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Notable Black Missourians: Dr. Samuel U. Rodgers

February 9, 2018 – Dr. Samuel U. Rodgers, the first African-American board-certified OB / GYN in the Kansas City area, and the first to own an all-black medical practice in the United States, changed the way healthcare works in the nation. To do so, he left behind a successful private practice and devoted his life to providing care to those who needed it the most.

“Dr. Rodgers was a significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement, but also a huge influential figure in Western medicine,” said Randy Withers, manager of marketing and communications at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center. “He created allied health care.”

Dr. Rodgers saw that the health care system was besieged with inefficiencies, and those inefficiencies were impossibilities for poor people, particularly poor people of color, to overcome. He didn’t understand why someone should be shuffled from their primary care doctor to another location to see a specialist, and then yet another location for services like an x-ray, and still yet another location for medicine. Dr. Rodgers was determined that all people, regardless of race or status or income, have the same healthcare, and so he opened his first health center in the Wayne Miner Housing Project in Kansas City. The project was named for the Buffalo Soldier who was the last American to be killed in World War I. Dr. Rodgers opened the Wayne Miner Health Center in the aftermath of the Watts Riots in 1968.

“The poor didn’t have the resources or means to travel from place to place,” Withers explained. “So he brought everything together. Specialists. Optometrists. On-site transportation. Even housing, if it was needed. And he put it right where it was most needed – in a neighborhood.”

“Dr. Rodgers knew that for communities to be strong, families needed to be strong, and for families to be strong, they needed to have access to resources, and those resources needed to be in their neighborhoods,” Withers added.

So strong was Dr. Rodgers commitment to providing quality healthcare to everyone that he went back to school when he was in his sixties and obtained a master’s degree in Public Health and spent much of his time lobbying Washington, D.C. Because of his tireless efforts, the Miner Health Center, which later became the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, became the first federally qualified health center in Missouri, and the fourth in the entire United States.

The legacy and vision of Dr. Rodgers continues today, through the care provided at the health clinics that bear his name, and the employees who devote themselves to the care of others.

Tammy Beeghley and Randy Withers see Dr. Rodgers’ legacy daily.

Tammy Beeghley and Randy Withers see Dr. Rodgers’ legacy daily.

Tammy Beeghley was once a patient at Samuel U. Rodgers and is now an employee. She says she felt drawn to apply for a job there.

“Dr. Rodgers’ belief in helping those who don’t have the means to do so really pulled at my heartstring, as I had worked with my husband in ministry to help the working poor.”

She remains passionate about her job, saying that her patients are like her family.

“I love being able to think outside the box, much like Dr. Rodgers did, to meet my patient’s needs. I love my job and can’t imagine doing anything else short of going into the mission field.”

Minh Manuel, a patient representative and interpreter, remembers working with Dr. Rodgers, and teared up as she spoke of him.

Manuel explained that, as a child, Dr. Rodgers had to wait until after dark to seek out medical care or treatment for a toothache. As a child of color, his health care was not a priority. He knew then that it wasn’t right.

“He was a gentle man,” she said. “He cared nothing for himself. It was all about caring for others. He gave everything to his patients.”

When she first started there, over thirty years ago, she almost quit after just three days. She found the work to be, in some ways, overwhelming. But Dr. Rodgers came to her desk, sat next to her, and persuaded her to stay.

“He told me, ‘You love the people, so stay and love them,’” she said, and so she has done just that. She saw him just a few days before he died. He hugged her and asked her to stay and to continue to love the people, and to serve them. And she has.

Today, the employees at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center see Dr. Rodgers’ dream in the diversity of the staff they serve with and in the people they serve. There are 5 locations in the Kansas City area, and they serve more than 25,000 patients annually, in nearly 40 different languages.

This month, The Standard is celebrating Black History Month by bringing you notable black Missourians who helped shape our state and the communities within it, through their contributions. 

By Samantha Kilgore • samantha@leaderpress.com

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