Dr. Donald Arnette
I am Suppose to be Here
By Shawn Sturges
“Make sure you are aware of what uniform you’re putting on when you go out in public because you are going to be judged by it. It doesn’t mean that’s right or wrong, its simply reality, and we have to learn to live in reality because that is what this world is all about.”
Dr. Donald Arnette! Medical researcher and liaison, public speaker, and now published author has accomplished much throughout his life. If you were to ask Dr. Arnette what his dream was as a youth the answer might not surprise you. “I want to be rich,” was the answer he provided his father at the age of twelve. Almost all youths have the desire to become rich, but what steps are taken to achieve this outcome will determine the success. Arnette’s father suggested that a career as a doctor would be the perfect way in which that goal could be realized.
“To say I was always comfortable in my own skin is an understatement.” In high school Don fell in with the crowd. He was not comfortable with his intelligence. As a result he would tell friends he also failed exams although the scores proved differently.
The message he brings to youth today is not let others deter you from the path in which you have set out to achieve. In the past, intelligence was synonymous with glasses and pocket protectors. Today it is possible to be intelligent without the sacrifice of one’s personal image. The image he explains should be demolished. “You can be smart, the star of the basketball team, and have the girls like you as well.” The once negative image of intelligence no longer has any bearing on a person’s swag.
The first impression often sets the tone of the speaking engagement, meeting, or conversation. When Dr. Arnette first meets youths in schools it is his intention to not allow teachers to inform their students about his career path. He shows up in a pair of blue jeans and t-shirt and follows with this… “I will give anyone twenty dollars if they can tell me what I do for a living.” To this day he states that twenty dollars has remained rooted deeply in his pocket. The immediate perception devised by the students is he must be an athlete or entertainer, so when he reveals he is in fact a doctor the students are often surprised. This allows him to demonstrate,
“Each of you just profiled me, and associated my appearance with your personal experiences. This allows you to understand that others do this to you as well, and not necessarily from a position of hate, but some people honestly don’t know how to perceive your personal image. Their immediate association is that you belong to a particular crowd.”
Once the realization dawns on them that it is human nature to create judgements and perceptions of our interactions with others they become better prepared to deal with future related situations.
Dr. Arnette’s path to public speaking can be loosely attributed to one day when taking his children to school. Teachers asked him if he would speak to several students that currently did not have positive male influences in their lives. He took this opportunity to become their positive influence. This rapidly snowballed into engagements with elementary schools, career days at junior high schools, and even being asked to speak with outgoing high school classes. These opportunities led him to other topics which include conversations not only about what one can become, but health and fitness, dispelling myths about rumors of hypertension, high cholesterol, and cancer. He states,
“Everyone calls it motivational speaking, but I call it having the opportunity to educate. I like being in the best position to educate and inform others with knowledge which will allow for better informed decisions, and where ignorance will no longer be an excuse.”
An important path to Dr. Arnette’s role as a public speaker and author can be seen during his doctoral fellowship. He ran a research project called, “The Glass Study – The Genetics of Longevity in African Americans.” He had almost five hundred patients enrolled in this trial. Over five hundred were over the age of seventy who had a cultural bias to the participation in medical studies. The Tuskegee experiments were fresh on their minds, and the major contributing factor to their apprehension. He seemed to have an inherent talent to convince people that everything would be alright, and not only calm fears but answer questions. The trust he was able to foster allowed a demographic that hardly ever participated in trials to now change their view point on their participation.
“When you are able to connect with that group and get them to give blood, and explain what DNA is to a 75 year old African American man who has a ninth grade education and says, ‘Ok, I trust you.’ That is when I knew I had something.”
Dr. Arnette considers himself to be a chameleon since he has the ability to adapt and be comfortable in various social environments. While at UT Southwestern he studied with a Nobel Prize winner by the name of Al Gilman. This provided him the ability to participate in intellectually stimulating conversations. At the same time, he was just as comfortable meeting up with an old friend who he knew from high school in south Dallas, one of the poorest areas of the city, in order to drink a beer.
He never set out to write a book, so when he would write his thoughts down it was more so as a therapeutic outlet. It wasn’t until Spirit Reign, a publishing company out of Atlanta, GA, approached him that the reality of a book crept into his mind. The publishers heard his story through friends of friends. They were impressed with the way he dealt with many of the situations he was faced with and which were completely applicable to today’s social climate. Eight months later the book was finished and gained the title of “I Am Supposed to be Here.”
When asked how the title came into existence he followed with,
“The title finally came about because I went back to the very beginning when a policeman said to me that, ‘You don’t look like you’re supposed to be here’. And I said, ‘let’s make a statement and turn this thing around, I am supposed to be here’.”
He was determined to not make this a racially motivated book even though his experiences stem from this social issue. The ability for him to not only tell his story, but create a work that anyone can connect with that transcends the issue of race alone was quite important to him.
Today, he has many people approach him in order to share how much they have learned about themselves from his book. So much so, that they have shared the book with friends and family. Another main theme throughout the book is to show that he is not some sort of anomaly. Anyone can achieve their highest aspirations through hard work and determination and not let others’ perceptions of them veer them off their own life path.
- “To my wife and kids who support me in all my endeavors.”
- “To Spirit Reign who helped make my first book become a reality.”
- “To Beatrice Davis, President of Sassy B Worldwide, who has been a godsend in moving my speaking career forward.”