A Story From The Balcony: The Disconnect

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.

Author: Angela Grant

Angela Grant is a medical doctor. For 22 years, she practiced emergency medicine and internal medicine. She studied for one year at Harvard T. H Chan School Of Public Health. She writes about culture, race, and health.

9 thoughts on “A Story From The Balcony: The Disconnect

  1. Angela, as a teacher in the public education system, I know first-hand the frustration of a “team.” I tell people that it is an illusion of involvement, that the powers that be have already decided the outcome, and that what we are trying to do matters little, because the outcome has already been preordained. I’ve seen it time and time again. It all becomes a matter of appearance rather than substance.

    And that’s when those who attempt to ingratiate themselves into the system rather than actually work to find possible solutions, bring out their knives. Those who offer viable, considerate alternatives are too often victimized by the “team.”

    It’s beyond frustrating. Too often I’ve felt as though I should stop my attempts at dialog and introducing new ideas, less I become a target. A ‘trouble maker’ or ‘not a team player.’

    I only wish others were intelligent and forceful enough to push beyond these social/political boundaries.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Maybe there is a way to push through the barriers so many are afraid to engage.

    I hate the disconnect.

    1. Hi Joe,

      Your comments bring out the ludicrous nature of Higher Education being CHANGE AGENTS. After that class, I became the troublemaker of HSPH, lost all backing, mentors and sponsors–all in one shot. A month later, I fell and broke my jaw, I imagine the class had a good laugh–finally, she shut-up. {Fortunately, I heal well, externally}

      I was never more disappointed in an institution than I was at HSPH, literally, I almost withdrew and I still may. I let them kill my desire, my enthusiasm, replacing it with emptiness.

      You write GREAT poetry. Kill the Man! That poem said it all!

      Thank you for your honest and very thought-provoking comments.


  2. That was not a team. So don’t call it like that.

    “I desired deeply to correct some of the misconceptions about Afro-Americans……..” A futile task when you’re surrounded by people who need their misconceptions to keep their ego up right. Everything you say will only reinforce their beliefs!

    1. Hi Roald,

      “Everything you say will only reinforce their beliefs!” And that is exactly what happened, it was a futile task. Now I am challenged to return (incur more debt), complete my classes and get the “Harvard” degree. My reasons for wanting to be there no longer exit…that is one of my dilemmas. One of those risk/benefit issues, I have to resolve soon.

      I am glad to see you here. Funny, I felt so out of place at HSPH. They really tried to whip me into their box under the guise of CHANGE AGENT. LOL.

      Thank you for your insight.


  3. It appears that the study was not very empirical. The description sounds like the intentional shaping of the bell curve. Without a brief to define the problem, and a methodology outlining statistical discovery, the data return will be inaccurate. Why was project management overlooked in coordinating the six group? How old were the members in the group, and was there previous experience in conducting studies of this nature?

    1. Hi Kevin, very interesting pick-ups. Most were mid-20 to early 30 with 2-3 other people around my age. Many of the voices, who spoke English as a second language, gradually faded into silence — recognizing the futility and frustration of communicating their thoughts. It was a failed experiment where the professors were worried about the class, not me (or those silent ones). We are talking about the manufacturing Mecca of Change Agents who sell public leaders–Throughout the class that thought was disturbing to me, what followed was even worse.

      I was the only one who openly admitted affiliation with our target community, letting people know that most of these families also have similar values to them (I don’t think they believed me). The class was about going from Theory to Action. Now I understand why actions fail miserably in society.

      We developed a program without engaging the target community. The target community–parents and students–had no power and no say, literally.

      What I don’t know is how intentional is this process that selects for the same old ‘change agents’ or leaders or POWERFUL stakeholders?

      Kevin, it is nice to see you here, thank you for your comment.


  4. Hello Angela. If you strike a nerve, how loud and long does it toll? It isn’t control of the act, for it is pleasure. Although reason should resonate above a presumed agenda, it may fall unto a chair for someone to sit on.

    My thought of a free walk-in medical clinic…Go to there schools and where they hang out with kits. Start close to home expanding using baby steps.

Share your thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.