When Black Psychiatrists Reach Out to Teens of Color

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As midday approached on that recent Tuesday, Dr. Stallworth told the team about her exam with a Black middle-schooler with A.D.H.D. In the spring he had been bullied at school by gangs. This fall he changed schools, and now, Dr. Stallworth said, he reported being happy — playing football, making friends, and, according to his mother, coming home and doing his homework.

“He smiled, which was the first time I’ve seen him do that,” Dr. Stallworth said. “There was a pleasant little kid in there today. I saw it. That was so cool.”

Dr. Lewis spoke up. “I know you’ve had a lot of tough cases, Dr. Stallworth,” he said. “I want you to remember this.”

All of the doctors on the clinic team have faced racism. Dr. Lewis grew up in an upper-middle-class family in Parkland, Fla., among few Black peers, with white friends who called him “Oreo,” he said: “Black on the outside, white on the inside, not really Black.” In his high-school band, it was a tradition for the underclassman to give each graduating senior a gift. Dr. Lewis was given a watermelon, “because that’s what Black people eat,” he recalled.

Dr. Vinson described an encounter on her first job, at a major hospital in Atlanta, when an older, white social worker told her in a meeting that he “felt unsafe” with her, she said.

“I was like, ‘I’m a five-foot-two woman who has never raised my voice with you, never used inappropriate language, certainly never threatened you,’” Dr. Vinson said she responded. “‘You feel unsafe with me — it’s essentially calling me the angry Black women.’”

The fourth member of the team, Dr. Joshua Omade, grew up in a middle-class household in Bowie, Md.; he played rugby and football in high school and was big for his age. Once, at the mall, he was stopped by a police officer who demanded to know, “Why are you here?” he recalled. He was waiting for his mother to finish shopping.

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