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2014 Charles R Drew Mural | by Susan Schwerin
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2014 Charles R Drew Mural

Dr. Charles Richard Drew Mural 2014 by Susan Schwerin

 

Dr. Drew can be seen on the left, rising out of the fog (symbolizing his neighborhood, Foggy Bottom, in DC where he was born). He is holding a test tube of blood that has been separated into its individual components: plasma (55%), platelets (1%) and red blood cells (44%). Next to him is a microscope with a microscopic view of each blood element in the background. The red blood cells are marked for the various blood types (A+,A-, B+,B-, O; however, in 1 drop of someone’s blood all of the red blood cells would be the same type, I have only mixed them here to exemplify that there are different types). Plasma, however, is not very different across people making it a better candidate for transfusions, plus it does not need to be refrigerated and lasts a long time.

Dr. Drew’s steps to “SUCCESS” are created by his education and training:

 

First he went to Stevens Elementary where he was received medals for swimming2 (“S” of success with silhouette of swimmer).

 

Next he went to Dunbar high school where he lettered in track (hurdles), football, baseball and basketball1(“U” of success with silhouette of hurdles, football, baseball, basketball).

 

Then he was off to Amherst college where he was captain of the track team and was the most valuable player on the baseball team, star halfback, national high hurdles champion5(“C” of success with silhouette of baseball, football and hurdles).

 

After graduating he started saving for medical school by teaching biology and chemistry and coaching football and basketball at Morgan State University in Baltimore1. During his two years at Morgan, his coaching transformed its mediocre sports teams into serious collegiate competitors1 (“C” of success with silhouette of an instructor and a coach, a football and a basketball).

 

He then went to McGill Medical School where he earned a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) and a Master of Surgery (CM)2. He joined the Omega Psi Phi fraternity where he helped to pen their fraternity hymn, “Omega Dear”3. He was also inducted into the medical honor society Alpha Omega Alpha2. He won a neuroanatomy award2 and continued to excel competing in hurdles (“E” of success with silhouette of music notes, brain, hurdles).

 

He then went to work as a surgeon and teacher at Howard University, where they were trying to get and/or train their faculty to be competitive in their fields (“S” of success with silhouette of instructor and surgeon).

 

Dr. Drew got a Rockefeller Foundation research scholarship to get his doctorate at Columbia University where he wrote a thesis titled, ”Banked Blood”2 (“S” of success with silhouette of researcher at microscope and thesis).

  

World War II broke out. There is a world map at the bottom of the mural where the different countries are colored according to whether they were on the side of the Axis (blue-primarily Germany, Italy, Japan, and also Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Libya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, Irag, Finland) or the Allies (green: primarily United Kingdom, France, China, Soviet Union, United States and also Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, India, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia with light green being countries that joined the war late: United States, Mexico, many South American countries, Liberia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Phillipines) or Neutral countries (gray-primarily Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and also Sahara, Angola, Mozambique, Yemen, Afghanistan, Tibet, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania).

 

After the war started, Dr. Drew was requested to organize the Red Cross Blood for Britain program (represented by the blood transfusion line spelling out Blood Bank, which then enters the top of the Red Cross symbol in the middle of the mural), where his attention to detail and doctorate research on blood banking enabled him to effectively collect blood, separate out the plasma and ship it to wounded British soldiers (represented by the yellow plasma transfusion line leaving the Red Cross symbol and going to the soldiers in the bottom right of the mural). The plasma transfusion line makes the shape of an EKG heart beat signal before getting to the soldiers, showing that it is giving life (giving heart beats). Beneath the soldiers is an open box with open cans, this is the box they received from the Red Cross with the dried plasma and distilled water which they combined to reconstitute the plasma to give to the soldier on the battlefield. Behind the soldiers is the British Flag. After the US joined the war, Dr. Drew led the National Blood Donor Service as well (represented by the American Flag on the far right of the mural).

 

In order to meet the huge demand for plasma, Drew initiated the use of "bloodmobiles" - trucks equipped with refrigerators6.

 

Unfortunately, the irony of his work was that the Red Cross would only accept blood from white donors. (This is shown in the mural by the 5 hands at the top. The center hand is Caucasian and is the only hand, whose blood drop has a Red Cross symbol on it, even though all the blood drops look the same, no matter what color hand is holding it). Dr. Drew publicly stated that the blood from different races was no different; however the Red Cross continued to exclude black donors. They eventually began allowing black donors, but kept the blood segregated for the recipients.

 

The NAACP gave Dr. Drew the Springarn award for "the highest and noblest achievement" by an African-American "during the preceding year or years” for his blood banking accomplishments2 (The medal and ribbon are at the top of the mural, just under the hands). This award bolstered Dr. Drew into becoming more of an advocate for black rights4.

 

Dr. Drew had a personal commitment to excellence as well as an expectation of excellence of his black medical students who frequently scored among the highest in nationwide medical exams (represented by the word “EXCELLENCE” in the mural). Dr. Drew continued to teach at Howard University where he was known by his students as ‘Big Red’ because of the color of his face when he was upset4 (represented in the mural by the Howard University Bison Logo with the words “Big Red”).

 

Dr. Drew died in a car accident in 1950 at the age of 45 (represented by the car in the upper right hand corner of the mural).

 

While attending a conference in April 1939, Drew met Minnie Lenore Robbins, a professor of home economics at Spelman College in Atlanta. They married in September of that year, and had three daughters and a son (represented on the mural by the house with the family inside, just under the Red Cross).

 

Dr. Drew’s one leisure activity was gardening, especially Canna Lily flowers4, which are featured at the base of the mural under SUCCESS.

 

The hand in the upper left corner of the mural that is punching through the wall is a representation of this quote by Dr. Drew and symbolizes how his accomplishments (the blood bank) knocked a hole out of the wall:

“Whenever, however, one breaks out of this rather high-walled prison of the "Negro problem" by virtue of some worthwhile contribution, not only is he himself allowed more freedom, but part of the wall crumbles. And so it should be the aim of every student in science to knock down at least one or two bricks of that wall by virtue of his own accomplishment.”

 

References:

1.The Charles R. Drew Papers. Profiles in Science. National Library of Medicine. profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/BG/p-nid/336

2.Bio. www.biography.com/people/charles-drew-9279094#early-life

3.Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Website www.omegapsiphifraternity.org/about_omega.asp

4.One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew By Spencie Love books.google.com/books?id=JF3sSgLA_AC&printsec=frontc...

5.http://web.stcloudstate.edu/lstripp/charles-drew.htm

6.http://www.pbs.org/wnet/redgold/innovators/bio_drew.html

 

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Taken on August 15, 2014