Music has the power to heal, motivate movements and transcend time and space. Throughout history, music has been the global soundtrack for social change as artists have utilized their platforms to stand in solidarity with those on the front lines of justice.
The chilling chorus of “Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holliday, the soulful symphony of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ by Sam Cooke, and healing harmonies of “We Are the World” by various famous artists of the 1980s provided monumental sounds that reflected the issues of the times. There are countless songs that have had a similar impact, captivating individuals decades after they were created. The enduring capability of allowing people in 2017 to understand the feeling of years past through song illustrates the art of music.
In my second year of medical school, I saw an advertisement for DJ lessons. Though my initial thought was that DJing would be an unconventional hobby for a medical student, I have never been one to prioritize conformity. One lesson turned into several sessions, which resulted in learning the art of matching beats per minute, scratching, and nurturing my own sound.
Within months, I procured my own turntables and speakers, and had my DJ debut with the help of my classmates. I was nervous for my first showcase as DJ Docta J, but the support of my classmates transformed my butterflies into confidence. Not only do DJs create a space for good vibes, they are in the unique position to help people de-stress and dive into whatever emotion the music brings out. There is nothing like experiencing a crowd’s reaction to a throwback jam that allows them to let go, dance and be fully and freely in the moment.
Music has the potential to cultivate celebration, hope and resistance. Affirmation was the gleeful shriek of an adolescent when they heard the beat from ‘Born This Way’ by Lady Gaga drop at a prom for LGBTQ youth in Ypsilanti, MI. Community was revered while playing Detroit-based artists at an event for Soulcially conscious entrepreneurs whose mission is to ensure that local businesses are included in the city’s rapidly changing economic landscape. Gender equality was embraced when playing ‘Who Run the World (Girls)’ by Beyonce at the University of Michigan Medical School Fall Ball with women representing more than half the room of future physicians. Learning how to DJ took time, patience and resources, but I am thankful for a creative release from medical school and feel blessed that my hobby creates an atmosphere of joy for other people.
Through DJing I have been given the opportunity to witness and be a part of the power and sustainability of music as a social tool, while also being reminded of its significance on a more personal level. My grandmother grew up playing the piano in Marietta, GA when Black families were sharecroppers and music played a pivotal role in providing hope. My mother was a local college DJ as her work-study job at the historical Black college she attended, and my aunt took a leave of absence from college to play in the symphony orchestra in Guanajuato, Mexico. Music is in my blood.
Though my professional path led me to being the first physician in my family, music will always be the rate and rhythm that connects me to my roots and grounds me in something bigger than myself.