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Checking the Family History: From the Darkness to the Light

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

The 1619 Project recognizes a past not typically acknowledged

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on August 26, 2021)

Author: Dr. RL Booker

Editor: Sara Bishop

The 1619 Project recognizes a past not typically acknowledged

As a 28-year-old man, I was undoubtedly in the best physical condition of my life. I was exercising 5 times per week, doing about 200-400 daily push-ups, and utilizing my high-flying skills to dunk the basketball when I played throughout the week. Being active was a part of my very being. I vividly remember the weekly challenges that my fraternity brothers and I would enact to see who was in the best peak condition. One challenge that I was given was to do 100 straight push-ups. I made it to 80 with little resistance, but the last 20 was all mental and was without a doubt the most intense burn that I have ever felt in my arms, chest, and shoulders. These challenges continued to reinforce the idea that the more you exercise, the healthier you were and the healthier you would always be. While I do believe that exercise has its place, there were other variables that would hit me harder than I ever could imagine.

While doing a typical workout in the gym, I started to feel a sharp pain in my lower back that just didn’t feel right. For weeks, I continued to push through the uncomfortableness of the pain. Eventually, I had no other choice but to visit my medical doctor. After a few tests and examinations, my doctor found that my blood pressure was 155/97, which was very high for anyone, let alone a person in their late twenties. After a few more months of testing and a painful biopsy, I was informed that I would have to take high blood pressure medicine for the rest of my life.

The news devastated me. Facing it was difficult. It seemed to flip my entire world upside down. How, after all, could I, the athlete and high-flyer, have high blood pressure? As I talked with my mother, I began to see accounts of high blood pressure in my family’s medical history, dating back to my great-grandparents.

My sister later talked with my father and found out that high blood pressure was common and extensive on that side of our family as well. So, here I was an almost 30-year-old man and for the first time, I am having conversations about my family’s shared medical history. No one in my family ever talked about these truths. Had I known this history sooner, I would have had the opportunity to adjust some parts of my life habits accordingly. Once I was informed of and took the time to understand my family’s shared medical history, it was like a light that started to guide me out of the darkness. Like my family, America also has some untold shared history. My experiences about the benefits and consequences of going from the dark to the light is precisely what the 1619 Project is about for America.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

The author of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones stated that the 1619 Project is not a history, rather, it makes the "argument that almost nothing across modern American life was left untouched by that decision in 1619...that even things that we think have nothing to do with racism, that we think have nothing to do with slavery can actually be traced back to either the political, social, cultural, or legal norms that began to get established” when the first enslaved peoples were purchased. The project highlights how food, traffic, health, culture, music, myths about racial differences, capitalism, the prison system, the wealth gap, and how power was distributed are all connected to the system of chattel slavery in America.

For example, many of the tools and surgical techniques in modern gynecology were perfected by physician J. Marion Sims via unethical and painful operations that he conducted on enslaved black women without anesthesia between 1845 and 1849. While some doctors during that time period chose not to use anesthesia because they did not trust it, it has been well documented that Sims did not use it because he believed that Black people did not feel pain. All of us have family stories that no one wants to talk about. Whether it's the silence about alcoholism or mental illness that has spanned generations in our family, we must learn to have conversations about our shared history so that everyone is brought out of the dark into the light. For all the controversy surrounding the 1619 project, at the end of the day, this does not mean that we love our family any less or that we won't fight for our family, rather, this is just about airing our family grievances so that we can heal and move forward.



History. (2017, August 29). The ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Enslaved Women.

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