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John Turnipseed April 16, 2013

Posted by therealtinlizzy in future physician, North Minneapolis.
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There’s a new-ish U of M-associated building on the North Side called UROC – the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (I suppose UROC rolls off the tongue better than UROEC :)) housing “a dozen University programs committed to research and problem-solving in authentic and engaged partnership with individuals and organizations in Northside communities.” I know there was not a small amount of controversy with the U of M acquiring the building – which while somewhat haggard and run-down, used to house some neighborhood shops and a restaurant.

I think it’s understandable and even good for folks residing in a troubled and complicated community like North Minneapolis to turn a critical/suspicious eye to those in ivory towers coming in to “engage” them; I also think that connections can’t start to be made, underlying issues can’t begin to be intelligently and meaningfully addressed, without some deliberate meeting of the minds between those residing in North and those with the sorts of resources and initiative that an institution that the U of M is able to bring to the table. Sometimes those attempts at “engagement” and meaningful connecting occur in fits and starts, sometimes with some fair bit of socio-cultural clunkiness and lack of understanding, but I believe the important thing is that they get started and persevere despite the fits/starts/clunkiness.

Encouragingly, the two instances of “community engagement” initiatives at the UROC  in which I’ve participated have been spearheaded by folks from the Broadway Family Clinic, which has been a part of the North Side community since the 1970’s in addition to being part of the U of M medical system. So, rather than being a case of academics with no direct connection to the North Side community coming in to try and fix the North Side’s problems, the engagement initiatives to which I’ve been privy are being lead by those who live in, work in, and serve the North Side. (Also too, I sort of hate that term “engagement” and “initiative” in this context – it’s such a corporate-speak kind of verbiage thing, but – well, sometimes spinning language to make a thing seem more accessible and cozy is how we humans do.)

In addition to the Ladder, which seeks to mentor and connect North Side kids to the health care professions and sciences, another initiative the Broadway Family Medicine folks do at UROC is a monthly event called CHAT – Community Health and Advocacy Talks (because acronyms is also how we do!) – an opportunity for the community to hear and participate in discussion on some topic where individual and/or public health intersects with socio/cultural/economic issues.

Last week’s CHAT event presenter was John Turnipseed, director of the Fathering Center in Minneapolis.  Mr. Turnipseed’s presentation centered both on his experiences from childhood until he was 40 years old with gangs, drugs, sexual exploitation, and violence here in Minneapolis, as well as the transformation which has led him to now use his connections and experiences to provide opportunities, understanding, education, and a sense of accountability to others caught up in the same cycles of harm in which he had been trapped. Mr. Turnipseed’s presentation included the screening of a portion of a biographical film based on his life, a verbal narrative about his life experiences and subsequent work here in Minneapolis, and a question-and-answer session.



Mr. Turnipseed’s presentation was engaging and really vital in highlighting meaningful work happening not only in North Minneapolis, but other parts of Minneapolis impacted by poverty, abuse, crime, gang/drug/gun violence, exploitation and trafficking, and broken families. His presentation also really underscored for me how different folks are differently equipped based on their socio-cultural background and experience to assist and impact certain troubled populations. Mr. Turnipseed, as a former victim and then perpetrator of crime, violence and exploitation, is in a unique position to connect with and provide support and educational opportunities to those trapped in cycles of violence in ways that, for example, a physician at the Broadway Family Clinic is not similarly situated to be of assistance. However, that clinic physician is also in a unique, albeit different, position to care and provide support to those individuals and populations. Each of us, has opportunity and (I believe) responsibility to our fellow humans to be meaningfully assistive and supportive to those trapped in whatever manner of negative, abusive and violent circumstances, and that those opportunities will differ based on the respective talents, circumstances, and experiences we each possess.

An extra-credit assignment for my class included asking for reflections on how Mr. Turnipseed’s experiences relate to medicine and how such might impact or relate to our practice as future physicians (doh – awkward singular/plural pronoun-ing/verbing there). I think that’s actually a larger question/reflection that all physicians (unless I guess you’re a doc in some breezy utopia where there’s no crime – whether gang/organized/unorganized/other) would benefit from pondering and working into the fabric of their practice. Whether you’re a doc practicing in North Minneapolis where gang/random shootings occur on fairly regular basis, or a doc out in the suburban or rural areas where things perhaps seem idyllic – these are places where instances (and sometimes cycles) of crime, abuse, drugs, exploitation, etc occur as well.

All of these types of harmful occurences and behaviors are relevant to medicine in ways both obvious and subtle; in addition to the direct impact to individuals’ health and well-being of abuse, drug use and violence are the ripples such creates within homes, families, schools and communities that impacts the physical, mental and emotional health of individuals and communities. Health and wellness, or alternately – disease and un-wellness, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And while the solution for some is to simply move as far away from, and perhaps just disdain or even ignore, the occurrence of such activities and affected populations, I believe such a head-in-the-sand approach is detrimental to the health and well-being of our whole society; as with a physical body, when entire systems or appendages suffer disease, so is the entire body unwell.

A health care professional in the audience inquired of Mr. Turnipseed, in regards to those children out there who are pros at hiding the sort of physical, emotional, mental and/or sexual abuse of which he spoke: “what can we as doctors do for those kids when they come in?” Mr. Turnipseed’s answer was simply: “bedside manner.” His point, and one of my overarching take-aways from his presentation, is that notion that each of us is in a distinctly different position to be helpful and healing in a different fashion to individuals and populations trapped in cycles of negative behaviors, experiences and circumstances.

And while Mr. Turnipseed asserted that the best thing physicians and health care professionals can do directly for individuals in such circumstances and cycles is everything encompassed by “bedside manner,” I imagine he would agree that additionally helpful is having physicians and healthcare workers view such individuals and populations with compassion if not empathy, and an eye towards those individuals’ holistic health, and the health of the families and community in which they live. I also see as helpful physicians taking an active interest and role in public policy that seeks to strengthen families and support parents and children, as well as facilitating and fostering connections between organizations like Mr. Turnipseed’s and individuals served by neighborhood clinics like Broadway Family Medicine.

Mr. Turnipseed’s presentation served to expand my existing notions of restorative justice and the need not only to see but to work beyond the rigid notions of crime and punishment. His notions also reinforced my intent to be a physician who is not only compassionate and caring, who not only takes care of patients’ physical needs, but who looks beyond the walls of the clinic and hospital towards building bridges and connections with individuals and organizations providing support and care complementary to physical health care, and towards policies and systems that impact patients’ holistic health and well-being.



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