"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
It seems sometimes that every generation since Hemingway has been given up by their parents for lost. While old Papa’s gang was going to swirl away in a torrent of gin and jazz, the label often pinned on most young people today can be summed up in one word: Apathetic. The world, we hear on a daily basis, is rapidly heading down the tubes, be it from terrorism, bad politics, shrinking oil reserves, growing poverty, greenhouse gas, the chicken flu or just plain old meanness. Who could blame young people for being uninterested in the future, that thinking goes. Who can blame them for just putting the idea of Social Security bankruptcy and melting ice caps out of their minds in favor of a relaxing game of “Kill ’Em All Slowly 3” on the Xbox?
Luckily for us, the stereotypical image of hordes of doomed young losers is no more real now than it was when “The Great Gatsby” was a bestseller. Young people do have hope. To prove it, we’ve rounded up a sample of young people — all under 35 — who are doing extraordinary things, right here in Arkansas. Whatever you think of their pursuits, the one quality they all have in common is: They’re not waiting around for the future to catch up to them.
DR. WEST ALLEN
What he cares about: Rural health
As Dr. West Allen of Brinkley knows well, sometimes you find your calling; other times, your calling finds you.
Born and raised in Little Rock, Allen was a student at UAMS when he heard about the Community Match Scholarship. Staring down the barrel of med school tuition, it looked like a good deal at the time: Find a small, medically underserved community and get them to agree to pay for half your tuition, and the state would pay for the other half. The catch was, it would mean several years serving as a doctor in the community that footed the bills — a small town that would be, by rights, in one of the poorest and more isolated parts of the state.
From the start, Allen admits that the idea of helping the needy in a rural area appealed to him. “The whole point of being a doctor is to improve your surroundings by teaching people to be healthier and helping them with the disease process,” he said. “I could have stayed in Little Rock — there’s plenty of choices for a doctor there — but I wanted to go somewhere that they don’t have a doctor and they really need one.”
Once Allen decided the how, the where was what he called a “no-brainer.”
“My father and grandfather were from Brinkley,” he said. “My grandfather was the postmaster. My father graduated from high school there.”
Since signing on a little over a year ago with the White River Rural Health Center in Brinkley — one of 20 low- to no-cost clinics across the state under the WRRH umbrella — Allen says he has come to love country doctoring. For one thing, he says, he gets to fulfill his goal of helping those who need his skills the most. Too, he said, the poverty and general lack of knowledge about how to stay healthy makes sure his days are never boring.
“When you’re in the Delta, you see the most pathology, just the sickest people, so that keeps my mind going,” he said. “I don’t see the same old same old every day.”
As head of the diabetes education center at the clinic, Allen said that a significant part of his job is trying to teach his patients how to eat healthy in “fried fish and fried chicken country.”
“It’s definitely frustrating,” he said. “Because it’s mainly an education problem. People just don’t know what it means to be healthy. It’s hard to get the word out sometimes when there’s not that many clinics in the area in the first place.”
While his job can be trying at times — watching patients who are living paycheck to paycheck decide between basic necessities or their medicines, for instance — young Dr. Allen has also had his triumphs. He has caught a few breast cancers early, he said, and helped other patients get their weight and diabetes under control. Those little victories have helped him decide: he wants to devote his life to a career as a rural doctor.
“At first, I had an open mind,” he said. “I didn’t want to say I was 100 percent going to stay, or that I was 100 percent going to leave. After being here for a year in Brinkley, I’m definitely here for the long haul.”