How Fidel changed my life

By Jewel L. Crawford, M.D. -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Nov 30, 2016 - 2:55:08 PM

What's your opinion on this article?

During the turbulent years of the 1960s, a tidal wave of social consciousness was sweeping the nation. As a young person growing up in those times I became involved in the struggle for Black liberation. Many of us were greatly influenced by the legacy of Malcolm X and his quest for international solidarity amongst the oppressed people of the world. These were also the early years of the highly successful Cuban Revolution and as a young activist I was impressed by the progress the revolution had made in improving the quality of life of the Cuban people. I was also very intrigued by the global impact of the leadership of President Fidel Castro and his then, late comrade, Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

When I was 18-years-old, an opportunity presented itself for me to take some time off to travel to Cuba as part of the Venceremos Brigade. I was a first year college student and the Brigade provided an exciting opportunity to work in Cuba for two months, cutting sugar cane with the Cubans and helping support the fledgling Cuban economy. My immediate response was “sign me up!” While I thought we were going there to “help,” the trip turned out to be the most life changing, transformative experience I ever had.

As a young activist, I’d done my share of attending protest rallies and demonstrations, joining progressive student and youth organizations and participating in various consciousness raising activities. I had no idea however, of what was really involved in a transfer of the reins of power into revolutionary hands fighting to uplift the people. What I learned in Cuba is that once the revolutionaries won and the power changed hands—that was when the work really began.

 Instead of staying to help the Cuban people when Fidel’s regime took over, most of the educated, professional and skilled classes of (mostly) Whites opposed the revolution and left Cuba. Leaving was not an option for the poor, illiterate and sick, especially in the countryside where there was no electricity or modern conveniences. And to make matters worse, Fidel, in standing up for the sovereignty of the Cuban people, invoked the wrath of the Mafia henchmen and its imperialist U.S. neighbor who imposed a trade embargo. What followed in Cuba was nothing short of a miracle; a superhuman effort led by Fidel and his compatriots transformed the nation from poor, sick and ignorant to fully literate, healthy and compassionate; a great inspiration to oppressed people everywhere; it gave me so much hope!

As a not-so-serious college student at that time, I came to realize that slacking in school was not helpful and demonstrations, fist raising and protests were not enough. To rebuild the nation, highly skilled, educated, dedicated people were needed. In fact, the first thing Fidel did was to initiate a literacy campaign. Cuba is now one of the few countries on Earth with 100 percent literacy!

With this epiphany I thought, “if all the White people in America left and went to Mars, could we as Black people in the U.S. take care of ourselves? Did we have the expertise to run all aspects of society?” I felt we were deficient on many levels.

One day after coming back from the fields, right there in our work camp, I made a decision—that upon returning to school I would seriously apply myself to the premed curriculum and prepare to enter medical school to become a physician. For back at home we too had a shortage of skilled, educated people in the Black community. And how could we serve the people if we had no skills or training? Fidel consistently stressed the importance of education and himself exemplified the necessary qualities a true revolutionary must possess in order to prevail: dedication, courage, willingness to sacrifice, perseverance, discipline and true love for the people.

Were it not for his dynamic example and fearless leadership, I would not be a doctor today working to provide health care for all people. That is the impact that Fidel Castro has had on my life. I am forever indebted to him. 

Viva Fidel! Venceremos!

Jewel L. Crawford, M.D. can be reached at