Front-Line Stories

Medical Student Jalen Jones Breaks Through Racist Obstacles

Medical Student Jalen Jones Breaks Through Racist Obstacles

The George Floyd incident catapulted the issue of racism and unfair treatment of Blacks by police. But it was not the first demeaning and horrifying situation that needs attention. In fact, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) second-semester student Jalen Jones encountered a near identical event in the spring/summer 2019. And until George Floyd’s story was told, Jalen kept his experience under wraps.

“When the cop tackled me, I knew I had to be as passive as I could be and let everything go because I didn’t want to die. I complied and stayed respectful, saying ‘no sir’ and ‘yes sir’,” Jalen recalled about the event. While attending the Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP) before matriculating into RUSM, he and a large group of MERP classmates traveled to a Ft. Lauderdale bar to celebrate the completion of an exam. While there, Jalen headed to an ATM located inside the bar.

“All of a sudden, one guy starts pulling at me. I immediately look at him so he could see my face and know I wasn’t whoever he was looking for. He grabs me again and then bouncers tackle me to the floor and said to get outside. There was the bar cop right there and he’s not hearing anything I’m trying to say, just listening to what these guys are telling him. I walked away and they started following me.

“It seemed like they were trying to provoke an action from me when I was being compliant. I pulled out my phone to call my friends and they assumed I was trying something suspicious. They tackled me and had a knee pressed on my neck. I couldn’t breathe. No one wanted to hear me because my words didn’t mean anything. They put me in cuffs and put me in jail for a day for a non-violent resisting arrest charge.”

Afraid to Share

Jalen & other MERP studentsJalen was released 24 hours later, and his phone was flooded with messages from his family and MERP friends. He immediately called his parents who provided full emotional support. As for friends, Jalen only confided in one fellow Black MERP student. “I was so nervous and embarrassed about it. And frustrated. I didn’t understand what had happened and why. I didn’t know if I would have gotten the benefit of the doubt from anyone. He not only understood but he calmed me down and said, ‘don’t let this derail you and stop you from achieving your goal’.”

Jalen persevered and kept his secret. Until George Floyd ravaged the headlines. That’s when Jalen knew it was time to unburden himself and share his experience, going back to the friend group who had accompanied him to the scene of the crime. “They were surprised and felt bad for me.” The friends rallied around him, providing overdue comfort and peace of mind. “In hindsight, I think they would have reacted the same way then. It made me realize I shouldn’t assume how someone will respond.”

A couple days after the initial event, Jalen’s debit card was charged $100 on the night in question for a college test fee. “I knew it was a scam.”

Growing up in southern Ohio, Jalen experienced some racism, but nothing compared to the volume he encountered during his undergraduate years in Alabama. “People judge and assume they know you, what type of person you are and your goals in life, just because of the way you look. This type of ignorance can bring you to tears.”

Staying Aware

Raised by physician parents, the youngest of three children recalled his dad’s recurrent pep talk when dealing with police officers. “Don’t be confrontational and no sudden movements. Don’t walk around stores with hands in your pockets.”

Jalen had two childhood dreams — join the National Football League or become a doctor. While he was a powerhouse defensive back, corner and safety on the high school football team, and advanced to second string in college, an extensive injury decided his fate. He then switched paths, adding a white coat to his wardrobe. While his time at RUSM has been challenging, Jalen said he’s thankful for the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and further embrace his own ancestry.

“After George Floyd’s death, I wanted to create a video to show the unity of multiple races and hopefully progress for the future.” Jalen’s powerful video paints a vivid history of African Decent — before, during and after slavery. It is supported by the RUSM organization Black Male Doctors (BMD), of which he is an active member. The video concludes with several RUSM students standing in solidarity to support Jalen, BMD and a race that desperately needs support until all are treated equally.

“We are greater than the stereotypes and obstacles we face currently,” written in a BMD statement about the video, “and we will continue to prove that. We exhibit Black Excellence.”

RUSM Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce

A group of 16 RUSM students, faculty, colleagues and alumni have begun leading a holistic review of diversity, equity and inclusion at the University and will deliver a report of short- and long-term recommendations within the next few months. This is the first of many steps to sustain change at the infrastructure level.

As RUSM prepares to engage, train, educate, advocate and invest in this process to align with the Black community at our University and in all the underrepresented and marginalized communities in which we serve, we invite others to share feedback with us because we know the fight for social justice is a community collaboration.