It’s a striking image: Fifteen black students from Tulane University, all dressed in white lab coats that convey their status as future doctors, line up in front of a symbol of slavery at the Whitney Plantation. They wear expressions of resolve.
“I think you could see that in our faces in the photo, that we knew very well that we’re standing here and doing our best to embody the resilience of our ancestors,” said Sydney Labat, one of Ledet’s classmates, “standing here doing our best to show that we are here, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
Ledet called it “the epitome of resilience.” He added: “It’s like putting seeds into concrete, and they still grow out of the concrete.”
The idea for the photo came to him when he visited the plantation with his now 9-year-old daughter over the summer. Located about 35 miles west of New Orleans, it is believed to be one of few plantation museums that focuses on the experiences of the enslaved rather than the enslavers.
After his daughter pointed out the significance of being a black physician in the United States, and the two talked about “how far we had to come,” Ledet decided that the other black medical students at Tulane needed to see it.
“You got to understand what kind of resilience is in your DNA,” he said.
Fifteen of the 65 students were able to make the trip on Saturday. They toured the plantation grounds and then snapped three photos — the one where they stood staggered in front of the cabin, a second with their fists held high and a third of them together on the porch.
“We felt different standing on that porch,” Labat said. “There’s a reason we felt different, you know — like, that’s a holy land at the end of the day, and that’s where they lived. And I think their presence was felt 100 percent.”
In sharing the images, they hoped to reach black children who might not often see doctors who look like them. Just 6 percent of 2015 medical school graduates were black, according to an Association for American Medical Colleges report.
Representation can help change that, said Ledet and Labat, who have already started hearing from a mix of students. They’d like to see the picture hanging in schools.
“We’re trying to do our best to show students, other children, this can be you, this is you, and nothing is out of your reach,” Labat said.