Charity of Heart

In the dedication of her book, Joycelyn Elders, M.D.: From Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America, Dr. Elders mentions wisdom her mother offered her: "Recognize the truth and speak out against wrongdoing." That advice is probably what got Elders into the top medical position in this country...and what caused her forced resignation after 15 months as Surgeon General.

Born in 1933, Minnie Lee Jones spent her childhood as a sharecropper’s daughter in Schaal, Arkansas. She never dreamed that one day she would be Dr. Joycelyn Elders, Surgeon General of the United States. Because of the loving support of parents, the kind attention of both church elders and school administrators and teachers, and the openness of affirmative action policies while she was growing into adulthood, Elders’ skills in science, research, and public relations were recognized. Now, in her autobiographical book, written with David Chanoff, she describes her journey from back-country Arkansas to Washington, D.C.

Most interesting in this book is her discussion of how to improve the lives of poor people in this country. Elders became well known for a couple of statements she made about illegal drugs and masturbation. However, these issues were never her focus in public office. Elders’ main focus as director of Public Health in Arkansas, as Surgeon General, and as private citizen today is "comprehensive health education, prevention of teenage pregnancy, early-childhood education, school-based clinics to make health care available for all children, a preventive approach to health care for everyone."

Elders didn’t begin her doctoring days with this agenda. Becoming state director of public health in 1987 moved her out of the university research lab and right up against the poverty and lack of education and health services she had known so well as a child. And they turned her into a committed advocate for health education.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1997
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