My Black Doctor Hero

I was born on Nov. 21, 1962, at Christian Hospital in Miami, Florida. A Black doctor, the late Dr. Dazelle Simpson, saved my life.

Technically I should have been born in Dallas, Texas, where my mother was a public school teacher and my father the new Rector of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church Mission. However, in August, my parents made the decision that the final months of the pregnancy would be easier if Mom was in Miami surrounded by her mother and other family members. So, my father drove her there, the birthplace for them both, through the segregated South for approximately 19 hours, or 1,313 miles. He then returned to Texas, alone.

Personal Crisis

I was born with a collapsed left lung. Dr. Simpson, after consulting with the attending physician, immediately made the decision to have me transferred by ambulance to Variety Children’s Hospital, in the event that she had to perform emergency surgery. According to my mother, Patricia H. Cooper, 86, “My pressure was very high, and my feet were extremely swollen. So, my doctor made the decision to induce labor. You came a few weeks early.”

Mom continued, “Dr. Simpson later told Austin (this writer’s father) and me that you had the exact same condition as Patrick Kennedy, the son of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, who died within a few hours of being born the previous August.”

I was baptized at Children’s Variety Hospital and administered the Last Rites of the Church.

God, through the hands of Dr. Simpson, is the reason that I celebrated my 60th birthday last November, and for that, I will be eternally grateful. Indeed she, along with her husband, Dr. George Simpson, were history-makers in Dade County.

History in the Making

From the time she was a child, Dazelle knew that she wanted to be a doctor. “I was 4 when I said I wanted to be a doctor. My grandmother was ill at the time, and I wanted to become a doctor so I could treat her and make her better,” she said.

Born in Miami, she graduated from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1945.

She later became the first Black pediatrician in Florida to become certified by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP). On Oct. 1, 1957, Dazelle received her certification in General Pediatrics.

Dazelle met her husband, George, at Meharry Medical College, and they moved to Coconut Grove, Florida, after graduation. Once in Miami, they set up a medical practice. They practiced medicine together for 40 years. George was the first board-certified Black surgeon in Florida.

Dr. Dazelle Simpson passed away on Feb. 9, 2020, at age 95. Over the years, whenever I traveled to Miami, I always made it a point to remain in touch and reach out, in addition to periodic phone calls. George, who will turn 97 in October and continues to reside in Miami, where he is active with their home parish, Christ Episcopal Church.

When asked to reflect on the contributions of he and his beloved wife to Black people not only in Miami but across the state of Florida, he said, “‘Worship of God Through Service To Mankind’ is the motto of Meharry Medical College. Service can be and should be its own reward.”

The Role of the Black Doctor Today

The role of the Black doctor in our communities is as important and relevant today as it was when Dazelle and George Simpson began practicing medicine over 60 years ago. Many Blacks are distrustful of being treated by white physicians.

For some older Blacks, the mistrust dates back to the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” from 1932 to 1972. The U.S. Public Health Service wanted to see how untreated syphilis would affect the body. However, participants were instead told that they were being treated for “bad blood.”

Then there are cases of Blacks who do not feel comfortable with being seen and treated by medical professionals of their own race. This is an example of a colonized mindset that exists for far too many in the Black community.

Personally, and throughout my life, I have relied on Black physicians for my primary care, and I have no regrets. For me, it is a personal choice and one that I am comfortable with and will continue, particularly as I get older and face health challenges that impact my community at a disproportionate rate as they do others.

And for my comfort and belief in “The Power of the Black Doctor,” I have Dr. Dazelle Simpson to thank.

Austin R. Cooper Jr.

Austin R. Cooper, Jr., serves as the President of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc. The firm provides legislative, political and communications counsel in Washington, D.C., for governmental, nonprofit and...

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