“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
It’s a resounding message that permeates Black Women in Medicine, a documentary by activist, producer, and filmmaker Crystal Emery.
Emery, along with Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the first African-American to hold the office of Surgeon General, hosted an event on Wednesday in New York at the Yale Club to promote their joint initiative, Changing the Face of Medicine, which aims to increase the number of Black physicians in the States from four to seven percent by 2030. The event also served as a screening for Emery’s film.
Emery and Elders met during preliminary research for the documentary and share a deep and personal bond filled with admiration and respect.
“Crystal Emery is planting trees for the bright young people of the future to sit under,” Elders said, speaking on the impact she hopes the film will have.
The documentary is a testament to many firsts and captures the story of Black women in different areas of medicine. The film chronicles the experiences Black women face as they strive to compete amongst their peers, overcoming racism, classism, and sexism, and ultimately rising as pioneers in their respective fields.
Black Women in Medicine was a five-year effort that required painstaking research and numerous interviews with over 24 Black female doctors. Only 11 of the 24 interviewees made the film.
Emery asserts the film was not created to lament about the lack of diversity in the field, but to do something much more boundless.
“The film is about the celebration about the triumph of the human spirit,” she said. “It is about celebrating these courageous women who did not allow racism or sexism or economics to define their capabilities The film transcends the medical world. These are the same issues that Black women are dealing with in all fields.”
Emery, who is in her 50s, is a New Haven, Connecticut, native, and has devoted her life to storytelling. She graduated from the University of Connecticut and recently received her master’s degree in Media Studies from The New School. She says the road to filmmaking was organic. “It was an unfolding. It wasn’t a very conscious understanding. This is all I’ve ever done,” Emery stated.
One of the most remarkable aspects about Emery is her refusal to allow anything or anyone to deter her path. In 1971, she began to randomly trip and fall. After years of mounting health issues, she was officially diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 1981. Since 2002, she has been labelled paraplegic, but refutes the term.
Instead, she says she exists as a vessel to transmit art from a higher calling and won’t allow her disease to become a crutch.
“I consider myself someone who is making conscious choices about how to use the talents God has given me to uplift, rather than denigrate, our world,” she added.
VIDEO SOURCE: YouTube | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty