White-Hammond, Gloria E.
White-Hammond, Gloria E.
Humanitarian activist, pastor, physician
The Rev. Dr. Gloria White-Hammond has worked to improve the lives of people in communities at both local and global levels. As a pediatrician the South End Community Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and as co-pastor at the city's Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, White-Hammond has worked with young women at risk. She made her mission an international one in 2001 when she traveled to Sudan, working to combat the horrors of slavery and genocide that exploded as that country sank into civil war. "I'm afraid but also clear," White-Hammond told Bruce Morgan of Tufts University in response to a question about how she felt about entering war zones. "You do it because you're called on and because you must, not because it's comfortable."
White-Hammond was born Gloria Elaine White around 1951 and moved frequently during her childhood as her father, a United States Air Force sergeant, was transferred from place to place. She lived in Texas, Maine, Guam, and New Hampshire, and her childhood was marred by abuse from her father. White-Hammond, however, was ambitious and decided on a career as a doctor by the time she was nine. Her inspiration came from a book called How to Be a Doctor that she had checked out of the public library. "Fortunately, no one told me it was unheard-of for someone like me to do such things," White-Hammond recalled to Stacy Gilliam of AOL Black Voices.
All through her years of schooling she stayed focused on her goal, earning a B.S. degree in biology from Boston University and a Doctorate of Medicine from Tufts Medical School in suburban Boston in 1976.
Three years earlier, she had married the Rev. Ray A. Hammond, M.D. Ray Hammond founded the Bethel AME Church in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood as Gloria White-Hammond completed a pediatrics residency at Tufts and joined the staff of Boston's South End Community Health Center in 1981. The rigors of the couple's hectic schedules took a toll on White-Hammond's marriage, and she struggled with suicidal feelings for a time. By 1983, White-Hammond told Morgan, "I wanted out of marriage or out of life."
Things turned around for White-Hammond in several interrelated stages. The first was that she and her husband worked through their problems, at one point appearing on Boston television station WBZ to talk about them. They began to counsel other couples at Bethel AME Church. Then, as her father passed away, White-Hammond forgave him for the abuse he had committed. "He didn't deny it," she told Gilliam. "On his death bed, I thought about the cost of his disobedience. It challenged me about my own disobedience." White-Hammond realized that she was feeling a calling from God to become a minister herself, and in 1997 she earned a master's degree from the Harvard University Divinity School.
White-Hammond and her husband had considered going to Africa to become medical missionaries, but their decision to nurture their family was one of several factors that persuaded them to remain in Boston; they raised two daughters, Mariama and Adiya. As a part time pediatrician, part-time minister, White-Hammond reached out to the greater Boston community, taking a personal interest in the lives of the young women she had as patients at the South End Community Health Center. "She was seeing patients in need of intervention, and she wanted to help those girls find creative outlets to express themselves," Bethel AME social service executive Nickey Nais-Nesbeth told Morgan.
Forming a mentoring ministry called Do the Write Thing in 1995, White-Hammond invited inner-city girls between the ages of eight and 17 to evening sessions at the church for structured but non-evaluated writing and discussion. She took young women to Boston-area cultural events and worked closely with their parents in challenging them to achieve and become accountable for their actions. Do the Write Thing formed partnerships with the Boston Department of Youth Services and the city's public schools, and by 2004 it was serving some 235 girls annually.
After making several trips to Africa, providing medical services in Botswana, South Africa, and Côte d'Ivoire, White-Hammond began to discuss the continent's problems with Boston newscaster Liz Walker. Walker was the newscaster who had interviewed White-Hammond years before about her marital problems, and the two had become friends. It was from Walker that White-Hammond learned of the resurgence of the institution of slavery in northern Africa; slavery was used as a weapon in the country's long civil war, and thousands of women and children had been taken from their homes and enslaved.
White-Hammond decided that she had to take direct action. In July of 2001 she made the first of many trips to Sudan. With the help of funds from the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group and Switzerland's Christian Solidarity International, she purchased the freedom of more than 6,000 slaves in 2002, fearlessly entering a chaotic war zone. "It's a hard trip to make," White-Hammond reflected to Gilliam. "It's in the bush. No running water. It's hot and dry." But she realized that her problems were nothing compared with those of the women she met, and she approached her task as a necessity.
"I just miss her a lot more than I worry about her," Ray Hammond told Doug Hanchett of the Boston Herald. "We both operate from the position that the only safe place to be is the place where God wants you to be … whether it's Sudan or Roxbury." In 2002 White-Hammond co-founded the organization My Sister's Keeper, intended to create economic opportunities for the women her group had freed from slavery. By 2004 the group had installed two diesel-powered grain mills in southern Sudan and had started a girls' school, the My Sister's Keeper School.
Unfortunately, the situation in Sudan went from bad to worse as White-Hammond made repeat visits there. As Sudanese and Western governments failed to act, the Janjaweed militia began to carry out a systematic program of genocide against black Sudanese in the Darfur region of the country. In addition to the time spent at her jobs as pediatrician and pastor and at a host of other activities—including her position as coconvener of the Red Tent Group, an interfaith organization of Christian and Jewish women—White-Hammond began a campaign to stop the carnage. In 2005 she traveled to Darfur and interviewed women in refugee camps.
At a Glance …
Born Gloria Elaine White, 1951(?); married Ray Hammond, 1973; children: Mariama and Adiya. Education: Boston University, biology, BS; Tufts University Medical School, Medford, MA, MD, 1976; Harvard University Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, MDiv, 1997. Religion: African Methodist Episcopal.
South End Community Health Center, Boston, staff pediatrician, 1981-; Bethel AME Church, Boston, co-founder, co-pastor, organizer of Do the Write Thing mentoring ministry; humanitarian activities on behalf of women in Sudan, 2001-; founder, My Sister's Keeper economic-aid organization, 2002; organized A Million Voices for Darfur campaign, 2006.
Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Board of Trustees, member; Christian Solidarity International (Zurich, Switzerland), board member; Tufts University College for Community and Public Service, Board of Overseers, member.
Tufts University, honorary doctorate of humane letters, 2006.
Office—South End Community Health Center, 1601 Washington St., Boston, MA 02118; Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 215 Forest Hills St., Boston, MA 02130-3302.
White-Hammond returned to Boston and recounted her experiences in the Boston Herald. "The use of systematic, brutal rape in Darfur is well-documented," she wrote. "Of the women with whom we spoke, 40 percent reported being raped, typically by three to five men, sometimes publicly." Calling for international support for African Union forces trying to stop the violence, White-Hammond observed: "Once again, we are being weighed in the balance. This time we should not be found wanting." In 2006 she organized the campaign A Million Voices for Darfur, attempting to organize one million people to send e-mail postcards to President George W. Bush, asking him to honor a pledge to protect Darfur's civilians. White-Hammond's ongoing commitment to service, to doing the right thing, assured that she would pursue this and many future causes with vigor.
America's Intelligence Wire, June 1, 2006.
Boston Herald, April 13, 2002, p. 17; February 20, 2005, p. 27.
"Activist, Pastor, Doctor—She Does It All," AOL Black Voices,http://blackvoices.aol.com (March 14, 2007).
"Gloria White-Hammond: Doctor, Pastor, Missionary," AARP Magazine,www.aarpmagazine,.org/people/Articles/12004-11-16-mag-2005impactl.html (March 14, 2007).
"The Heacler," Tufts University Features,www.tufts.edu/home/feature/?p=white-hammond (March 14, 2007).
"Rev. Gloria Elaine White-Hammond," Bethel AME Church,www.bethelame.org (March 14, 2007).
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