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Black History Month Spotlight: Q and A with Errol Fields

Dr. Fields

February is Black History Month — a time to honor and celebrate the lives of Black Americans and the remarkable contributions they have made throughout U.S. history. To help mark this observance, we are spotlighting Errol L. Fields, an adolescent/young adult medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the director of the Emerge Gender Diversity Clinic for Children, Adolescents and Young Adults. Fields is passionate about improving the health and lives of vulnerable and marginalized youth who are burdened by racial and socioeconomic health disparities. He shares insight about his role and why he chose this career path. Plus, he offers advice to young, Black professionals in the field, and reflects on what Black History Month means to him and how he celebrates.

Why did you get into your profession?
I grew up in a working-class Black community in rural South Carolina, where the health impact of poverty, lack of educational opportunity, political impotence, racial discrimination and poor access to health care were readily evident. I chose my career as an adolescent medicine physician scientist because it allowed me to use the tools of academic medicine — research, patient care and medical education — to improve the health and life potential of vulnerable and marginalized youth who face similar threats to their health and are burdened by racial and socioeconomic health disparities. I somehow knew this was always going to be my focus. My parents and family had instilled in me a value system that made compassion for others and public service an imperative, and growing up in that environment sensitized me to the needs of youth from minoritized groups that often go unmet.

What is your favorite part about working at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center?
I really enjoy the variety of my job and the opportunity to partner with people with my shared commitments to youth across the tripartite mission of Johns Hopkins — research, patient care and medical education.

What do you do during a typical day?
Well, there isn’t really a typical day! That’s what I love about the work that I do. Lately, my days have been packed with a few more Zoom meetings than I would like, but outside of those meetings, my day could be spent 1) seeing patients in one of three clinics — our Center for Adolescent and Young Adult Health clinic, our Emerge gender affirming care clinic or our Pediatric and Adolescent HIV/AIDS Program clinic, 2) mentoring one of my adolescent medicine fellows on their research project or meeting with my own research team, 3) writing a research grant or manuscript, 4) giving a talk on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), gender affirming care, or the impact of social and spatial epidemiology and racial discrimination on HIV disparities affecting young Black gay and bisexual men, or 5) collaborating with external colleagues on committee work with one of the professional associations I’m involved with.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
It is an opportunity to pause, remember and honor the shoulders I stand on.

Can you tell us about a Black American you admire or who you think people should learn more about?
Marlon Riggs was a filmmaker, educator, writer and gay rights activist who lived from 1957 to 1994. His films and writings examined the intersectionality of race and sexuality and celebrated the lived realities of Black gay men. To borrow from the Smithsonian’s description of his work, Marlon Riggs used “his films and writings to shift notions of shame and despair around homosexuality into acts of resistance and agency.” Indeed, one of my favorite quotes from him is, “When nobody speaks your name, or even knows it, you, knowing it, must be the first to speak it.”

What advice would you give to young Black professionals in the medical field?
You have earned your place here. Don’t let anyone tell you differently — including yourself.

Any other thoughts you would like to share in honor of Black History Month? Or any special plans to celebrate this year?
It has been a more recent phenomenon that the contributions of Black queer people to Black history have been acknowledged and celebrated. I’m going to honor Black History Month by learning more about those people — I’m going to start by watching the film Rustin, a biographic about Bayard Rustin, a gay Black man who was an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and was the principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

This post was originally featured in JHMLINK.