The Power of Health, Community, and Protest
Words | Angelina Wang, Managing Editor and
Archelle Thelemaque, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON - Black Lives Matter protest
Like many young people this summer, 22-year-old Mike James spent many days in the Boston streets leading protests against a failed justice system in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Though he stood on the frontlines demanding justice for the Black lives lost at the hands of police and civilians, James also stood on the frontlines as an emergency medical technician with his self-started organization, EMTs4BlackLives.
Originally from Florida, the Boston University Sargent College senior has spent his college career exercising his medical acumen through lab and field work with dreams to one day become a doctor. It’s easy to see just how hardworking James is. Not only is he a full-time student, but in the time he spends outside the classroom, James is in the real world helping his local Boston medical community as a Tufts University lab researcher, part-time EMT, a Boston University Student Health Services employee, and now, an active community organizer. “I like to make sure I can be everywhere at the same time,” said James.
The same passion that drove James to dive head first into his medical work and schooling inspired him to establish EMTs4Black Lives, a collective of about 15 to 20 rotating medical EMTs providing on-the-ground care at local Black Lives Matter protests in Boston. With Damien Clement, another Boston University student (now alum), the pair created EMTs4BlackLives 24 hours before a protest. Partly motivated by James' steady servant’s heart, the inspiration to form the collective also arose in light of ongoing events during the summer of 2020 and the years previous.
“We’ve seen this happen a lot where different people are murdered in Black communities and [Black people or any marginalized person] feel this anger and numbness regarding the situation,” said James. “It all built up and I had a lot of displaced anger, and I was trying to be helpful without directing my anger in a bad way, so I decided to use [this organization] as an opportunity to help as much as possible.”
As protests erupted across the country, James described working as an EMT at protests in Boston as a positive experience. “We’ve received a lot of support from non-profits. People just reach out,” said James. “I’m not from Boston, so it was interesting to see how people came together and worked together.”
Even with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, James has found that people are still coming together to support common causes, and expressed gratitude for his friends who have supported his ideas. “People are always there for you asking, ‘How can I help? How can I push this forward?,” said James. He cited that he would frequently see the same people at different protests each week demonstrating unwavering commitment to the social justice cause.
Though he works at Tufts Medical Center as an anesthesia technician, James emphasized that working at protests is much more hands-on than working in a hospital. “We know that if something happens in the street while working with EMTs4BlackLives, it’s different than in a hospital where I have to go through the hierarchy to make sure things are properly done,” said James. “It’s much more independent on the ground.”
He acknowledges that the environment at a protest has its risks, but that does not stop his efforts. “It’s definitely a little riskier being an EMT while leading a protest and making sure that if someone goes down that I go back from the front to take care of it, but it was really worth it,” said James.
During protests, EMTs are organized around the crowd based on population density, and some choose to march along with protestors to support them in any way possible. EMTs are trained to watch for any kind of incident, including situations outside of the protest, such as drug overdoses or improperly disposed needles. For James, being on the ground introduced a different team dynamic among him and his fellow EMTs citing that in place of workplace hierarchy, there was more individual leadership involved on the ground as opposed to a hospital setting.
James is clear about his intentions to serve and advocate for his community through EMTs4BlackLives, particularly for those who remain susceptible to violent police brutality. “It was something that I really had to do because seeing people like you out there, that have the same potential as you, who look just like you, die - it pushes you to say that ‘this can’t happen anymore,” said James.
James plans to continue with EMTs4BlackLives when more protests are organized, and is currently obtaining his master of public health degree with his eye on medical school in the future.
“Academically, I’m going onto medical school and will continue raising public health wherever I am and in whatever community I’m in,” said James. “I’m trying to reach out to the community right now and make sure that homeless people and addicts in Boston are going to be taken care of.”
As he makes his way through school, James' community remains at the forefront of his mind as he continues his work. “It’s just doing a lot of the same stuff but building on it, and making sure the people around me care about raising the health of my community.”
Photo of Mike James