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BHM: Charles Drew

February 27, 2019

During assembly on Wednesday, February 27, Ella Merritt '24 spoke about Charles Drew and the importance of making the most of opportunities you have. Her remarks follow:

Charles Richard Drew was born on June 3, 1904, in Washington, D.C. He was an African-American physician who developed ways to process and store blood plasma in "blood banks." He directed the blood plasma programs of the United States and Great Britain in World War II, but resigned after a ruling that the blood of African-Americans would be segregated. He died on April 1, 1950.

Drew developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma, or blood without cells. Plasma lasts much longer than whole blood, making it possible to be stored or "banked" for longer periods of time. Drew became the first African-American to earn a degree from Columbia.

For the final years of his life, Drew remained an active and highly regarded medical professional. He continued to serve as the chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital and a professor at Howard University. On April 1, 1950, Drew and three other physicians attended a medical conference at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Drew was behind the wheel when his vehicle crashed near Burlington, North Carolina and he passed away. 

Dr. Charles Drew only lived to be 45 years old. However he made the most of every opportunity in his life. Even when there appeared to be no opportunities for him. When I first heard Dr. Drew’s story, it reminded me a lot of my own life. Now. I have not discovered any life changing medical procedures that could save thousands of lives. However I did, and still am trying to make the most out of every opportunity in my life.

Drew was denied so many opportunities and so many experiences in his life because no one believed in him. His colleagues and patients thought he was inferior and wasn’t worth anything. That did not stop him from saving thousands of people lives, even when he was denied his own.

Last year, i went to a school where I felt exactly how Drew did. I got made fun of, i was told i wasn’t worth anything and that i wouldn’t get very far at all. Though my parents gave me the opportunity to leave that school and do great things here at John Burroughs.

If I were to go back to my old school right now, I would be glad to run into any of them. The girl who told me I couldn’t do anything because I was Black, the kid who dumped peas over my head while the whole cafeteria laughed, or even the boy who told me to stop trying now, because I wasn’t gonna' get anywhere anyway. But just like Charles Drew, I don’t give up. I refuse to give up.

If there is anything I hope you can remember from this speech, anything at all, it's to know that you are worth something and you have been given such an amazing opportunity. No matter what gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, social status, it doesn’t matter. You are brilliant, and you can and will do great things with your life. Please, please remember that.

Thank you.