaway from the event is that exposure matters. As roughly 80% of our Covenant House New Orleans residents are Black and fewer than 5% of active physicians are Black, connecting with The 15 White Coats can empower youth to reimagine their career possibilities. Simply seeing and interacting with Black medical students can help young people visualize themselves in these roles and to believe in their own capabilities.
T-shirts handed out at the event were imprinted with The 15 White Coats motto: “Resilience is in Our DNA.”
Covenant House residents are testaments to this extraordinary resilience. We look forward to hosting more motivational activities in the future that will continue to uplift our young people and their aspirations.
Visit www.the15whitecoats.org to learn more, and keep an eye out for their new children’s book coming out this October.
This blog post was written by Covenant House New Orleans intern, Aysha Gibson. Originally from New Orleans, Aysha is a senior at the University of Notre Dame, studying Neuroscience and History.
A Postscript from Covenant House Alumnus Dr. Anthony Sutton:
When Dr. Anthony Sutton, a Covenant House alumnus, learned that The 15 White Coats of Tulane University School of Medicine had visited current residents at Covenant House New Orleans, he was delighted. “I’m overjoyed to see what The 15 White Coats are doing to lift youth at Covenant House,” he said.
Dr. Sutton, who became unhoused at age 17 and found his way to Covenant House in Houston, Texas, is today the director and founder of MDI Prep. His organization helps young people from underserved communities enter the medical profession, and, so far, has helped 476 students — 85% of them African American or Hispanic — matriculate into medical and dental school.
“Growing up,” Dr. Sutton said, “I always thought becoming a doctor was some unattainable goal. I was the first in my family to graduate from medical school. And I have heard so many amazing stories from my former students, who are now practicing physicians. Some of them were homeless; some grew up in homes with parents on drugs; some were first-generation high school graduates.”
Dr. Sutton understands that having professional role models is so important to young people working out their futures. Like The 15 White Coats, he is determined to offer that inspiration and encouragement. “There have been people and organizations that have lifted me throughout my career,’ he said, “and it would be neglectful on my part not to do the same.”
As a young person, he noted, “I would have loved to have met and possibly to have been mentored by a doctor. For young people to see the hope and dreams of what they can be is commendable. I salute The 15 White Coats and Covenant House for helping to narrow the diversity gap,” particularly when it comes to the medical profession.
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