port of harlem snippets
Nuturing the Seed
The Makings of a Doctor
snippets icon home icon
On the Dock

 MAY - OCT 2002
Volume 8 Number 1

dr mathew nelson

14 Nuturing the Seed

The inspirational story of how Mathew Nelson recently joined the growing, but still short list of Black doctors in the U.S. Nelson and the cover picture's photographer, Ernest Brown, are May 2002 Howard University Medical School graduates.

3 Letters to the Editor

3 Pastors Find Interest in Port of Harlem articles

12 Excerpt from
The Mark of Voodoo - by Sharon Caulder

12 Interview with Dr. Sharon Caulder

20 Taking the Road Less Traveled (Republican)

20 Inclusion (Democrat)

21 The Bridge We Crossed

26 You Know Her Face



4 Who's Reading

5 Health Scare


6 Will Mother Lange Become St. Mary?

7 The Single Woman's Syndrome

8 Senegal with BZB

9 Chicago: Home of the Nation's Only Peace Museum

9 Tips for Handling Children Still Feeling 911

10 Protect Your Consumer Credit Health

11 New Soul Food Cookbook for People with Diabetes


13 Nurturing the Seed: The Making of a Doctor

14 So You Tested Positive

15 Braces Aren't Just for Adults Anymore

16 Do You Know Your Pharmacist's Name?

17 Social Isolation

18 A Gift for Guyana

19 Health Bites

26 Medgar, Martin, and Malcolm X

27 COMING UP       



The Makings of a Doctor

When Matthew Nelson and his nine siblings were growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, their father enriched them with scientific knowledge. In the insurance center town, the elder Nelson was a science teacher, trained as a mechanical engineer. He was hoping that one of his kids would become a medical doctor.

Matthew recalls, “He had us do science and math problems, especially on weekends. And he would also have my aunt, who was a nurse, bring her nursing books over to our house and have us read them in our spare time.” His mother was a homemaker. She would make her rounds to their schools. “She would unexpectedly and flamboyantly walk into our classrooms and watch us learn,” he says.

Matthew will become a medical doctor on May 10, 2002. A goal that he believes his father did not reach because of the smothering forces of racism. He will join the ranks of an estimated 45,297 African-American physicians in the United States. From 1983 to 2000, the percentage of Black doctors in the United States increased. They increased from being about 3 of every 100 to about 6 of every100 doctors, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

However, the percentage of Black doctors (6 percent) is 7 percentage points behind the share of the American population that are descendants of colonized or enslaved Africans. Nearly 13 of every 100 Americans are of African descent.

Dr. Dawn Cannon, Assistant Dean for student Affairs at Howard University’s College of Medicine, sees the growth as encouraging. However, she remains focused on the number of Black children, especially Black males, who never get beyond high school. Many of those of those students, she says, could have possibly become doctors and helped to close or exceed the 7 percent gap.

Our current education system, says Cannon, “continues to discourage the dreams and aspirations of many young black minds.” To develop more academically capable Blacks, Cannon added, “Families and institutions need to strive to provide educationally and culturally enriching experiences for children - - literally from birth.”

Despite having the educational enrichment to become a physician, Matthew entered undergraduate school at Wesleyan University without the desire to become one. He wasn’t like his older six siblings. The closets he came to an anatomy class was his pursuance of body building. He won several titles including Mr. Teen Connecticut, during his first year of college.

Before graduating in 1993 with degrees in psychology and drama, he played Paul Robeson in a tribute to the performer and activists. This role, he says, “was pivotal in my determination to go back home to the inner city and serve as a teacher because Robeson’s life was about service and I wanted to model my life in a similar fashion.”

After graduation, he taught general music and choir at an elementary school in one of Hartford’s challenged neighborhoods. Within two years, his interest in the sciences began to bulge.

Aiming at becoming a science teacher, he pursed a graduate degree in General Science at the University of Connecticut.  Before returning to the classroom, the advice that his seventh grade teacher gave him ringed in his ear:  “Nelson, the best thing you can do with your money is travel.” So, off to Western Europe and North Africa he went. While in Morocco, he climbed Mt. Toubkal to conquer his fear of heights.

On his return to the States, one could find the future doctor in the classroom teaching seventh grade science by day. By night, he chanted words of life at poetry slams. On weekends, he photographed the latest musical stars for a hip-hop magazine.

Ironically, the academic performances of some of his students awakened his interest in becoming a medical doctor. “While teaching, many of my students would arrive medically unable to perform academically due to easily treated conditions and I wanted to fulfill their medical needs,” he says.

The seed his father planted and cultivated finally began to blossom when he applied to five medical schools. Two accepted him. “I wanted to train at Howard, the place where my childhood hero, Dr. Charles Drew, once taught, and most importantly, because Howard has trained more than half the Black doctors in America. From kindergarten through high school, I attended all Black schools, where a premium was placed on ethics, spirituality, and leadership by example, so I thought going to Howard would be like coming home again,” he says.

His Howard classmates proved to be like a family. He even fell in love with a fellow student, Elizabeth Thompson of Englewood, New Jersey. They married on August 18, 2001. “We met in anatomy class over a dead body,” he laughs. “Actually, a good friend introduced us one Saturday when we were all studying ( the lifeless body),” she continued, “You spend so much time in class and studying in med school that is the way you get close to people, at first.”

For medical students, graduation is only the beginning of more training before they can enter private practice. He wants to become an orthopedic surgeon. She wants to specialize in internal medicine. He has to spend an additional five years in residency (training); she another three.

When trying to sum up the cultivating experiences that made a difference in his life, Dr Nelson didn’t evoke the words of his dad who died last year. He remembered an action. He recalled, “On Saturdays, we would go to the library to read and he would be right there with us, reading, too.