by Robbie Jackson
Let’s pretend you have a cousin and his name is Shawn. Now imagine him to be a true born and raised Oakland, California, native who loved nature, music, all things Oakland, and is commonly described as extremely athletic. He even played in the Oakland Babe Ruth league for the infamous Bulldogs.
One thing is clear: Cousin Shawn had physical and mental gifts in abundance and many considered him to be good at everything he did. Sounds like a young man with a promising future, right? Well, this young man is real, and due to medical negligence he is no longer alive. His family grieves him and the world is a little less bright because of it.
On April 26, 2019, at 1:00 a.m., Shawn went to Manteca Kaiser ER concerned. He was having a difficult time breathing and was coughing up blood. Understanding that something wasn’t right, he went to the hospital seeking help and care. Seven hours later he was dead with no explanation or clear reason why. His family simply had to accept the fact that their loved one was gone forever.
This story, while true, sounds too familiar. But why? Maybe it’s because of myths like Black people have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings than white people. And that’s not just words on the street. These rumors are born and cultivated in the classrooms of prestigious medical universities and government funded labs.
False notions and hidden biases have plagued the Black community for generations, leaving us feeling vulnerable, completely unsafe and uncared for in a place for those seeking medical care.
“Shawn’s untimely death has tremendously affected our family,” says his sister Sharon Washington. “He was the first to pass in our immediate family. It has caused PTSD, anxiety and depression in many family members. At times, the heartache is unbearable. It has brought us closer, which we did not think was possible being that we are already super close. We fear that if everyone is gone out of town at the same time, something bad will happen because this is what happened with Shawn.”
A study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academies of Science,” stated that 40 percent of first- and second-year medical students endorsed the belief that “Black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s. False ideas about Black peoples’ experience of pain like that can lead to medical neglect and scarred families. A 2020 article published by the Association of American Medical Colleges revealed that over half of the trainees surveyed believed that Black people are not as sensitive to pain as white people thus they were less likely to treat Black people’s pain appropriately.
“The staff did not treat Shawn in a timely manner because he did not have his medical card on him,” his sister explains. “They did not secure his airways or transfer him to Modesto Kaiser where he would have received the necessary care he needed. Till this very day, the staff cannot tell the family why Shawn was coughing up so much blood that it caused his untimely death. They were neglectful.”
And to add insult to injury, most racial and ethnic disparities in pain treatment are not often intentional misdeeds but rather deeply rooted biases that care providers don’t even know they have, manifested into actions. Most health care providers let stereotypes and outdated racist information blur their vision and foresight.
While Shawn is no longer with us, his family is working to keep his memory alive. They honor him by working to ensure change in the healthcare system by demanding that all people are treated properly regardless of race, religion, status, or gender. They started a foundation called Change4Shawn hoping to help someone else who will need proper medical care in the future.
This year they are having the Third Annual Shawn E’s Art & Jam. It’s a free family event happening on Aug. 12 that will feature local artists and vendors from all across the Bay. When asked to describe the event, Sharon said: “Shawn was a true artist, a self-taught artist. This event is to showcase his work, give other local artists and businesses a chance to showcase their work, all while keeping Shawn’s name and legacy alive.”
All proceeds from this event help with the fight against systemic racism and medical negligence. For more info on the event you can reach them @TeamSHawnE on Ig, Change 4 Shawn on FB, Change4shawn.com or you can email Change4Shawn@gmail.com.
May the memory of this young king live forever in the hearts of his loved ones. We must come together and love one another because community love leads to community healing, and community healing creates generational liberation no one can destroy.
Robbie Jackson is a graduate of the San Francisco Bay View’s Community Journalism Class, which is funded by the California State Library.