Kenneth L. Fox, M.D. (KNFP 16), Physician, Erie Family Health Center, Chicago
"Craft your critical spaces carefully."
Ken Fox is a pediatrician and a medical anthropologist who tirelessly advocates for youth, particularly youth of color. He recently relocated to Chicago, his hometown, after spending a decade working and teaching in Boston. Ken worked as a primary care physician at the South End Community Health Center and at Boston Medical Center's Adolescent Clinic. He also taught in the Department of Pediatrics at Boston University's School of Medicine, as well as in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
As a Kellogg Fellow, Ken explored popular culture among African American and Afro-Latino urban male youth and how it could be applied to positive social and civic identity under conditions of inequality. Ken's questions eventually led him to Cape Town, South Africa.
"In Boston," he recounts, "the rapper TuPak Shuker was the kids' patron saint. So when I went out to the Cape Flats, those blighted ghettoes created by Apartheid's ethnic cleansing and social dislocation, I was shocked to find a 50-foot mural of TuPac Shuker. I wondered, 'How can this iconic figure be so useful to teens with such different histories in such different places? What does the figure's presence tell us about the nature and movement of global culture and commerce? And how can we use these ideas and cultural forms to work with youth?'"
With a Fulbright Scholarship, Ken took a sabbatical and worked as a "roadie" for the South African Hip-Hop band, Black Noise. He discovered, "These kids take the best of what the cultural form has to offer and use it to do progressive community building in their own neighborhoods. Perhaps this is a lesson we can use at home."Back in Boston, he created the Hip Hop Literacy Project and acted as an advisor to B City Voices, a youth leadership development program in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, both efforts to empower urban youth and keep them from succumbing to alienation or turning to violence.
Ken returned to South Africa last summer to help organize a regional youth festival, Hip Hop Indaba, attended by some 2,500 young people. Every young person who attended received a program that included the articles from the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a detachable postcard addressed to South African President Thabo Mbeki that read, "Health is a human right."Says Ken, "South Africa has a strong tradition of youth activism. The country has seen many gains through the struggle of the people, but there's still a lot to be done. Young people must continue to find new ways to make their voices heard, and that was a lot of what the Hip Hop Indaba was about."
Now, in Chicago, Ken feels he has returned to his roots. Working full time at the Erie Family Health Center, he measures success by continually asking himself: "How well did I serve the poor today?" He explains, "I have to be able to know: What difference did I make today? Did I help a colleague or learn something from a colleague who's committed to the kind of work I do? Did I listen well? Was I able to amplify the voices of people who are insightful on these issues?"
Ken's advice to students aspiring to go into social medicine: "Craft your critical spaces carefully." He continues, "It's painful to hear sad stories of people getting shafted by history or by situations beyond their control. It takes clarity to stay focused and stay fresh. I would ask the students, 'Do you have a community of people around you who can help maintain that critical space where you can go when things are hard or difficult?' If you're going to be committed to health care for the poor, you need that kind of space."