Dr. Jerome Adams grew up poor in rural Maryland on a family farm. Government assistance sustained the family.
Recently, his mother had a major stroke. His brother struggles with substance abuse. His grandparents — all four — died prematurely of chronic disease.
Today, Dr. Adams is the U.S. Surgeon General.
“I’m a Christian and I believe God doesn’t put you where you’ll be comfortable,” he told the Richmond Free Press. “He puts you where he needs you to be.”
An uncomfortable childhood prepared him for an “uncomfortable” tenure as surgeon general — and not just because of the pay cut from previously working as an anesthesiologist. Dr. Adams has been criticized for initially recommending against using masks. He’s been bashed for working with a president that some see as insensitive to people of color. He pushes back against the incessant carping.
“Our issues as people of color are too important to go four years without representation in the highest levels of government. I personally have faith that I am put where I am most needed. I spent my life fighting and will keep fighting for the poor, the disadvantaged, the people of color.”
Jerome Adams was born in Orange, New Jersey, but his family moved to St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Though his family farmed, young Jerome was drawn to the sciences and attended the University of Maryland in Baltimore on a full scholarship where he earned dual bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and biopsychology.
He continued his studies at Indiana University’s School of Medicine where he focused on internal medicine and completed his residency in anesthesiology. In 2000, he earned a master’s degree in public health from UC Berkeley.
After that the former farm kid worked in private practice at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana while teaching as an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Indiana University.
“I grew up in a rural, mostly white Southern community. I benefited from WIC, reduced lunch and other government assistance,” he told the NAACP in March. “I know what it’s like growing up poor, black and with minimal access to health care, and I’m personally experiencing the lifelong impacts that stem from that.”
In September of 2017, he became the 20th U.S. Surgeon General and joined the White House task force fighting Covid-19.
With his wife Lacey, he has three children.
Initially, Dr. Adams drew fire for rejecting the general use of masks but walked back his opposition as more science emerged on the subject. He also opposed needle exchange for drug abusers “on moral grounds” but as he witnessed the spread of disease, he backpedaled that posture.
Dr. Adams chose public health because of his own struggles. As a child, he was airlifted to Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C. after an asthma attack. One brother is developmentally disabled and another experiences incarceration for substance abuse, the New York Times reports.
He empathizes with those who suffer and are marginalized. He grew up around Confederate flags and KKK flags and heard the frequent use of the N-word. Because of his asthma, he gravitated towards reading and studying and was branded a nerd and an outcast.
Now that God has raised him up, he “gets a lot of blowback,” according to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, for being a “token black” in Trump’s administration. Representative Maxine Waters, democrat from Los Angeles, accused him of issuing “racist dog whistles.”
Dr. Adams responds with a quiet forbearance born of Christian humility.
“I have a powerful opportunity to have an influence in this administration, and I feel like I need to be at the table,” Dr. Adams says. “If people feel that the president needs to have a different perspective on the African-American community, the one thing I would say is, ‘He’s not going to get it if there aren’t any African-Americans in the administration.
“People are always saying we need more black voices represented and more black perspectives represented, but they’re always telling every black person in the administration, ‘You should quit.’ Those two things don’t fit together.”
Using his position as a bully pulpit, Dr. Adams has campaigned against e-cigarettes and in favor of treatment for opioid addiction.
He claims to be neither Republican nor Democrat.
“God sent His only Son to die for us,” he said during Easter week, comparing the sacrifice of Christ and following victory with the sacrifice Americans were making to stay at home and flatten the curve during the early months of the Covid pandemic. His comments were criticized by many who felt it was inappropriate to mix science and public health issues with expressions of faith.
“During this week, we celebrate the ultimate sacrifice that was made for us,” he said. “It was sad initially but then we saw salvation at the end of it.”
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To support his hobby of Christian journalism, Michael Ashcraft sells a bamboo steamer on Amazon.