The Disconnect
The disconnect

A Story From The Balcony: The Disconnect

The Team

The stage was set perfectly for controversy. We were given an impossible challenge where our competitive nature and need to shine in front of important people were at risk if we did not complete the task. Each of us had our own agenda and needed to be a leader. The problem was the same beliefs and actions that contributed to health inequities or disparities were cherished values, foundational beliefs of the teams–that was the culture of our group dynamic. The ground rules were quietly cast aside, despite our tense discussion and agreement on those rules on day one.

We divided into six stakeholder groups in an effort to gather information, but we never identified the problems or set clear goals. There was no shared vision, only a sense that certain members were the decision makers. Their ideas, good or bad, received attention and recognition. My ideas were not received in the same manner. I felt people heard but did not listen, because they already knew where I was coming from.

The rate of gathering information varied, resulting in decisions without an adequate understanding of the issues. This led to the right answers to the wrong questions. Our stakeholder group did not make contact with a youth group until the last moment. We did a focus group with a wonderful group of lively, non-sexually active, honor students, trained to educate their peers who were sexually active, non-honor students. {One immediately appreciates the lack of thought and evidence that go into designing these programs. Money WASTED in the name of good.} While they were not the ideal target, they offered a unique, non-stereotypical view. Given the discussion in class, I was excited to let my teammates know such Afro-American teenagers exist. This information was not given the deserved respect or attention by the team–I guess they didn’t believe.

While we were conducting the focus group, I noted an older black lady quietly sitting with her head bowed, but eyes peering carefully at us, making sure no harm came to her teenagers. In engaging her, I realized she could provide a wealth of information, and she did. Her alias is Ruby. We had a great conversation about her community, STDs, and the healthcare delivery system in her community. Her suggested solutions were brilliant in their simplicity; however, the class rejected this information. She was over 50–how could she possibly know what teens are up to working in a teen center?

My teammates did not believe that a black woman – a parent, a grandmother, living and working in the target community – is reliable or resourceful. Her story was not what they expected. I was even accused of falsifying data by one of my teammates while the professors watched on. {Also her truth did not align with the DATA.}

The real problem was time; to my teammates, this woman’s story shattered theirs, believing her meant re-thinking our solutions: Chlamdyia bracelets, T-shirts bragging, “I am Chlamdyia free”, and Readers Digest. On that day, I felt the class had gone too far in disrespecting Ruby, the target community, and me.

The Disconnected
The Disconnected

The Disconnect

Here on the balcony, it was inevitable. It was inevitable that my outrage would lead to lack of understanding and the inability to communicate my concerns clearly. My classmates had a task and the clock was ticking, but for me, this was not just a project. I desired deeply to correct some of the misconceptions about Afro-Americans, and to share with the class how well intentioned programs can be just as harmful as doing nothing. This was “the disconnect” between my classmates and I.

The Chlamydia articles left me with many unanswered questions. The interchangeable use of cases and rates per 100,000 was very confusing. I got the impression that over 95% of Afro-American teenagers and young adults were infected. It was difficult to find the actual percentage. These articles seemed to imply that black teenagers’ early and frequent sexual encounters were the root cause of the problem. Yet Prof. XYZ articles implied that this racial disparity in Chlamydia infection rates was symptomatic of the various forms of discrimination: systemic, internalized, interpersonal, and structural. Here was the sine qua non of the problem; our opportunity to dig deep and understand the problem from another perspective. Instead, however, we glossed over it, creating a huge disconnect. We identified the problem as adaptive but thought only of technical solutions.

As the story continues…

A Story From The Balcony Introduction Part 1

A Story From The Balcony: Group Dynamics  Part 3

The Disconnect limits views and creates myths...
The Disconnect limits views, creates myths…and is harsh.