From Persistence to Patients

From Persistence to Patients

 

 

Accomplished physician proves that brains triumph over bigotry

BY KARYN BRODSKY

How would it feel to be incredibly intelligent and dedicated, yet delegitimized by peers as a young person, simply because of the color of one’s skin? Just ask Dr. Kwabena Blankson.

Dr. Blankson, lovingly referred to as “Dr. Bobo,” is now an accomplished and highly sought after Dallas pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine, but he’s had plenty of obstacles to overcome along the way. His parents came from Ghana, West Africa, and he was the first in his family born in the U.S. “I’m very proud of my parents; they’re brave and smart people,” he says. “They came to the U.S. in the late 1970s with their smarts and a suitcase.” Blankson’s mother was a physician and though already a pediatrician in Ghana, was awarded a scholarship to Columbia University in New York for American pediatric training. She arrived alone in New York City, and a year and a half later when their papers came through, Blankson’s father and five-year-old older brother arrived in the U.S. Not long after that, Dr. Blankson was born.

Upon completion of his mother’s training, the family moved to Minnesota, where she earned a master’s degree in public health and his father did his medical residency. The next move took them to Birmingham, Alabama, where Dr. Blankson spent his childhood and considers home. Along the way, he saw how hard his parents worked in spite of the discrimination they faced as immigrant doctors.

Blankson says growing up in Alabama in the 1980s was “interesting.” The weather was kinder than frigid Minnesota, and they had family friends who lived nearby. Race relations, however, made Alabama challenging. Dr. Blankson and his brother faced many difficulties growing up in one of the only black families in the neighborhood, including living in the only house vandalized every Halloween. Their neighborhood lacked good public schools, so his parents paid for private school across town. Blankson and his brother were some of the only black students in the school. “I still remember how we felt when my older brother got into Harvard University and a classmate announced that the only reason for his acceptance was affirmative action—which wasn’t true,” he says.

Through it all, their parents taught them to rely on faith and education. “Despite discrimination and racism, they said we’d always have our intellect and our heart,” he explains. “They said, ‘study and show you have a brain, and you’ll be successful.’”

Dr. Blankson and his brother heeded this advice. “Being the children of immigrants was unique and society didn’t know what to do with us. We looked different and spoke differently, as our parents had been taught proper British English in British colonial Ghana. Even ordering food at a hamburger joint brought stares,” he says. “But no one can take away your intellect or your unique sense of self. It taught me to love myself and ignore the distractions.”

When it was time for college, Dr. Blankson’s parents had depleted their savings sending his older brother—who ultimately became an attorney—to Harvard. Blankson joined the ROTC and received a scholarship to attend Harvard, where he eventually met his wife. In the ROTC, Dr. Blankson took part in daily 5am physical training, all while maintaining a rigorous course load. After graduation, he became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, attended medical school at Yale University and then went into active duty service. Blankson completed his pediatric residency and adolescent medicine fellowship and stayed on in the Air Force to train residents. During 10 years of active duty, he worked at troop medical clinics and substance abuse clinics and helped soldiers and their families.

Two years ago, Dr. Blankson joined Dr. Susan Sugerman at the Dallas practice she’d founded years prior. Where Sugerman’s Girls to Women Health and Wellness bridges the gap for girls past traditional pediatrics, Young Men’s Health and Wellness, specializes in providing a safe space for young men to come for health care. After dreaming of the day when she would find the ideal partner, Sugerman “just knew” that Dr. Blankson was the right person to “create an equally compelling medical practice for young men.” And she was right—“he has an amazing ability to help young people feel that he’s on their team while also helping

parents navigate difficult situations. Kids of all ages seem to relate to him like a big brother they can turn to for advice or sometimes a parent they don’t have to worry about judging them.” These interactions are why Dr. Blankson’s schedule is booked months in advance for his practice, which is geared toward 10- to 26-year olds.

Blankson is the father of three girls, ages ten, seven and four, who he says keep him honest, humble, on his toes and keep his heart very soft. He says the values instilled in him by his parents and the lessons in overcoming obstacles have made him a better dad. He also acknowledges that being a dad makes him a better doctor—he’s in the same shoes as the parents who bring their kids to him, a fact that is essential to helping him “teach young people and their parents how to communicate honestly about difficult subjects.” He understands that “ultimately, parents and their kids want the same things—for them to grow up to be good people who can love and protect themselves.”

Dr. Blankson lives in Dallas with his wife, who co-owns a positive psychology consulting firm (goodthinkinc.com). He gives back to the community via work with his wife’s company and volunteering with the Grant Halliburton Foundation (granthalliburton.org), a non-profit organization that provides mental health education, training and support to children, teens and young adults (see page 44 for related story), and via anti-bullying speaking engagements.

What have his experiences taught him? That it’s important to raise awareness to change people’s minds. “I can start in my role as a doctor; whatever biases people may have, I think I blow them out of the water,” he says. “I live by example. The color of your skin doesn’t matter.”

For his fortitude and resolve to show that fulfillment, happiness, intellect and success know no boundaries, Good Life Family magazine is proud to present our prestigious VIP award to Dr. Kwabena “Bobo” Blankson.