Shwankia Narayan is a graduate student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism
Dr. Prabhjot Singh is the Director of Systems Degisn at The Earth Institute and the co-chair of the One Million Community Health Worker campaign. He is also an assistant professor at Columbia University and a practicing doctor. On September 21st Singh was attacked by a group of nearly 20 young men who were yelling anti-Muslim and hateful slurs. The NYPD dubbed the attack as a hate crime--something Singh is all to familar with. Last year Singh, along with Simram Jeet, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on how hate crimes are recorded and tracked. SAJA student member Shawnkia Narayan spoke with Singh about his own reactions to the media coverage and the larger lessons learned from his attack.
Q. What do wish people asked you about the incident on September 21st?
A. You know I think that a lot of people were surprised by my response. And in many ways they thought it was very gracious. I hope that over the course of the next few months, and next couple of years people actually start to ask, 'Well where did that come from? And what are you going to do about it?' Over the last couple of years I’ve really gotten to know the heartbeat of this [Harlem] neighborhood and we know a little bit about where the young men came from. I’m quite sure I’ve probably visited near their homes doing house calls as a doctor, and we’re also building a social enterprise that employs people like their family members and otherwise. And in many ways even though that response sounded just gracious, but it was a sense that this was our community and we’re going to end up engaging and following through with the work we’ve already been doing. So yes there is a problem but I want to get back to the work and I’m hoping people ask, 'What is that work?'
Q. What are the issues surrounding your story that is absent in the media coverage?
A. One thing is that there was another woman who was assaulted that night-- probably by the same group of men. She was a Muslim woman from Somalia wearing a hijab. And I learned about her because she was two beds down from me in the emergency department. And I met her husband and we got a sense that it happened around the same time, same group of people. But she’s a new immigrant, her ability to speak and kind of articulate herself certainly wasn’t there. And in many ways she’s a group that is mot likely in fear of being identified with the Shabaab in Westgate. And so in many ways I don’t think that we as a country, as a media know how to handle this type of story. And that you have this woman who we don’t know how to treat-- we don’t know how to speak about her and in many ways omitted. So I wish we dug a bit deeper and figured out how do we talk about it.
Q. After having gone through this ordeal, what is the one piece of advice you would give to young people of color?
A. In the vast majority of my life, 99.9% of interactions, the distinctiveness of who I am and where I come from has been an incredible asset. People remember me. I’m held responsible for what I do and say. And the same thing for anybody that looks different from the status quo. And so in that sense, make sure you really feel comfortable in your skin enough that when something happens, good or bad, you’re able to say: this is who I am, this is who I speak for and with, and it’s something to be proud of.
Q. Can you talk about your work with One Million Health Workers?
A. Yes, it’s something I spend most of my time doing. I grew up in Nairobi and Kenya and what I do professionally is bring innovations form low-resourced countries, like rural India or rural sub-Saharan Africa, find innovations in community health and bring them back to places like Harlem. At the same time, we are working to scaling up those innovations we discover all across sub-Saharan Africa. Community health workers, rapidly training people from communities and are hired to do specific task around making a healthier community, [these] are the only ways sub-Saharan Africa is going to be able to reach it’s health goals. Same thing with India, which has 600,000 of [community health workers]. So our goal is to bring up that number to a million in Africa and match the numbers in India and actually bring the same innovations to America.