Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Ambrose Ehirim-Chidi Achebe Q & A Interview

Dr. Chidi Achebe, son of the literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, is a United States-based physician and was recently awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award by Dartmouth College. In this interview he talks about his medical practice, his service to others, healthcare intervention, education, his mentor, his dad and lots more.


Tell me a bit about yourself

I completed undergraduate studies in natural sciences, history and philosophy at Bard College; received an MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health, and an MD at Dartmouth Medical School and an MBA degree at Yale University's School of Management.

I also completed residency in both Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX. For a brief period, I served as Medical Director of the Whittier Street Health Center (13 months); and then served as Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, Medical Director of Harvard Street Health Center before my appointment as the President and CEO of the Harvard Street Health Center.

Recently, you were awarded the Martin Luther King Social Justice Award from Dartmouth College. Tell me a bit more about your work that brought about this recognition.

I think the press release from our health center makes the point better than I could ever do: “After several years of work at various Boston health centers, Dr. Achebe now sees "the struggle against inequalities in health and health care for all vulnerable, underserved Americans, as the next stage of the Civil Rights movement;" and has dedicated his life's work to helping to solve the conundrum of health care inequity in America's health care system.

Dr. Achebe makes church calls, and speaks at youth summits, conventions, conferences, schools, barber shops - focal gathering areas where he can reach underserved patients - reminding the community of the value of health, preventive care, and the quality of service readily available at Harvard Street.

While expanding his unique implementation of “medicine without borders,” Achebe works as a passionate advocate for the global community through his writings that call attention to worldwide health concerns such as the HIV/AIDs pandemic and Prostate Cancer. His efforts have earned him a featured TV appearance on Basic Black; profile in the Boston Globe and AOL Black Voices, an interview on WUMB-FM's Commonwealth Journal (interviewed by the legendary Barbara Neely); and feature length articles in several international periodicals, journals, and newspapers.

Through his years of work, Dr. Achebe has become a leader in the battle for healthcare equality and serves on several boards and committees where he continues his passion to be at the vanguard of the quest to bridge disparities that exist in the health care system.”

Of all the things that you have done, which one stands out in your mind?

Service to others. My overall thrust in life is to be what my Dad; Professor Chinua Achebe calls a “servant leader.” Another great influence has been Robert K. Greenleaf whose classic work The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970 is monumental in its influence on me. In that essay, he said:

"The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first; perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."

So what aspect do you generally feel your services have done much in the community?

I feel that our work is ongoing. Our overall dream is community transformation that means that health care intervention has to work in concert with other strategies. Historically, most of the effective political, social and civil rights movements have required a myriad of interventions to be successful. Health Care should be seen as the nexus for not only bridging the disparities that exist within the society, but eliminating the long standing social pathologies such as low educational attainment and violence. Community Health Centers like Harvard Street Health Center can bring about this multi-purpose revolution with talent from different backgrounds that can play a critical role to this end. They can serve as vehicles for assessing and accurately communicating community perspectives and needs on the issue of health care disparities; as a clearinghouse for data and recognized authority on the issue; as a vehicle for educating and mobilizing large numbers of individuals and organizations to give leverage to initiatives relative to health care disparities; as a catalyst for community, business, and government involvement in the resolution of social pathologies such as community violence and crime, teenage pregnancy, etc. In addition health care centers can serve as magnets for adequate funding targeted at reducing health care disparities; and the establishment of a broad-based, statewide coalition of key stakeholders to monitor the implementation and impact of any Comprehensive Health Care Education and Violence prevention plans.

You are trained as an internist. And now you hold position as President and CEO of Harvard Street Health Center. Do you find it compatible with the administrative and technical aspect of your profession?

The fact that I hold business and public health degrees in addition to my medical degree is no accident. I was fortunate enough to be appointed a Medical Director very early on in my career – I was in my early thirties. I remember it made international headlines at the time! During my tenure, I realized that my financial/business knowledge was weak, so I decided to go back to school this time to get an MBA. I am not unique, at least in Boston, which you know is the pinnacle of Medical Science and Health Care in the United States- indeed in the world.

My mentor Dr. Gary Gottlieb – one of the most admired physician/business leaders in the country, and under whom I had the utmost privilege to study for a year during Business School – also holds both Medical and Business degrees; as do some others in Massachusetts and across the country. Dr. Gottlieb is the President and CEO of Partners Health Care (a Harvard university affiliated health system in Massachusetts that includes world class hospitals Brigham and Women’s hospital and Mass General Hospital, both in Boston). It should also be mentioned that several business Schools – Yale my alma mater, Duke and now Harvard business school have started a major focus on the health care segment of the American economy that makes up 16.9% of the GDP; in other words one of every six dollars spent in the US economy is toward health care related services, goods or products.

So my training is designed for my role and is consistent with what many experts think is a much needed ingredient to fix the ailing health care system and the US economy at large – medically trained individuals who also have a business background and are then prepared to bring to bear these myriad skills to the problems that plague the health system

Can you give me a rundown of day-to-day activities of those areas?

I do all the administrative work required of any Chief Executive – make sure the organization lives up to its mission and vision statements, help set company priorities and strategy, work and meet with the board, senior management, committees and serve as the face of the organization. I also help with fund raising and organizational as well as community development initiatives. In addition, my role requires that I make sure that the day to day activities of the organization run smoothly.

Which of those two aspects of your profession do you think consumes more of your time?

I am still in clinic 20 hours a week (which is equivalent to a half- time physician). On top of that I have the full time President and CEO position. So my week is usually a 60 hour week.

How is the Chinua Achebe Colloquium/Interview Series doing? Is it still vibrant doing what it is supposed to do?

It is going very well. A former United States ambassador to Nigeria described the annual gathering as “the best intellectual gathering focusing on Africa in the world.” The annual colloquium brings together an international group of scholars, officials from African governments, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and other organizations for two days of intense deliberation and exchange of ideas on the importance of strengthening democracy and peace on the African continent. The next installment later this year will be the fourth in the series.

On Nd'Igbo and the upcoming generation, what's your opinion about an evolving concept of the Igbo nation?

The role of Nd'Igbo has been monumental from the birth of Nigeria. The greatest of Nigeria’s founding fathers, in my opinion, were mainly those from the East – the great Zik being the most significant of the lot. The war destroyed a lot of what we had. I was born three days before the war was declared - at the very beginnings of the war- and so cannot pretend to know what transpired during those horrendous two and a half years. I, like millions of other Nd'Igbo, Nigerians, Africans, admirers of Professor Achebe’s work around the world, can’t wait to lay my hands on his new book on Biafra- There was a country: A personal history of Biafra due out this Fall, 2012.

The war led to a scattering of the Igbos across the world – much like to tribes of Israel. A new generation of Igbo leaders can be found now across the world, working diligently in every known intellectual, business, and political endeavor. The challenge is to de-emphasize mammon worship and bring about an intellectual renaissance that will permanently restore Igbo land, Nigeria? and hence Africa on a path to permanent, sustainable development.

On a Nigerian national state, what are your thoughts on what had erupted over the years, especially the series of civil unrests, the Islamic militants and things like that since the Fourth Republic?

What has befallen us is the destruction of the culture of excellence and meritocracy that Zik’s generation put in place. It has been replaced by what Dad has termed the cult of mediocrity. We are playing with our “tenth eleven instead of our first eleven”- if I may be permitted to utilize a soccer allegory. Nigerians have some of the best and brightest people on the planet. The West knows this because Nigerians have been given plum jobs in Western establishments. The culture of mediocrity has been encouraged because competing ethnic groups believe they will benefit in such an arrangement. No country has EVER made it under such a chaotic system – where incompetence and corruption rule and the lust of money pervades every activity. The very destruction of Nigeria – nothing works – is a result of this “slumming down” of standards – perfected by the military – and continued by their really unprepared, inept civilian cohorts. Everyone knows that terrorists can only strive in chaotic environments – look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia etc. Unless Nigeria puts things right by placing into every conceivable position, the best and brightest Nigerians that can be found, it is doomed

Is the country heading toward the right direction and if not, what should be done?

Clearly not. Let me be clear about this: Nigeria must reestablish the culture of meritocracy that had an early death following independence. Nigerians must search, find and place the very best people in every conceivable public and private position as well as every level of government – local government, state, federal - or it will NEVER make it.

With a handful of business-related responsibilities, how do you account for your leisure time? What do you do?

I am grateful to GOD for my many blessing. I am blessed with a beautiful spouse and family- three wonderful boys. There is no greater blessing than the love of family… coming home after a long day’s work and hearing a greeting from your spouse and your boys running towards you yelling: “Daddy, Daddy.” That is enough to bring your blood pressure down. Thank God for our blessings.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012



"Okoto the Messenger tells the story of Okoto Igwe (Pascal Atuma) and his girlfriend Angelina(JJ Bunny),both whom were born and raised ...in Africa, but live in America and are entrenched within the principle “To not forget their roots” thereby operating within the African community in America. Boyfriend and girlfriend, they are a proverbial match made in heaven. They both love to have fun, that is at the expense of “telling it as it is” to their fellow Africans."

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Portrait: Carla Bruni Sarkozy Nude By Pamela Hanson

Nude of Carla Bruni Sarkozy to be auctioned in Berlin
A staff member of auction house Villa Grisebach holds a nude of French first lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy in Berlin, Germany, 02 June 2009. The photography titled 'Carla Bruni in Bed' (1994) by Pamela Hanson will be auctioned in Berlin on 04 June, a bid of 2,500 to 3,500 euro is expected.

The Ambrose Ehirim-Tana Lopez Q & A Interview

Tana Lopez is a nationally exhibited and nationally published international documentary and fine-art photographer living in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area. She is also an official member of the Jazz Journalist Association.In the summers of 2010 and 2011 she traveled to Ghana, West Africa as the official photographer for a non-profit organization that builds schools and health clinics in the mud-hut villages that surround the city of Accra. Her photos from Ghana benefited the organization’s fund raising efforts significantly and in August, 2011 were also exhibited at the prestigious Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center in Baltimore, MD. Tana is absolutely passionate about taking pictures that will bring about awareness of important issues because she feels that the best way to motivate people to change the world is to show them what needs to be changed. She has many more exhibits planned in the near future.

You had the Tana Lopez Photography Public Exhibition at the Eubie Blake National Jazz and Cultural Center in downtown Baltimore in 2011. How did this come about?

A lady by the name of Cheryl Goodman referred me to the Director of the center (Troy Burton). They asked me if I would like to do an exhibit of my live jazz photos and I said yes!! Eventually I decided I would rather show my photos from my work in Ghana because I felt that the poverty that existed there was an issue that was important and that people needed to know about.

Photography is art. When and how did you start the work of photography?

In 2008, I had come to a time in my life where my children were all in school and didn't need my constant care and attention anymore. I had a college degree but when I started applying for jobs, I realized that after having stayed home with my children for so long, very few people were willing to hire me or to pay me what I was worth. I decided not to take a low-paying job, that I would rather find something I was passionate about. After trying many different things, photography was the one form of art that really stuck, once I started I just couldn't stop.

What are your favorite moments in photography?

By far the best and most meaningful part of my photographic career has been my work in the mud-hut villages of Ghana.

You traveled to Ghana in 2010 as photographer to cover events for the Ghanaian Mothers Hope, Inc. How did you get the assignment?

I came across their facebook page in May of 2010 and eventually landed on their website. I read about how they were building schools and health clinics in the mud-hut villages that surround the city of Accra. This was something that I had always dreamed of doing, going to a third world country and helping the people. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something like this, so I emailed the director and asked if I could join them. A few weeks later, she called me and told me yes!! I went to Ghana in 2010 for a month and then I went back with the same organization in 2011 for three weeks.

Was that trip your first to any African country?

Yes, this was my first trip to the continent of Africa

What was the trip about?

For me this trip was a huge lesson in taking something I was good at doing and adding meaning to it in a way I had never even imagined. Up until my trip to Ghana, being a photographer was fun and exciting. Going to a third world country took my life to a whole new level, I have now decided that all my future work will be about documenting important issues such as poverty.

Entering your website, first on spot is the music of David Dyson. Who is David Dyson?

David Dyson is a phenomenal jazz bass guitarist and a great friend. He was the musical director of New Kids on the Block and since then has performed with many amazing artists such as Phil Perry, Pieces of a Dream, Walter Beasley, Marcus Johnson, and so many more.

It’s obvious jazz music is one of your favorites. Who is your favorite jazz performer?

It's hard to have a favorite jazz performer, there is just so much talent out there. But I have to say that the jazz artists in the DMV area hold a special place in my heart.

You quoted Hakim Sanai recently in one of your lines on Face-book: “I choose love above all else. As for wealth, if that comes, or goes, so be it. Wealth and love in nhabit separate worlds.” Who is Hakim Sanai and what was the quote all about?

Hakim Sanai is one of the earlier Sufi poets and lived during the 11th century, he is just one of many poets whose work I admire. I love reading poetry!! As far as that quote, to me it just means that love and wealth really are two different concepts that have nothing to do with each other. Too often in our society we confuse the two, or we make one dependent on the other, but I don't agree with that idea. I think love is far more important than anything else in life.

You are a lover of people. How did you generate that?

It is just who I am at the deepest level, I have always loved people and had a special affinity toward people who are less fortunate than others. I have always felt that poverty in our world should not exist and have always felt a special pull toward the poor.

What are you working on now?

I am absolutely passionate about taking pictures that will bring about awareness and change. I believe that the best way to facilitate change in this world is by showing the world what needs to be changed. After having researched different social issues in our country and abroad, I have decided that I absolutely must explore the current issues of today’s Native Americans. I want to depict their beauty and their struggle so that I can show this to the world by way of multiple national and international photo exhibits and eventually the publication of a book. When people see and can truly feel the pain and the struggle that the American Indians are going through they will want to make a difference. For this reason, I will work closely with several different non-profit organizations so that when people feel motivated to donate money, they will immediately know where they can send their money.

In 2013 I am planning a three month trip to work in an orphanage in India. I plan to have exhibits and publish a book with the photos that I take in India as well. I will continue to venture to places and to take pictures of the people I feel the world needs to see.

Thank you so much, Ambrose, for showing interest in my work and for writing this article. You are helping me bring about awareness of important issues and I appreciate that so much!!