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Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
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BOND: Dr. Pinn, thank you for joining us at Explorations in Black Leadership. I want to begin with some questions about the Brown decision in 1954. You were a teenager, but do you remember what it meant to you at the time when you first heard about it?
PINN: Well, I’m embarrassed to say I think we sort of heard that this decision was made but it didn’t have any immediate impact on our school system or what we were doing and its true relevance and true importance really only struck me, I think, years later as we began to see changes in the school system, the beginning of integration in my hometown. After being in a segregated system all the way through my high school years —and I actually didn’t finish high school until 1958, which was four years after that decision — I think the impact had not really hit us as to what its true significance was because it hadn’t changed things where my every-day experience was.
BOND: Do you have any memories of what you thought it might mean, what it could mean, to you and your family?
PINN: Yes, I came from a family of mostly school teachers, and I had been exposed to things that my relatives were doing in other cities where they did have more opportunities than we did in our limited, segregated system, where I saw the schools were better equipped, where the teachers had more opportunities to support students. So it did suggest that perhaps one day soon that we would have better opportunities, better education and a better opportunity to advance our lives in terms of our educational support and our opportunities.
I’m not sure the true, real impact for me at that age really struck me until later — until I went away, until I went to college in the North and met students who’d come from other parts of the country including the South and the North and the West, and then as I witnessed changes begin to take place in my hometown years later — I think that’s when the significance really began to hit me.
BOND: Now looking back from today’s perspective, what do you think it has meant?
PINN: I guess as I think about it within myself, it has meant that there truly should be opportunity for anyone, regardless of color, to have access to educational opportunities that can further his or her lives as they move forward. I guess I get mired in the fact that there was so much turmoil and there was so much resentment and seeing the resistance of so many factors and seeing what we overcame that I still get into that mode of thinking about the change. But then seeing what’s happened since and seeing the wonderful opportunities that have happened —
I have to say that, you know, I went to a segregated school and I used to comment that when I went to college and went to an advanced chemistry lab, which I was required to do because of my grades in high school, and here was this fancy lab with all this equipment and when I thought back to my high school, my laboratory experience had been bending glass over a Bunsen burner and not having access to all of the equipment or the kinds of lab — I think we maybe had two or three labs during the whole chemistry class — that I realized how much I was not getting that others in other parts of the country were getting regardless of their color or where they were. And so, I guess as I thought about it personally I thought, "There won’t be people like me who will be lacking when they’re supposed to have the educational opportunities and have the educational exposure, they will, in fact, have an opportunity to at least compete on a level with others they’ll be facing as they move forward in their education and careers."
But, on the other hand, I always felt I may not have had all of the equipment, I may not have had all the facilities, I may not have had all the fancy trappings, but I was always grateful for my high school education even though it was a segregated experience because we got a lot of nurturing from our teachers that I think made up a lot for what we didn’t have in terms of fancy labs and equipment and other opportunities. And it meant that if you wanted to succeed, you really had to stick with it. You had to study, you had to work hard because it wasn’t given to you. But we were really taught if you were going to go far, you really had to apply yourself and you had to be dedicated to the educational process and that’s something that stuck with me so I guess I haven’t been as resentful of the fact that I didn’t have all of the opportunities and all of the educational accompaniment that many others had, but I’ve been very pleased to see people coming behind me who have had an opportunity to benefit from that decision to really have better — not just facilities, but better educational opportunities and the ability to go to the schools that are the best schools and to not be caught up by some of the distractions that we had to face.
BOND: Now, although this had no effect on you by the time you graduated from high school in ’58 —
PINN: That’s right.
BOND: How has it affected you in the larger sense from ’54 until now? What has Brown meant to you over this period of leaving high school and moving about in the world?
PINN: It has shown me how our country can change. I look back at my hometown and how it has changed. I look at my younger relatives and sons and daughters of friends who came along with me and see that they really have not had to endure some of the hardships that we faced prior to that decision or that people who lived during the transition and who were part of the battle had to face. And sometimes I wonder if the young people of today really realize what the leaders of the country and the leaders — I mean, the every-day people who were on the streets, who were in the schools, who were in the communities, who were fighting these battles who may never be in history books but who were really there making the change and struggling to make the changes come about — I wonder if the people, young people of today, really recognize what we went through and appreciate those efforts.
I do. I had left the South and was in college at the time that the changes really began to take place in my hometown. I was in Boston which was “integrated” although we know that during that time there were some major battles related to segregation in the school system in Boston that I sort of lived through to some degree being in the area, but looking back over the past years of my life and looking at where I am now, I guess I’m grateful for having witnessed and been a part of that movement that brought about change and having benefited from it and seeing that the youth of today and maybe some who are not so young now, since that was a number of years ago, have all benefited from what happened and at least we don’t have to be back in the times when we really got second-class educations and got the leftovers, even though with the leftovers, we certainly have seen many wonderful people excel and go far.
BOND: Now, when you look back to these high school years and even earlier, who are the people who had an effect on you? I know you came you said from a family of educators, and I’m assuming that they helped instill in you this desire to achieve and excel. What other people had an impact on you?
PINN: I think back to my early years and the teachers that I had, and there were many teachers who were very influential, the ones who demanded of me that I was never good enough — and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but that I could do better. I think of Maggie Harris who was an excellent teacher who taught me in high school and who really put demands on me and I can still remember her although that was over fifty years ago.
For directions to go forward, Dr. Paulie — Pauline [Fletcher] Weeden Maloney — learning — whom actually everybody called Paulie Weeden — was our guidance counselor who had lots of national contacts and who was the one who led me to determine or to think about what colleges I would go to. I didn’t know about Wellesley. I didn’t know Wellesley existed, and it was Paulie Weeden who said you should look at these schools, you should apply to these schools, introduced me to people who could help me learn and broaden my horizons. She introduced me to Anna Julian and Dr. Percy Julian so I went to Greencastle to visit DePauw, his alma mater, and I remember getting there and seeing as soon as people found out I knew Dr. Percy Julian the doors just opened. And so it was through Paulie Weeden that I had these contacts and she’s the one who suggested, I think, about Wellesley and so I looked into what Wellesley was and that’s where I ended up going.
There were other teachers. I talk about chemistry, but we may not have had the great facilities but in terms of going into science I think my high school chemistry teacher, Dr. W. E. Clark who is still alive and very active in Lynchburg and very much of a community activist there today. We may not have had the lab facilities but he taught me the discipline that I needed to succeed in science. So there were many people. I look back at many teachers that I was very fond of who really had an impact on me.
One other person was Ms. Jordan who not only taught superb English classes but also oversaw the Drama Club. And people often ask me today, \"Where did you get your start in public speaking?\" Because I have to do a lot of public speaking, and I say, \"I think back to my high school Drama Club and Ms. Jordan who taught us how to get on the stage and to speak and project your voice\" — because we didn’t have microphones back then, and I often say that I think it was Peggy Jordan who really set me up to do most of my public speaking and really contributed a lot to my being able to get on stage. Of course, I still get nervous sometimes but when you’ve been under Peggy Jordan in the ’50s and you’re on a high school stage, you learn how you have to speak up and speak out. So, I think there were a variety of people outside of my family.
My family was more supportive in terms of what I wanted to do and I guess when I think back, I say I’m very fortunate because they never told me I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do. They always just said, \"If you want to do that, if you want to be a doctor, you’ve got to study,\" and supported me in what I wanted to do even though we were of modest means. But there were many others in my community that really supported me.
BOND: Yes, what about community figures, people not in the school but people in Lynchburg? Were there other people who impacted you, either personally or who were pointed out to you as people worthwhile of copying and emulating?
PINN: Well, I ended up in medicine, and I often go back to the few doctors we had, the few black doctors we had in that town who really set an example for me. I think one of the people that I most admired was a Dr. Ralph Boulware, who was a good friend of my parents but was our family’s family doctor. And it just seemed to me that when he came to take care of my sick relatives, everybody felt better when he left. And he was always so pleasant and he was always there. And I watched as he went out on these late night calls or during the day, and I just so admired what he was doing and how he was always dedicated to medicine. He would talk about it and he’d talk about making people feel better. And with many people in the community, probably he is the one who most influenced my decision to go into medicine and my decision to become a doctor. And as I got into medical education and saw all the large amounts of knowledge that one has to know and I thought about how maybe we didn’t appreciate how much he really knew as a general practitioner because he had to know everything all the specialists in the universities knew as well as how to deal with people, and yet he always seemed to be there for the community. So I really think of Dr. Boulware as one of my favorite people who really served as a role model and mentor for me and who really set an example about serving the community, not just as a doctor but being there for advice and providing leadership and hope.
BOND: And the fact that he was a man and you were a girl —
BOND: — that was no disconnect for you, that you could do what he was doing?
PINN: Well, interesting — you know, I’ve been asked about that. I think I knew of a woman doctor in the area, but there were none that I really knew well. And I never — I think it really didn’t hit me then about being a woman and he was a man or the fact that I really didn’t know any real women doctors — well, I’d heard of one or two and I credit my family with the fact that they never pointed that out to me and never said, "Look, you’re a little black girl in a segregated city and most women don’t go into medicine. You’re going to have a hard time getting in." They never told me that so I never realized how difficult it was going to be or the fact that maybe I would be alone much of the early years of my career in terms of being in medicine — being a woman in medicine much less a minority women in medicine. And it didn’t really hit me until my first day in medical school.
But I credit my family with not — my family and my friends, I guess, for not really saying to me, "Look, you know, that’s crazy, you’re a woman, do you really think a woman can be a physician?" I didn’t think that a woman could not be, so it just never struck me and that probably carried me far because I didn’t worry about it until I got in the situation where I was the only.
BOND: Dr. Pinn, we’ve done a lot of research on you and found that at age four, you had decided to become a doctor and you learned how to spell the word pediatrician. Now —
PINN: Oh, you found that. That’s true.
BOND: How did it happen? When I was four, I was not thinking about pediatricians.
PINN: I spent a lot of time with grandparents because I came from a home where both mother and father worked, and in those days, when I was very young, my mother worked in another city. She was in Halifax and would commute back to Lynchburg where I spent most of the time with my father and my grandparents because of the rules then that two people of the same family couldn’t teach in the same school system. And I spent a lot of time with grandparents, both my mother’s parents on the farm down in Halifax, Virginia, and with my grandparents, my father’s parents, in Lynchburg. But my grandfather was ill and was suffering from cancer, and so that’s where I really got to see a lot of doctor visits from Dr. Boulware, Dr. Johnson coming to visit him. And my grandmother had diabetes and had to take shots for her diabetes, and my grandmother couldn’t stand to see a needle and my father was the strong one, although my father was a physical education teacher, not a physician, but he was the one who’d give the shots and he taught me how at that age.
My grandparents were very — I guess, very loving grandparents. I’m not sure I’d want to trust a four- or five-year-old to give me shots today but they did. And so I got into the mode of taking care of and helping my grandparents and sort of waiting on them as a child. And I think, as I’ve stated before, also noticing that when they weren’t well and the doctor would come to visit, they seemed to feel better afterwards, and I liked that feeling, the feeling that a doctors’ visit made someone feel better and when that person felt better — my grandmother and my grandfather — the rest of the family felt better because we’d all been dealing with the pain that they’d been going through. And that’s how I think back and recall that I wanted to be like those doctors we saw who came and made somebody feel better. And I remember thinking, you know, laughing because my aunts couldn’t stand to see a needle and they couldn’t stand to deal with blood and it didn’t seem to bother me. I guess I was my father’s daughter. It didn’t bother me, and I can remember it was my grandmother who taught me how to spell pediatrician. I don’t know why I selected pediatrician. Maybe when I said I wanted to be a doctor, if you were a woman in that day everybody assumed you were going to be a pediatrician.
BOND: So obstetrician never came into —
PINN: Never thought — I don’t think I even knew about obstetrics, but I was born at home and I’m not sure I recall even knowing about those and OB/GYN until much much later because it didn’t have much meaning to me, so I did — I can remember my grandmother drilling me on learning how to spell the word and being very proud that I could spell it and I held onto that idea of being a pediatrician until I got to medical school and found out with so few women in medicine, everybody assumed if you were a woman, you were going to be a pediatrician because women were good with babies. So what did I do? I became a pathologist.
BOND: Now, I wonder if the — maybe I’m reaching here, that the farm experience also helped to push you in this direction because you’re exposed to life and death and birth among the farm animals, that you get an exposure to blood and to other things that other kids might not have had.
PINN: That’s true. I didn’t think about that, but you’re probably right. I spent a lot of time — and I would spend especially all my summers up through high school down on my grandparents' farm in rural Virginia. And I did get exposure to many other aspects of caring — caring for animals, caring for people, the isolation of people in rural America, rural Virginia, the lack of access to physicians, how you had to go way out and you had to wait for somebody with a car or somebody to take you on horse to get to that access for health care. But I think probably, you know, not so much the experiences of blood and birth and dying, what I think I have mostly carried with me from those experiences on my grandparents' farm in rural Virginia are humble circumstances and how people live in various states of — I don’t want to say poverty because I don’t like to think of it being a state of poverty, but, you know, I remember when my grandparent’s farm did not have running water. I remember the well. You wouldn’t dare go to a well now with the contamination, but then we had wonderful well water. I remember the outhouse. But then I’d go to my citified, shall we say, grandparents in Lynchburg and there the circumstances were not quite as modest, you know, they were — they certainly had — were living what you’d call the big city life if you could call life in Lynchburg a big city. But I think I carried with me all these years those experiences from very humble and down-to-the-earth experiences and of those people who lived out in that rural area and what they had to face, and I hope it’s made me a better person because I know from whence I came and the people that helped me and supported me all the way from when the roads were muddy and my mother was coming to pick me up from my grandparents, my grandfather would put me on the back of a horse and ride me up to the main road so my mother could pick me up for the weekend, so those kind of experiences I think stay with you, and my grandmother — my grandfather was a carpenter. They had a farm.
My grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse and I can still remember going with her to those experiences — experiencing visiting with her there until she had so many children she didn’t — she’d just go to substitute but I can remember that.
I guess when you think back and remember all of this was a segregated society, but in the rural parts of Virginia, segregation didn’t mean as much in every-day life because people were all trying to survive. And I think we learned some lessons from that, too.
BOND: You talked a moment ago about a guidance counselor who suggested Wellesley, which you had not heard of. But you quickly learned it was all women and it was Northern and it was likely to be overwhelmingly white. What went into the decision to go there?
PINN: Well, I’d applied — I remember applying to five schools that Paulie Weedon recommended I look into. And my mother had some brothers in Boston so we’d gone up. I’d seen the campus. I remember saying that I wanted to go to school where there was snow, so I applied to Northern schools. Don’t ask me why, but that was the immaturity in me at that time because I certainly got to see lots of snow. But when I went for my school interviews — and I don’t think it really struck me it was going to be all girls or going to be mixed the way I’ve seen young people today, they really debate the concept of whether they want to be in a single-sex school or be in a mixed environment.
I just knew I wanted to be a doctor, and I wanted to get into a college that was going to help me get to medical school. And I remember as I went on my interviews each place that I went, when people asked where I had applied, they just all seemed to be impressed with Wellesley when I— they'd say, "Oh, you applied to Wellesley." So, I thought, "Well, gee, if everybody’s impressed maybe that’s where I need to go," and that was the last acceptance I got.
Sometimes being naïve helps because I wasn’t as nervous about whether or not I’d get into Wellesley. I decided I wanted to get there. Got acceptance in other schools. That was the last one that I got and I decided that’s where I wanted to go. I think I really didn’t know the competition I was facing. I really didn’t know the environment that I was going to be going into. I knew I’d be going up North, be going where it was cold, there’d be snow. I knew it was a good school and I knew it seemed to be well respected by those who were at other institutions, and maybe it was better that I wasn’t as concerned and worried as I might have been had I known how competitive it was going to be, how few of us there were going to be there.
I had had a few experiences going off to like, summer — not camps but education experiences. I remember that I was selected to be one of a couple of people from Lynchburg to come up to Hood College outside of Washington in Maryland, and there were maybe just one or two black women there and it was mostly a conference or workshop or something, but it was an experience that I have never forgotten because I met and had an opportunity to be in this sort of educational summer experience where there were not many blacks but where the white girls were very receptive. So I didn’t really have a negative experience there, so I guess sometimes, being naïve, I hadn’t really worried about the things that maybe I should’ve worried about but it’s maybe better that I didn’t because then I got there, lived the experiences, saw the differences, differences in the education environment but also differences in the community environment because Boston started going through a lot of turmoil during those years of ’58 to ’62 when I was in college and really beginning to witness what was happening in terms of what others were experiencing.
BOND: Now, the people who championed single-sex education or women’s education, particularly, say that if you go to Spelman, if you go to Wellesley or if you go to Vassar, which used to be single-sex — that there’s a kind of nurturing of women that takes place there that wouldn’t take place had you gone to a co-ed school. Did you experience that at Wellesley or maybe not having some comparison, you don’t know, but do you think Wellesley gave you the kind of nurturing that you might not have gotten had you gone some place else?
PINN: I think so, but, you know, I think back and certainly my high school was both boys and girls, as we were called then, and I guess I always have been one to speak up and speak out. And so getting to Wellesley, being with all women, I don’t know that it made — I’m not sure that it was — well, let’s just say it did nurture me and it did encourage me to move on, but I did see and hear from many others who maybe hadn’t always been as aggressive in their styles and outspoken as I guess I’ve been all my life, who felt that the experience of being in an all-women’s institution really did make a difference.
I enjoyed that environment and I enjoyed the stimulation of being among women who were outstanding, that I could look up and benefit from their experiences, and where I didn’t feel I was having to compete so much on the basis of being female versus male which was the exact opposite of what I had to deal with when I went into medical school. That was a different environment. But since that time, watching and talking to a lot of young women who’re making decisions, trying to encourage them to think about an all-female school like Spelman or like Wellesley, that I’ve seen many make the decision that they would prefer to go to a school that was all female because they witnessed what seemed to be a better nurturing, better support because you weren’t afraid of social situations and you were able to express yourselves freely and it has made a difference. And, of course, then there’re others who feel they’d rather be in a social environment where they’ve got both men and women to compete with.
BOND: Now, is there a point in your life when you said to yourself — and I’m going to guess you’re going to say no — when you said I am a leader because you are a leader. I mean, come on, you are a leader. But is there a point in your life where you said, "I’m a leader" or "I’ve reached a position where other people looked to me for leadership, for advice, for counseling"?
PINN: Well, I guess yes and no. I’m not — I’m not sure about being a leader but I also think based on the experience of my lifetime have felt that somebody has to step up. And if there’s a need and if you sit back and wait for somebody else to do it, it might not get done. And I guess I just sort of learned that from my family experiences and also some of the experiences that I had where if I hadn’t stepped forward, I never would’ve gotten to where I wanted to be.
If I didn’t speak up, I wouldn’t — I might not have the opportunity, might not be able to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. And seeing that not everybody feels comfortable doing that, I’ve probably stuck my neck out more times than probably I should have, speaking up maybe if not for myself, for others. That’s not always appreciated, but I guess that’s just how I was raised.
BOND: When did this habit of speaking out begin? Is this a phenomenon that began maybe in grade school? High school? College?
PINN: I — as long as I can remember, I guess. I often say that I’m a mixture of the personalities of my parents. My father was very outgoing, aggressive. My mother was very sweet and very shy. And I think I got a little bit of both, but actually now that I think about it, when I — there was a moment when I learned I really had to speak out and to really take charge of things. When I was nineteen, my mother — and I had just finished my sophomore year in college, and my mother had this terrible pain in her hip. And she was going to the doctor, and he told her that her problem was her posture and she was having back problems. And I remember going to the doctor with her and having him tell her, "Francina, your problems are related to your back and if you do those exercises I told you to do and get those Oxford shoes, you wouldn’t be having this pain." And, you know, my mother was very shy, very quiet, and I can remember him talking down to her and telling her that. And I remember we went to get the Oxford shoes and I can just remember she was in so much pain.
But I went to Indianapolis to spend the summer with my mother's sister and to take my physics course that summer, and the last day of my physics course I found a letter to me from my mother telling me that she was having surgery, that they’d found a tumor. So this doctor had missed her tumor. It was my father who found it after it had grown through the bone, and my father found it.
BOND: Found it in a massage.
PINN: He was massaging her to try to make her feel better, found this knot and it turns out all this time that she was being given gold shots and told to do exercises. They had never done the tests or never done anything to determine this cancer that she had, so I went back home the next day after my exam. It was the first time I’d ever flown on an airplane. I remember being on this little plane. My family drove me to Cincinnati and I caught a Piedmont airplane to go back to Lynchburg and to see my mother. And, again, here’s where I think Dr. Boulware and others came in saying maybe we need to try to get her to Sloan Kettering. So we went to New York.
You know, we didn’t have much insurance then, didn’t have a lot of money. That hospital was very expensive. So I stayed with my mother in New York while my father went back home to work and he would come up, drive up, from Lynchburg to New York to see my mother. It was in that environment in Memorial Hospital in New York City where I could no longer be shy because my mother was very ill. She was dying. And I saw, if you wanted to get care, you had to speak up. And I often do think back — I guess I’d sort of suppressed that — to that being the summer that I had to learn to move from being shy and reserved to speaking up and speaking out to get what my mother needed to take care of her there. And I — that did represent a transition in my life to being more aggressive and learning that I had to speak up. I couldn’t cower when important people came around. I had to speak up if I were going to take care of her and have her feel better. And that was a turning point in my life. I’d almost forgotten about that, it was so long ago, but for many years and even now reflecting back, that was the time that I realized that if you just stayed shy and didn’t speak up, you weren’t going to get what you needed. And that was in the context of making things better for my mother.
BOND: And that lesson has stayed with you through life?
PINN: It has. It has.
BOND: Now, why did you pick the University of Virginia to go to medical school? Because it was home — a home state school?
PINN: Well, my mother did die. I stayed with her until that February, I took a leave of absence from school. And we were a very close family. I don’t have any sisters or brothers. My mother and father both came from very large families so very much into family relationships and family nurturing, but I had no sisters or brothers myself. And my mother’s death really hit both my father and myself very hard. And I wanted to come back to be close to my father, so that’s why I applied to the University of Virginia. I knew a little bit about the University of Virginia but I knew about the University as a segregated facility. My grandfather had been a patient there when I was in elementary school, but on the segregated wards and I can still in my mind visualize the black ward at the University of Virginia at the old hospital but I knew it was good. It represented a place that for those of us in that area if you wanted to get good medical care you hoped that you’d get to go to U. Va., so I had seen that in my mind and I knew it was a great institution and it would be close to home so I applied and, by that time, I had had the experience of being in Boston.
I had had the experience of knowing what was happening in Virginia because that’s when integration was beginning to take place. It still was not completely in place by the time I went back to medical school, but it was beginning to take place and I had been through and seen the turmoil and the experience some of the — some really rather nasty incidents in Boston of being black in the community there. So I applied, but I wasn’t at all sure I’d get in.
Didn’t really worry again so much about being a woman because Wellesley had put that confidence in me and I could struggle. I got through Wellesley, and I had been working in a research position at Harvard Medical School so I’d been around the guys, so the guys didn’t intimidate me so much because I had been there, had gotten to know them, and realized they were just like everybody else and so I applied, not sure what would happen and I got accepted.
BOND: Let me skip to something earlier. When you’re in Boston, you joined Delta Sigma Theta, and I’m guessing there was no chapter at Wellesley.
PINN: Are you kidding? No, there wasn’t. There were only at Wellesley in that whole school at that time there were — and at that point, minority was considered to be black, so we’d say we were the minorities. There were two seniors. There were two juniors — I mean two seniors, no juniors, two sophomores, and four of us in the freshman class, so a total of eight in that environment. But because there were so few of us “minorities,” or blacks as we were, in the community, you got to know who was in the whole New England area, who was there in the schools and, you know, we got to know kids at BU, we got to know kids at Dartmouth, we got to know kids at Harvard, a few Radcliffe, at all the schools in that area, and it seemed that the sororities and fraternities were the way to really get to know not only other blacks who were in school at that point but really get to know people from the Boston area and I’ve valued that experience for many years.
I’ve heard people say Boston is a very cold place when they go there to go to school when they really just stay in the school environment. I got to meet many people from the Boston area who were — who joined the sororities and fraternities and our Pan-Hellenic gatherings, as we called them then, really gave me sort of a community of people like me in the midst of the Wellesley environment or in the Boston environment and from those exposures, I still have friends today that I met during those times.
BOND: Now, let me move on to some questions about leadership philosophy. Do you see a difference between vision, philosophy, and style? And if you see a division, how do these interact for you — vision, philosophy and style? You spoke a moment ago about your style in learning how to speak out and speak up when previously you’d not done that. You’d modeled yourself on your mother, a relatively shy person. So you have a style, but what’s your philosophy, what’s your vision?
PINN: I’m not sure everybody likes my style because I did learn back then to speak up and speak out if you wanted to accomplish something and fortunately or unfortunately that’s been with me since and I guess especially in the position I’m in now, I’ve really had to learn how to be able and be willing to speak out but to learn how to do it so that I’m not offensive or seen as too aggressive because sometimes that can take away from accomplishing what you want to do.
BOND: Is that particularly true for women?
PINN: I think it’s far more true, more the case for women. I’ve seen women leaders that I’ve worked with, worked under, who’ve been criticized for their “aggressiveness” for doing — for exhibiting the same kind of leadership that in a man would be seen as a very positive trait. And this isn’t new and I’m not the only one that’s witnessed that, but it’s been a recurring thing that I’ve witnessed over the years. I can remember when I was Dean of Students at Tufts Medical School and having some excellent women medical students who didn’t do well in their rotations because they didn’t speak up and yet I knew they had the knowledge. I knew they were bright young women and I’d have to say, "Yes, they’ll call us the b-word if you speak up too much, but if you want to get an A in that rotation, you’ve got to learn to speak up. Don’t let these guys be aggressive, share what they know, and you stand there quietly and demurely and be thought to be dumb. Speak up."
And so it’s been a matter of my having experienced this, watching others experience the concept of if you’re a woman speaking up and being forthcoming and how you’re thought of by doing that versus being thought of as not having the knowledge, not having the information, not having the ability or the skills because you don’t speak up, so that’s been part of my tact in advising young women in science or whatever their careers. But there has to be a balance because you don’t want to be obnoxious in being aggressive or overly aggressive, so I’ve had to try to learn how to do that, how to be forthcoming, how to be — how to move forward and to be outspoken but at the same time not be offensive and that’s what I try to talk to young women about. And I’ve just — it’s very true for me, watching women leaders who really get put down for being outgoing and speaking up and the very traits that would been seen as positive traits in men.
BOND: So vision, philosophy, style — how do these work together for you?
PINN: Well, I think you can’t just be outspoken. You can’t just be a leader if you don’t know what you’re leading. You’ve got to have some principles. And I think for me it’s sort of carrying forward what I like to call my own sense of integrity, my own sense of character, and maintaining my own — my credibility with myself. In terms of what I do, what I pursue, and how I do it. And then — in other words, being true to those religious and family and societal principles that my family worked very hard to try to instill in me when I was very young and not forgetting those.
Having a vision to know where you’re going. I like to say when I’m talking to young people you’ve got to dream and you’ve got to reach for the stars because if you don’t reach for the stars, you’re going to be stuck down in the mud and muck, and I made that comment at a commencement address and it’s the one that’s seems to get quoted the most, but it was the best way I could think of to express that concept. You can’t just be satisfied with where you are. You’ve always got to look towards where you want to go whether it’s you personally or in terms of those, whatever you’re working on or those you’re working with, and then trying to figure out the best way to get there, then letting — then really using that vision, direct your efforts and try to take you there whether it’s you personally or some ideal or some practice or some principle or some project. We do a lot of that where I am now in our office — coming up with things we’d like to see happen and then taking the practical approach. "Okay, we’ve got this vision," if you will, say, "We’ve got this idea. What could really make a difference in women’s health, in women’s careers? What can we do to get there, what will it take?" And then kind of figuring out how to get there, so I guess that’s sort of how I operate both in my professional life and in my personal life, but you can’t always direct your personal life. I think I can do a better job in my professional life than always with my personal life.
BOND: Is what you’ve been describing, is that a vision that describes the way you’ve conducted your life both professionally and privately? A vision you talked about — the work you do which essentially is ensuring that women get fair treatment in the larger field of medicine. Is that your vision?
PINN: I think it’s sort of evolved over the years. What is my vision? I guess my vision has a lot of different facets and there’re many areas that I have thought about and continue to think about in terms of life and living, myself, the community at large. I think there’re so many people who have done so much so I don’t really see my life as being that significant except in my small sphere, but I often say I think my greatest accomplishments — and what I hope will be my legacy — are the accomplishments that I see, those that I have taught, my students, those I’ve worked with, those I’ve hopefully had a little bit of influence on, when I see them go to levels of achievement far greater than I would ever get to, that’s when I get really proud.
It’s sort of like all of my former students are sort of like family, students, to me. I don’t have children of my own but I sort of see all my former students. I right now, every year at the National Medical Association meeting have a reunion of students that I taught when I was at Tufts that I was a dean to and I still hear from them. Now, I left Tufts in ’82, so that’s almost twenty-five years ago, and yet students that I taught from the ’70s and ’80s, many of them are still in touch with me and I just rejoice in seeing what they’ve done and when I hear that I may have played a small role in their achievements, so I guess that’s sort of what brings joy to me. And I can think of so many people who contributed to me and I just don’t want to be selfish like so many other people I see who don’t take the time for people that need them. It can take up all your time, but if somebody hadn’t had time to guide me or be there for me when I was going through rough times or to give me advice on what I might do to further my life, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today and I just feel we need more people to do that and that’s sort of how I’ve lived my life.
BOND: You mentioned religious principles a moment ago. Is that an important foundation? Is that a part of what makes you who you are today?
PINN: That was very important to me, especially when I was growing up. I think I was — I went to Sunday School. I went to the Baptist church, I went to the Episcopal church. I sang in the choir. I was the summer organist for the church. I played at other churches to make money on Sunday as the organist.
My father was a deacon and we went to — and I was very involved in the religious community and I think as is true in most Southern cities that the church is sort of the center of the community and that’s where you see your friends and that’s where you get your inspiration. And I also studied religion. I took a number of religion courses when I was in college, which my parents weren’t happy about because those religion courses make you think about and challenge some of the concepts in the Bible and learn, you know, what is historical versus what may be allegorical and when I was calling home talking about that, I think my parents got a little upset that I was questioning some of the principles that were — that we sort of took for granted from my biblical teachings. But I — and I think it was really that faith and that strong background that got me through those years when my mother died. All the way through college and all the way through medical school, unless I was on call, I was in church on Sunday and I was there and that was a sense of very strong support.
The integration of the churches in my hometown, sort of like my high school, things disappeared. When integration came to the schools, my high school was the high school no longer. They tore down the main building and it became a junior school. When the churches integrated, my church no longer was a church. It was absolved into the larger white church and I never felt quite as welcome there, but that didn’t keep me from associating with churches. I wasn’t living there after that time. But yes, it was very important because it was very important to my family.
BOND: As you’ve gone along in your academic work and your present position, there had to be resistance to things you wanted to do.
PINN: Oh, yes.
BOND: How do you deal with that?
PINN: Well, yes, there’s resistance and even today, I experience some degree of resistance. And I’ve never sure whether it’s because of me personally. Maybe my personality, it’s nothing to do with being a woman or being a minority. Or whether being minority or being a woman plays a role and I think it’s difficult and probably not worth the time trying to figure out why the resistance, that I really need to focus my efforts on how to overcome what the resistance is and thinking about if what I’m trying to do that’s creating this atmosphere of negativity towards what I want to do is based in fact, based on something that I can rectify, or if it’s just totally something ethereal, something not justified. But I think I’ve dealt with that over the years in so many different ways.
Being at the University of Virginia at a time when I learned after the first couple of weeks that I had — that there were places I still couldn’t go in Charlottesville, that they were just beginning to integrate some of the wards there. Looking when I went to Wellesley and then we’d go into the north end and we were told the N word — "Go home, we don’t want you here in this community." And that was in a place where supposedly we didn’t have segregation but that happened.
Then I really wanted to go into surgery because I loved using my hands and I’d done research during the time I was in medical school with a transplant surgeon and I loved surgery, but very few places were taking women in surgery, so I didn’t have the opportunity to go into surgery because I figured after four years as the only woman, only minority in medical school, I didn’t think I could fight that. You know, the few places that were taking women in surgery mostly were in the South and I wasn’t sure I’d get in anyway or that that was really going to be worth the mental anguish I’d have to go through while still trying to excel in surgery. Those opportunities are open now, and I tell young women, "You’ve got — you don’t necessarily have it made but you’ve got those opportunities we didn’t have." And there again, it was a matter of both being a woman and being a minority, looking where the opportunities existed. But it’s been a matter of often just sort of gritting my teeth and trying to maintain a good sense of decorum and not being beat down to go forward. And I guess I tell myself over and over that the battles I’m fighting are minor compared to the battles that those before me have fought and some that have really threatened —
I don’t think I’ve been in situations that have been life or death situations and so what I like to do is think about, you know, this is something I have to overcome, but it’s no way near as severe what other people have experienced, so, you know, "Get yourself up and keep going," and that’s what I have to do.
BOND: Now, in moments like this or other moments, what have mentors done? I was thinking about Dr. Bernadine Healy who brought you where you are, people in the community. You mentioned going to church in Boston, meeting people through the sorority. What kind of support, if any, did these other people — ?
PINN: I’ve gotten support from places where I didn’t always necessarily expect it. For instance, after my mother died while I was still at Wellesley — and in those days, all your papers and exams were after vacation time, so I needed to write some papers and I needed books and I knew I was going to need to use the library in my hometown. Now, this is — we’re talking about 1961, '62. And I wrote to my father and said please find out if we can get some books from the library and what happened was that we were told that — now, this in the ’60s, this is long after 1954 — that I could not have access to the city library and, no, I could not have my high school librarian get books for me there. I was not allowed to use them. We checked with Lynchburg College, Randolph-Macon, Sweet Briar College — which were the colleges in the community and in my city — and were told that, no, I could not have access to the library. I could not take books out and I could not get somebody to get them for me.
Now, we didn’t have much money. I’d lost my mother, and I’m thinking, "What am I going to do? I can’t stay in Boston over the holidays. I want to go home but I’ve got to work on these papers." And I was just torn. I didn’t know what to do, especially after being in so-called integrated Boston and then still having to face these problems. And I had a college roommate whose mother was married to James Ramsey Ullman, the author, and I remember she came to me with an envelope and gave it to me. You know, roommates, they pay attention but they don’t pay attention. I was going through this. And I remembered this note. It was from James Ramsey Ullman who said, "Vivian, take this as a small token of my protest against segregation. Buy the books you need for your papers." And it was a check for $75.00, which at that point was a huge amount of money. I mean, I had met him. He was nice, but I had never talked to him.
It meant that my college roommate had taken my issues home to her family and here from someone I knew but was not very close to came some support which then really made a difference for me because it not only showed that people were thinking about me, but that I needed to get over this problem, just go ahead and what I needed to do because people had faith and confidence in me. And I’ve had a number of experiences like that where people I haven’t expected or didn’t think were really paying attention really were and were looking out for me.
Now, Bernadine Healy is another example and a different one. I had known her when she was a medical student. I was a resident when she was a Harvard medical student, but I didn’t think she’d remember me. She’s such an accomplished woman who’d done much and I had been sort of following her career. And she obviously had become very well known in the medical world and she was named as Director of the NIH and I thought, "She’ll never remember me. I remember when she was a medical student." And I ran into her at a meeting at the NIH and she said, "Oh, Vivian, come talk to me." And I thought, "Oh sure, I’m going to go talk to the Director of NIH," and I said, "Thank you," and I just never called. And I got a call to come out to — that she wanted to meet with me and I said — And it was on Tuesday at ten a.m. and I said, "But I’ve got lectures at eight." They said, "That’s the only time she has and she wants to see you." So I said, "Okay, I’ll be there," and I came in to see her.
I wasn’t sure what she wanted and she said, "Vivian, I’ve been following your career. I remember when you were a resident and I was a medical student. We’ve got this new office. Why don’t you come out and head up this new office of women’s health at NIH?" Happened like that. And the media loved it. They called it the old girls network and I think it really was, but here’s someone from my past that I had known who gave me an opportunity that I never would’ve pursued. I never would’ve thought to apply for a position such as this and it’s really made a difference in my life.
I just have loved what we’re doing, but it put me in a whole ‘nother realm of opportunity, a whole ‘nother realm of career. And I also think that her support for what I wanted to do in this position made a difference. So, yes, I’m very proud of knowing her and I am very grateful to her for allowing me to — and actually bringing me into this situation and providing the support that I think really made the difference in bringing women’s health research off the ground.
BOND: Now, do you have a general philosophy that guides you through life? Is there some general set of philosophical principles that you try to follow or have tried to follow?
PINN: I’m sure there are. I’m not sure I can articulate them. I really don’t. I haven’t really thought about it that way. I guess I’m involved in so many different dimensions that I think in terms of different activities and, again, it just comes down to not doing anything that I feel would be unethical, would go against a sense of being —
BOND: It sounds like the physicians injunction — first, do no harm.
PINN: That’s true. But I guess I sort of was brought up feeling that way long before I became a doctor but, yeah, that’s probably as good a way as any to put it — do no harm.
BOND: Now, how has that sustained you through moments of resistance or alienation or rejection?
PINN: It’s a matter of — I guess if I think about it, feeling that what I’m pursuing — taking stock in what I’m pursuing — is it really worth the effort and the sacrifices or the battles and if it is, then I have no choice but to move forward. And that’s sort of how I approach things. If I’m fighting a battle and I think about it in the larger scope of the world, the larger scope of my world or larger scope of whatever we’re working in, if it’s not worth it, then maybe I need to direct my efforts elsewhere, but if it’s something that’s very important that needs to be done, then I need to hang in there and do it. If nobody else will or if others come along with me, all the better, but you never accomplish things or you never bring about change if you don’t battle forward.
BOND: And if you think you’re right, you’ll go forward by yourself?
PINN: I will, but I have to be careful that I don’t overestimate my own righteousness in feeling I’m right, so I have to make those decisions about whether or not I’m right based on some outside influences, and I am certainly capable and often do say to friends or colleagues, you know, "Tell me, do you think that what I’m trying to pursue is right? Is this something we should be doing because of the resistance, either on a personal level or professional level?" So I don’t try to just make all those decisions myself.
When I talk to young people, I often say you’ve got to have self-confidence but you can’t be arrogant. I don’t like arrogance. I don’t like it in people and in me professionally. I don’t like it in people that I meet personally. I have known professionals who are arrogant that I say, "Okay, I can accept that because they earned it. I know their careers. I know their lives, so I can accept their arrogance. Maybe they deserve to have that degree of arrogance." But I know you don’t have to be arrogant, so when it comes to whether or not I think I’m right in where I’m going, I have to remind myself all the time what I say to others — I can’t be arrogant about it. I need to have the self-confidence but I don’t want to be arrogant about it. If that makes sense —
BOND: Yes, that makes sense.
PINN: — but that’s really how I think about it. I really have a problem with people who are always self-righteous and arrogant in their self-righteousness regardless of what anybody else thinks and so I have to keep myself in check to make sure I don’t assume those same attitudes.
BOND: What’s the difference between a leader and a manager?
PINN: You’ve used the term vision a lot and I guess I’ve not really responded to that because I think of vision in many different ways and I’m not sure I have a set vision. But I think that’s probably the key to the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager is someone you can put in and they can handle what they’ve got to do. A leader is someone who’s got the vision, who can manage but also lead where you need to go, so it’s, to me, a different set of traits. It’s a different set of qualities and it’s probably more in terms of being able to see direction as opposed to — and to pursue a new direction or pursue a directed effort versus just making sure something happens. That’s what I think of as a manager, someone who sort of makes sure something’s taking place that the manager may or may not have determined needs to take place, but leadership to me is more than that.
Leadership is setting an example. Leadership is helping the manager to manage the product or the people or the effort and I think they’re very different, different qualities involved.
BOND: So the leader might have a vision but the manager doesn’t require a vision?
PINN: Yes. I think that’s — I’m not sure everybody agrees with that, but that’s my concept of the major difference.
BOND: Now, is there still a need today to push for the inclusion of women, of racial minorities, in the larger general field of health?
PINN: Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.
BOND: And medical care?
PINN: Well, I think there’re two issues here. One, that there is a need to encourage more women to be involved in science, engineering and health care, and it’s just been wonderful that that is an aspect of my office. It’s something I’ve long been interested in and it’s great that it’s part of the mission of my office at the NIH is the mandate to develop and promote opportunities for women in biomedical careers, so I’ve had an opportunity to use my personal initiatives, personal experiences, to help develop programs in that vein.
Then also looking at the role of minority women in health care and in research. We’ve seen increases over the years, certainly far more than there were when I was coming along, but — and, in fact, in some minority groups, especially African Americans, we see far more African American women than men coming into medicine which raises the concern now about also addressing African American men in terms of getting them into, interested in, and continuing in careers related to medicine and health care. But the major issues now are not so much the pipeline only. We need to continue to encourage young girls of all races and cultures to consider careers in science, not only because it’s stimulating, because it can be wonderful, it can be fulfilling, but if we’re ever going to overcome health disparities, we really need people in there who’re going to understand the issues that women and minorities are facing and I think that that’s a unique quality that we can see in having physicians who are like some of the people they will be taking care of, not that every minority physician has to have a minority patient population, but I think being part of that mix.
But where we’re seeing the major issues are related to advancement of women and minorities in their careers, to senior positions, to leadership positions, to deans of medical schools, dental schools, schools of pharmacy, to being the CEO, to being head of a company, to being the primary — being the principal investigator on a research grant. And so our major focus and my major focus these days is not only to continue to encourage young people to believe in their dreams and to consider careers in health and science and research but also to look at those factors that are obstructing women and minorities from advancing in their careers. That’s both in terms of the education environment, the academic status progression to full professor or tenured professor, department chair, deans, etc., but also just being able to advance in terms of career objectives.
We have some major programs going and I’m just very excited because right now we have some major efforts going in this vein and it’s allowed me to both combine my personal interests with our professional activities for an area that I have been devoted to for many, many years.
BOND: How does race consciousness affect the work you do? And affect you? Do you see yourself as a kind of leader who advances issues of race or issues of the society or both of them? Are they same?
PINN: I think definitely both of those. Many people were, to be honest, surprised — and I think there’s some who never quite gotten over the fact — that a minority woman is heading an office that’s dealing with all women. It’s not an office of minority women. It’s an office of research on women. I’ve been able to — so I think it has made me much more sensitive when we develop our programs to make sure that our programs, our health perspectives, our career perspectives are directed towards and inclusive of women who are minority and non-minority so that we really have inclusive programs and I think that’s very important to do and will continue to do that, but in terms of how —
Sometimes I do experience episodes like recently where I was invited to a major university as a visiting professor for a program that I know was developed and funded to encourage women in science. It’s not a minority program. It is a program to encourage women in science. I always enjoy when I go to institutions meeting those who are minorities and minority students, but I like meeting students in general and especially when I’m representing the office because that’s what the office is about. And recently I was invited, and when I got the agenda, they had lined me up only to speak on health disparities, only to meet with minority students and I was a little taken aback because while I like to do that and often do that, I knew —
I felt they had really sort of stereotyped me and sort of narrowed my venue based upon what they knew about me personally because that certainly wasn’t — if you look at our programs, while we focus on minority women, minority women’s health, minorities in clinical trials, we’re focusing more broadly on women. And so I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want it to look as though I didn’t want to have that perspective, but I wished they’d been more honest up front in saying they were inviting me not as a woman involved in women and science — because that’s what their program’s about, I know their grant and that’s what our efforts are — but if they had said we want you as a minority woman to come meet with minorities, I think if they’d been more honest I wouldn’t have been as taken aback, so — you know, and that happens often where I’m invited as a minority woman so people up front and that’s fine, I love it, I love being able to say to young people, "Look, I did it. If I did it, you can do it because you’re brighter than I am, you’ve got more opportunities, this is fine and yes, I’m like you, we share a lot of characteristics." But I also like to carry the message to every woman regardless of race or culture, because those are the initiatives of our office and they should not be race blind either way. They should be inclusive but not restricted to just one group.
BOND: It’s interesting that you raise this issue because it seems to me it’s something that is both objectionable and understandable.
BOND: Objectionable because you resist the pigeon-holing, but understandable because you are who you are.
PINN: Yes, and I can’t deny who I am or what I am.
BOND: How do you get over the feeling that on the one hand, don’t put me in that box. On the other hand, that’s a box I’m in.
PINN: I’d rather just be honest and up front about it. Then, fine, if they had said, "We’re inviting you because you’re a minority woman to speak to minorities in an environment where there is a mixed population — " It was not a minority institution. It was not a minority program that invited me, so, you know, and perhaps I shouldn’t have made as much of it but it sort of was strange to me —
BOND: It is strange.
PINN: — strange to me in 2007 that I do get brought to an institution where I know people of all types who were there and then to be directed only towards a limited group. Many times I will go and I’m asked to meet with students and then the minority student group will want to also meet with me. Or the Deltas, the students who were Deltas, will want to meet with me and that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean that — it doesn’t imply to me when that happens that it’s thought that my sphere of influence or significance is limited only to those in a certain community.
BOND: Building on the example you just gave us about the invitation you received, do you have a different style when you're dealing with groups that are all black or mixed-race or all white or even the Deltas? Are you different?
PINN: I actually — I think I'm probably the same with all. I don't know that I — I think I'm probably the same. Except unless we're singing the Delta sweetheart song, then I may get a little more jazzy then, but otherwise I think I'm pretty much the same person. I don't try to take on or assume the airs of a group that I feel that I'm interacting with, to me that would be phony. I'm me. I have my style, I have — whatever that is, but I'm me, and my ideas about medicine, about health care. I'm very apt to be discussing things of specific importance to the poor or to immigrants or to African Americans in a mixed group as I am to be discussing general principles, and I think it would be rather phony to kind of try to just be like the group I'm with and change my attitude. At least, I hope I don't, let's put it that way. I hope I don't. I really — to me, that's not being true to who you are.
BOND: In the work you do now, are there tensions between focusing on the inclusion of women or the inclusion of minority women? And if there are, how do you work them out?
PINN: I’m fortunate. We don’t have tensions, at least none that I’ve witnessed, and maybe that’s because in 1993, the U.S. Congress passed a law that requires that any research studies funded by the NIH must include women and minorities, unless, of course, the condition being studied doesn’t affect women or minorities, so we have the power of law to help us enforce NIH policies that require the inclusion of both women and minorities in clinical research. The law only applies to the NIH. It does not apply to industry as part of the NIH Revitalization Act. As far as I can tell, we’re the only country in the world that has such a law that actually mandates and requires inclusion of women and minorities.
This has been a wonderful tool for us to use in both addressing and determining the needs of women in general, women versus men, looking at sex and gender differences, and those particulars or particular differences, or health disparities as many like to refer to them, among different populations of women or of men, because we are directed to look at minority populations. So we’ve not really had a tension.
I think my office and I think NIH in general has been working very well towards recognizing that we have the law, whether you like or not, and our basic effort, our challenge, is to make sure that scientists and researchers understand the importance of including different populations, not just women with men, but looking at minority populations. And that’s something that not only we in our office but others at NIH spend a great deal of time working on. That has worked very well and it means that we don’t have to compartmentalize or separate those issues. They are intertwined, and they work very well.
BOND: Now, the whole basis of this program — this is kind of a follow-up to the last — the whole basis of what we’re doing here today is the focus on black leadership. Is there a danger of divisiveness when you think about leadership in this racial way?
PINN: I’m not sure I understand the question.
BOND: There’re people who would say, you know, "Why are you focusing on black leadership, what about just leadership?" And I’m guessing there must be some people who say, "Why’re you focusing on minority women? Why aren’t you focusing exclusively on all women? Why are the concerns of minority women of interest or important or different in any way?" I mean —
PINN: It’s just such a given to me and I guess that’s the difficulty. To me, there are differences, so how can I express this? Well, we know that. In fact, I guess one of the basic principles I point out is that if we’re looking at studying women — why? It’s because we know that women are not exactly like men and we’ve known since early early years, not as scientists but as kids, that there’re differences between men and women and then if you applied that in terms of the scientific endeavor, it is learning how those differences may affect health, well-being, survival, longevity, diseases, and health. But just as we can’t assume that all women are the same as all men, we should not assume that all women are the same. And therefore it’s important regardless of one’s perspective or one’s heritage in a scientific endeavor to learn what are those differences among different populations and why do they exist? And, to me, that’s the fundamental concept for research to be as important as I think it is in overcoming health disparities.
Are there biological differences or are there societal factors that contribute to the high immortality for breast cancer for black women than for white women? Does it have something to do with the tumors we develop or does it have something to do with society and our lack of access to health care or how we’re treated in the health care system? So it’s all intertwined, some of it biological and some of it societal. I don’t think you can really always separate those factors and they are of importance. So, to me, it’s important that we understand these differences and where perhaps my own experiences from my own community or from my own life can help inform some of the directions in which we need to go or some of the scientific inquiries that need to be raised. I would like to think that that’s a valuable asset rather than a negative to this whole enterprise.
BOND: Do you think that black leaders have a special obligation to help black people?
PINN: This is tough one. Not for me, but I think in terms of expressing it. I think — actually, "yes" is the simple answer. I think you do. Does a black person have an obligation to not overlook and not forget the communities and the people that you came from and when you can help them and to inform them and to help them improve, why shouldn’t you?
BOND: Is there a time when that obligation ends and you’re free to pursue personal interests or professional interests, or other interests?
PINN: Oh, I don’t know that it needs to be exclusive. I’m not sure that it’s an exclusive obligation.
BOND: They happen together.
PINN: It’s not an exclusive obligation. Just as I have had concerns looking at minorities in medicine when in fact we made the big plea or many made the big plea that we need more blacks in medicine because they will go back to their communities and so I then — what I witnessed was that there were medical institutions that would say we had an application from a black student who was great but we didn’t take that student because that student wanted to be a researcher and didn’t talk about going back to the community. My response is our community is everywhere, so why would you deny that student the opportunity to enter into the research environment or the hospital environment? Why do you only see the community as being the ghetto or the black street?
I don’t think that every minority who goes into medicine has to necessarily treat just minorities. Most of them will, but I don’t think that’s a requirement, just as I don’t think that we would have anything against someone who went to a non-minority physician. If you’re sick, you want the best expertise. I think our responsibility is to develop that expertise in a variety of individuals and hope that if you are sick as a patient you will have access to the best care there is. But at the same time, I don’t think that because you are black, that you should resist speaking to or catering to the black community, but it doesn’t mean you should do it exclusively.
I see and say the same thing about women in research. That we support careers for women in research but I know that not all women’s health research is going to be done by women, nor should it be. And so we support both career development for women as well as career development for both men and women who may do women’s health research. I think the same thing applies in terms of community service, leadership, and contributions to the community.
BOND: When you look at your life, what do you think is your greatest contribution as a leader?
PINN: I’m guess I’m a little nervous when you keep calling me a leader, but, you know, hopefully I have led —
BOND: When you came in this room — when you came to this room, you were a leader.
PINN: I’d like to think that perhaps I have been a leader or will be a leader, but I think my greatest contributions are in what others that I have been able to advise or mentor or work with or perhaps give advice to have been able to move onto accomplish not so much — in other words, it’s not so much what awards I have and what plaques I have. It’s what really makes a difference which is affecting the lives of others and for each person that I hear from ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years later who say, "You gave me some good advice and my career is moving forward. I’ve done this. Thank you" to me — that’s a far greater tribute than any award or honor that might be directed specifically to me publicly and I really believe that. I really feel that way.
BOND: Now, writing about a crisis in leadership, Cornel West says that "if there’s a crisis, it’s a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals, from a credible sense of political struggle." Do you agree? Is there a crisis in black leadership today? And does he describe it adequately?
PINN: I think he’s a got a point in what he says. I really do. And I guess it goes back to what I said — what I’ve stated earlier and state often, that is that I think when we have a generation today that has not been part of a struggle, who’s not been afraid, who’s not had limited opportunities, has not seen people quaking and worried about their lives, the kinds of things that our generation experienced that really make you realize that things are better, that that’s not guaranteed for the future, and that we all have to continue to play a role to look out for our legacy to those coming behind us just as we’ve benefited from the legacy of those that preceded us. And I get concerned about that. I’m wondering, do we move back in some ways? It may be because we see more integration — and I don’t mean in terms of just schools and businesses — but because we now have more opportunities to be part of broader communities, both in the professional workplace as well as in our personal communities of living and socializing that we don’t see the concentration of effort and maybe focus in one or two individuals, but maybe that’s not where it should be. But I do get concerned sometimes about who’s really the major —
Or who’s the Martin Luther King of today? Who is the person who’s sort of setting the pace, setting the moral standards or the — and defining the battles that we need to keep in mind because the battles are going to be there. I don’t think the battles have all been eliminated. They may be different or they may seem different, but I think they’re still there.
BOND: What kind of leaders will tomorrow’s society demand? The same? You mentioned Martin Luther King. Is it a Martin Luther King type of person? What do we want in our leadership tomorrow?
PINN: Well, yes, a Martin Luther King type person, of course, but for tomorrow, someone who has benefited from the changes and who understands the changes. I mean, I don’t think you can deal [with] or have a leader tomorrow who would be exactly like someone would [happened when] Frederick Douglass was around or Harriet Tubman was around or even when Martin Luther King was alive, but the same personal attributes, willing to speak out, willing to be informed, willing to inform, willing to take chances to make sure that each of us has the freedoms that we’re guaranteed under our Constitution in this country. And to me, it goes back to terms you’ve used very nicely — having a vision but also having confidence in being willing to deal with adversity if the outcome appears to be one that will better — I don’t want to say mankind — humankind, I guess is the way, and in particular, the populations that are oppressed. And we know that most often the oppressed populations are going to be those who’re poor, those who are of color, at least in this country right now.
BOND: As a society, is there any way we can foster or guarantee the development of this kind of leadership?
PINN: I think there’s a lot we can do. I sort of get concerned as I see the divisiveness that seems to too often permeate public discussions and I’m not sure since I’m not a politician that I’m the one to determine that, but I have some concerns, so I think what I can do and what I can best contribute is what I can do in my own sphere and from my own comments and from own interactions and hope that we’ll see more of that on an individual basis. We have to pay attention to our communities and we have to pay attention to all aspects of our country and the political and governmental and community leadership and to play a role, not just go on own narrow paths.
Beyond that, I’m not sure I want to really say because I’m not a politician but certainly, I think, as is obvious I have very strong opinions. I think the bottom line is you can’t ignore what’s going on. You’ve got to pay attention and we all have to look to follow or to lead those we think can make a difference.
BOND: Dr. Pinn, thank you for being with us.
PINN: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
BOND: It’s our pleasure, thank you.