She’s a person, not property

BY KEISHA BELL | Visionary Brief

Relationships can get complicated. Past disappointments make trust an illusion for many, yet life continuously introduces fresh opportunities to believe in it again.

Whereas marriage at one time was thought to be the primary goal for most women, now she can complement such aspiration with a professional portfolio if she chooses. Societal circumstances have helped to encourage her to pursue professions in previously male-dominated industries.

For example, women played baseball when men were drafted for World War II. Can you imagine sliding into home plate while wearing a skirt? She did, however, because women were expected to: “Look like women. Play like men.”

Progress is slow.

Over time, women have been encouraged to go to school- not to find a husband- but to learn. Like many men, she has embraced the responsibility of giving back to help strengthen communities like the ones that pour into her.

Sometimes, balancing giving back while pursuing professional goals, especially when her place of employment is not “in the community,” while adhering to traditionally defined goals can be tricky. Finding support for her can be even trickier.

Meet Dr. Tamara E. O’Neal, born on May 29, 1980. A graduate of Purdue University in 2002, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology while minoring in pre-medicine. She then completed the MEDPREP Post-Baccalaureate program at Southern Illinois University. Afterward, O’Neal attended medical school at the University of Illinois at Chicago and completed her residency at the University of Illinois.

The road to achieving her dream of becoming a doctor was not an easy one, yet O’Neal made it a point to give back in ways that were unique to her talents and skills along the way.

After graduating from Purdue, she worked two full-time jobs before attending medical school — one as an intensive case manager and the other as an attendance officer. While attending Purdue, she volunteered as a mentor for at-risk youth and an after-school tutor.

Not surprisingly, while at the University of Illinois, O’Neal taught CPR as part of the Illinois Heart Rescue Project, an outreach program for underserved populations. She was particularly interested in figuring out ways to improve community healthcare.

Perseverance paid off. O’Neal became a doctor and specialized in emergency medicine. She found this area of medicine exciting. In it, she said she could make a positive impact on a vast amount of people. O’Neal became an emergency room doctor at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Along the way, O’Neal met a man she thought she would marry this past Oct. Relationships, however, can get complicated. The wedding was called off in Sept.

On Nov. 19, that same man repeatedly shot and killed her, two others, and himself at the very hospital where she worked diligently to save the lives of others. She was 38 years old.

Some believe that O’Neal’s ex-boyfriend thought of her as his property. Reportedly, she had previously called 911 on him in fear. Furthermore, he had a history of abusing women.

O’Neal’s father told the Chicago Sun-Times, “He couldn’t let it go. He couldn’t let go and took her away from us.”

A woman who had overcome so much to achieve her goal and become a medical doctor, who was serious about improving community health and stayed genuinely connected to underserved communities, who found the strength to say “no” to an abuser, was killed unnecessarily.

Keisha Bell

Finding a balance between her professional and personal life can be tricky. In a world where many still view her as property, some women only view themselves as such.

She is a person, too, free to enter into and exit relationships that are not healthy. She is free to trade in illusions of trust to capture rooted love. The world needs her contributions and your support, even when it is tricky.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant.

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