In the spirit of the upcoming Martin Luther King Day, I thought it might be appropriate to offer a reflection on injustice and conviction.
Jim is an old college friend of mine – we’re the same age, and he has a son just two weeks older than my girls. Jim was a teacher in Austin, Texas for a decade. Then in the midst of the Great Recession, the Texas Governor and Legislature decided education funding was not a high priority, and consequently budgets were slashed. In early 2011, the Austin Independent School District declared “financial exigency” which allowed the district to lay off employees even if they were under contract. So hundreds of teachers – including my friend Jim – were laid off late last spring.
Suddenly, Jim was unemployed and uninsured – just as too many Americans have found themselves.
Then in October, Jim was out with friends when suddenly he couldn’t walk.
He was taken to the Emergency Room and found to have a large brain tumor – an aggressive astrocytoma. It had not just been the stress of being unemployed and uninsured that had been causing his headaches. Only a portion of the tumor could be removed. Jim was discharged from the hospital into hospice care in early November.
Despite all the injustice of the economy and politics that set the stage for his lost teaching position, despite his terminal diagnosis, and his worry about holding onto his home and paying the enormous hospital bills, when I saw him just before New Year’s, Jim spoke with conviction about turning his experience into something positive.
He has a Masters degree in film from Boston University, and he’d filmed and collected other materials for a documentary about his experience - the intersection of politics, economics, education, and health care in 2011 America. He is now trying to find someone to help him pull the pieces together and finish it. He does not have the physical ability - and may not have the time - to do it alone.
Although I’ve worked in health advocacy ever since I lost two of my patients in 2006 because they lacked affordable access to care, as I reflect on the burden Jim and his family bear, I am given a little extra focus – a little extra conviction to fight injustice.
In the health reform debate, we’ve heard an earful from a lot of directions. But we haven’t heard much from doctors and other health professionals – people who actually work in the system everyday, who understand many of the problems and recognize solutions.
So I will make sure my voice is heard.
I believe as a health care professional, I have a duty to try and help shape a health care system that works better for my patients and for all Americans. In Doctors for America, I have been lucky to find a national movement of other doctors and medical students who believe this too and who want to part of the solution.
On Martin Luther King Day, Doctors for America will launch an unprecedented nationwide campaign to speak the truth - to engage, educate, and empower Americans across the nation to work together and help shape a health care system that works better for everyone.
I have decided to dedicate my work on this campaign to my friend Jim. I hope all of you who read this think about someone you know – someone who has demonstrated their conviction in the face of injustice - and dedicate your voice and your brilliant work to them in the coming year.
I’ll end with this passage - often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most.
We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us.
And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
- Marianne Williamson
If you would like to donate financially to help Jim and his family, you can find information about how to do so by Paypal or mail by clicking here.