“15 White Coats” encourage students

“15 White Coats” encourage InspireNOLA student leaders to be resilient
Posted on 01/24/2020

NEW ORLEANS [January 24, 2020] — About 60 InspireNOLA student ambassador leaders from Edna Karr, Eleanor McMain, and McDonogh 35 were surprised by special guests on January 22.

The students had just arrived at the legendary Dooky Chase restaurant after spending the morning touring Whitney Plantation, when they were greeted by three of the “15 White Coats.”

Russell Ledet, Sydney Labat, and Rachel Turner are three of the fifteen Tulane medical students who recently skyrocketed into the national spotlight when a photo of them standing in front of the slave quarters at Whitney Plantation while wearing their white medical coats went viral.

Labat had posted the photo on Instagram saying, “As physicians in training, we stood on the steps of what was once slave quarters for our ancestors. This was such a powerful experience, and it honestly brought me to tears. For black people pursuing a career in medicine, keep going. For our entire community, keep striving. Resilience is in our DNA.”

It was this message of resilience, perseverance, and self-belief that these second-year MD students shared with the InspireNOLA scholars, who just had the opportunity to experience the same impactful plantation visit.

“We had to recognize what our ancestors already did. We aren’t that far removed from the Civil Rights Movement, and we still have issues to face,” Ledet said of their visit to the plantation. “Our biggest aspiration is to make an impact. We have to make an impact because somebody did it for us.”

InspireNOLA CEO Jamar McKneely told the students that it was an important day for them and not to take what they have for granted.

“Today’s tour gave you an understanding of just how many struggles our people went through to get you to where we are now,” he told them, adding that this isn’t just “old history,” and that each generation furthers the next. “Our guests here made national news. Where their journey is now is something you can aspire to do.”

Timmolyn Sams, InspireNOLA’s Director of Community Outreach and Engagement, reminded the students that they are their ancestors’ wildest dreams.

“What you are doing is far beyond what slaves could have imagined,” said Sams.

The med students agreed, talking about how each generation builds on the ground the one before it broke.

“Our ancestors learned to crawl so the next generation could walk so the next could run,” Ledet said.

“And now our generation can fly,” Lebat added.

“So what are you going to do?” Turner asked the students.

The White Coats said they wanted to take the opportunity they’ve been given to inspire black students across the country and share their experiences and wisdom and, most importantly, to show them what they can be and do whatever they want.

Lebat said for her, it was about making sure the next generation sees themselves visually represented in a broad range of professions.

“I want a black girl to see me and know she can do it,” she said. “How can you think you can be something if you can’t see it? We need to change the narrative around what people think they can be.”

McDonogh 35 freshman Kweli Griffin-Kellup said just seeing the pre-med students was encouraging.

“The most inspiring part about today was seeing people that look exactly like I do doing what people like me are usually told that we can’t,” Griffin-Kellup said.

The three said they wanted to share their experiences and wisdom with their community so that the next generation will believe they can achieve any aspiration, if they work at it.

“We have a well of knowledge to give you, but if you don’t tip the bucket, you won’t get it,” Ledet said. “We are here to show you this is feasible. This is possible for you.”

Karr senior Ciyonte Tenner said that message resonated with her.

“Today opened my eyes to new opportunities and wanting to be successful because we are basically limited as is,” she said. “This encourages me to expose my peers to how much of an advantage they have and that they should be destined to greatness.”

One of the key things the teens wanted to know was how the med students stayed focused and determined to keep going against the odds.

Turner urged them to never give up on themselves. “You’re going to have some ups and downs. They are there to test you, to see how much you want this,” she said.

Turner also reminded the students that they are never alone. She said all 65 of the black medical students at Tulane are willing to be there as mentors or friends when needed.

“Having one person be there will make the world of difference,” she said, offering students her phone number and email address.

Lebat agreed, adding, ‘You reach out to us, someone will be there to take your hand. We have no intention of leaving your lives. We are here to stay.”

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About InspireNOLA

InspireNOLA Charter Schools operates a network of seven public charter schools in New Orleans, Louisiana. Founded in 2013, InspireNOLA is currently the highest performing open-admission charter management organization in New Orleans and is the only network with one A-graded school and two B-graded schools. InspireNOLA currently serves more than 5,000 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade.

About 15 White Coats

The 15 White Coats represents a group of Tulane medical students determined to reinforce positive imagery in schools around the world by continuing a legacy of resilience. Their cause is to enrich accessible cultural storytelling, inspiration, and mentorship to the youth of tomorrow by reimagining the imagery children see, such that what they see reflects who they are and who they can become. Learn more at https://www.the15whitecoats.org/.

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