Neighbors of North Philadelphia, 2022
A Narrative Medicine elective
The idea was to see the world literally and figuratively through a new lens, to begin conversations and to build trust with people living near Temple University Hospital and the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, the very people we will care for one day.
Photos and stories by medical students: Halle Nagorsky, Jessica Steindler, Zac Bides, Noah Thornton, Edgar Tello Ruiz, and Anudeeta Gautam.
Visit the exhibit at the Ginsburg Library from now until May 6th.
"Be Kind, Be Gracious"
Don Terell is a musician, artist and actor who moonlights as a barber at Blade Runnerz hair salon. He was charming and engaging, telling us about his life in the military and touring with Chubby Checker, and says he’s got a film coming with Netflix. He had two pieces of advice: “If a Black woman tells you `It hurts, I'm in pain’ -- believe her!" His other advice: Be kind. Be gracious."
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All About the Community
Daryl’s father and grandfather started Blade Runnerz. “We're a community barbershop,” he said, so proud of the many things they do, from cleaning out the abandoned lot next door to organizing a SEPTA boycott. “We feed them,” he said. “We feed their souls.” If young people don’t have money, he added, they can do “50 pushups for a haircut.” Daryl is also working on a career in music.
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Real Only World
Ro was selling sweatshirts with her own design and brand, Real Only World, out of her car parked on Broad Street. "I got my LLC and I've been hustling since then, “she said. “I’m saving up for a store front.” Asked how she came up with Real Only World, she said, “This is the life I'm living. Every day just ducking bullets. I've lost three people this year." She has three children, is LGBTQ, and wears a necklace honoring her sister, who died in a car crash on the Roosevelt Blvd in 2018.
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Church Keeps Me Grounded
"I love church,” says Drakell, 23. “It's a very instrumental part of my life. Keeps me grounded." Of his neighborhood he says, "guns, guns. It's to the point of getting crazy." He works as a security guard, lives not far from the hospital, and his daughters live in Delaware, where he’s from. We met him on his walk home.
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Brian, a high school senior, had fond memories of medical students volunteering at his elementary school, Kenderton. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he spent half of his sophomore year and all of his junior year at home with his two younger siblings. "It was odd seeing the same 16 walls," he commented. After 18 months, he was stoked to be back in school again. He felt safe since his school had mandated the vaccine. With a wide grin and glimmer in his eyes, he told us about his aspirations to study electrical engineering in college, with minors in marine biology and Japanese.
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Friendly to All
Sandra, 55, is deaf, has cochlear implants to help her hear, and is an excellent lip reader. Pearl, her pup, keeps her company during the pandemic. Sandra had been homeless prior to getting housing, and loves sitting outside and talking to all the medical students and clinicians who pass by on their way to school and work. She talked about how much support she receives in the community, from housing to food programs to medical care at Temple. Her advice to us as future doctors: be open-minded, caring to others and careful ourselves.
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Rondolyn, 28, left, was hanging out with two of her children her younger sister. She's lived in North Philadelphia her whole life, a graduate of Simon Gratz high. She says children are her inspiration to wake up every morning and go to work as a home health aide. The transition in the pandemic to virtual classroom for her children and younger siblings was incredibly hard, she said. Rondolyn's advice to us was to pay attention to the little things and to treat our patients’ bodies as we would want our own to be treated. She also encouraged us not to make assumptions when talking to patients and really listen.
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Holding on to Peace
James, 35, had been incarcerated and released a few months earlier. He used his time in jail to focus on his relationship with God. He spoke a lot about his peace and how he's hoping to hold onto it. He said he believes that God puts each person in every situation for a reason. His advice to us as future doctors was “don’t do it for the money,” and “give each person the time they deserve.”
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Just as we greeted him, Robert, 60, says he always tries to greet people warmly. His advice to us as future doctors was to greet patients sincerely and make them feel welcome. A patient who feels uncomfortable could shut down and not share important information. Robert was once homeless, had three heart surgeries related to drug use, but has devoted his life to God and says he hasn’t used drugs in 17 years. He is an Air Force veteran and when he was homeless and struggling he went to the VA for help. His happiest moments now are holding his grandson’s hand and taking him to school.
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Paul “The Punisher” is a professional boxer with a current record of 8-0, 6 wins via TKO. His passion for boxing began in school when he realized he liked fighting. Boxing was a way that he could do it without getting in trouble. He emphasized how difficult it is to be a fighter, as he goes through hell during training. Even winning his most recent bout, he got hit with a body shot that "really hurt." He was taking a little break when we met him, hanging out with his daughter.
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George is 63, and says, “63 years I've been struggling” He adds: “It ain't been a bad struggle. It ain't been a good struggle. But one thing I know, I made it to the other side.” He was reluctant to speak with us at first, as are many people we approach, but warmed up and told us all about his life. He said he spent years living on the streets and has survived 13 surgeries. He said he has six children.
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Carol lives with “my daughter, two grands, and my daughter's baby daddy." And three dogs. She's lived in the neighborhood behind the medical school for 14 years and says, "I keep to myself more or less." She's had bad diverticulitis and got surgery last summer at Temple. She also told us she’d been vaccinated.
Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org