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Bridgette M. Brawner, PhD, MDiv, APRN

“I wrestled with what to write for this. A lofty, detached, academic-leaning piece, or, something that gives insight into the totality of who I am as a person. I decided on sharing part of my truth that makes me more human.

These days I awaken to somewhat of a twilight zone experience.”

On the one hand, I am exuberant. The little girl who grew up in a single-mother household in Brooklyn, NY (#Flatbush) is a tenured Associate Professor at the NUMBER ONE nursing school in the WORLD—emphasis added for dramatic effect. This is a major accomplishment considering that I was a first-generation college student and that black women only make up 3% of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions. I take great pride in this social position and the responsibility that comes with it, knowing that I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams and can use my expertise for good. I have also had the privilege of working with some of the most AMAZING students, staff and faculty!

On the other hand, I am deflated. Some people try to subject me to tokenism and use my success to say “see, she did it. If you work hard enough you can too”. So my prized academic achievements are a double-edged sword because while it is certainly a “mama we made it” success story worthy of celebration, it is also used to deny the existence of racism (in all of its forms), discredit my intelligence with false assumptions that I “got here” because I’m black, and drive us into apathy and away from the massive structural work that needs be to done to achieve equity. The sad truth is that none of my degrees, accomplishments or other accolades exempt me from the experience of anti-Black racism, not just in the United States, but the world at large. From being called the n-word, to incredulous looks when I am introduced as “Dr. Brawner”, to constantly seeing people who look like me being killed by those who are supposed to protect and provide care for them…living between these exuberant and deflated worlds is exhausting. Whether it is another hashtag from police brutality or disproportionate COVID-19 deaths (with people I love in the numbers), it can all be overwhelming.

Why do I keep going? Because my faith anchors me and gives me hope. Because I was raised not to quit. Because I am the descendent of a long line of people and cultures who fought back against injustice and survived (and even thrived) in spite of it. Because I know that even if I only change one person’s life, the ripple effect from that single encounter will be exponentially greater than anything I could have ever imagined.

I became a nurse to help people—being a helpmate is what I was created to do. In 2020, as I watch how race, a social construction devised to give and withhold power/resources, is still used to oppress people and rob them of their right to live life to its full potential, I am motivated now more than ever to leverage our beloved profession to change the world. My heart is encouraged by others who feel the same way and are doing their part to make a difference.”

To submit your own story, visit www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.