Zimbabwe-born director of health for the city of St. Louis in the United States Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis has credited her extraordinary achievements to hard work and divine intervention.
Hlatshwayo Davis (MHD) opened up about her tough upbringing and how it drove her to reach for her goals when she appeared on the platform In Conversation with Trevor hosted by Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN).
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Dr Matifadza Hlatshwayo-Davis, director of health for the city of St Louis in Missouri in the United States of America, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.
MHD: Thank you so much for having me, It’s such an honour for me to be here, honestly.
TN: So, Dr Mati you have been on my list since July, in a way I am happy that we did not have this conversation in July, because you have just been appointed the director of health for the city of St Louis.
If we had the conversation in July I would not be able to talk to you about your new appointment. So congratulations.
Talk to me about your reaction when you heard that you had been appointed the director of health for the city of St Louis?
What was your reaction like?
MHD: I do not even know if you can process something like that, something of that magnitude.
To even be interacting with the calibre of people I was interacting with, for my boss to be the mayor of the entire city, it is a completely different landscape from what I was experiencing before.
This is the exact position that I have worked for my whole life.
I have never been better suited for a position than I am now.
Having said that, I am only two weeks in, I was appointed on September 1, 2021, but only started on the 18th so it is relatively new.
I will tell you even two weeks in it feels like I have been doing this for a while, so many things that need to be attended to.
TN: So, as I was reading around the things you have done, I must say I got the sense that your education, your professional qualifications, it is as if somebody knew that one day you would be sitting in that chair as director of Health for the city of St Louis.
Is that the sense that you get? Was this deliberate? Did somebody conspire or there is a hand of God in this thing?
MHD: Well, I am a Christian, I believe in God. I have been raised that way since I was a child.
So, for me this was divine intervention. I believe this is my calling. I believe I have walked this path.
It is not because it has been the perfect journey, you know a lot of people think wow this was divinely inspired because look how perfect this package was.
I think for me it is actually the opposite, which makes it even more divinely inspired, is that there have been so many failures, so, many knock downs, so many reasons why I should not be sitting here today that even start from my childhood, such that I have to be humble.
I have to give all glory and honour to God because there is nothing about this journey that says I would be the director of health in this time, at this moment.
Having said that, as a woman who oftentimes we are left behind, we are not given our due credit, let me be very clear, I have worked my ass off to be here.
I have done the work, and sometimes especially in my intersectionality as a black woman immigrant in a country where white supremacy and systemic misogyny and racism are rampant in academic institutions, I have had to work harder.
So, very much I have earned this, but also I mean how does one take credit for this moment.
TN: Absolutely. We will get to the journey that you have walked.
Let us start with Cleveland Lerner College of Medicine where you got your qualifications as a medical doctor. First of all what I want to know from you, two questions:
- Why Cleveland Lerner College?
- Why medicine?
MHD: I think we have to start with why medicine.
Medicine is really the biggest question, because if you look at my background, when I was in high school at Arundel I was a linguist.
If you ask my teachers what it is I naturally flourished in, it was the languages.
I was an avid reader and an avid writer, I loved history.
Ms Ridley was one of my favourite teachers because in history, I really felt like I just followed the stories through the ages.
I also loved French with Madame Halle.
My English teacher told me that I wrote like Jane Austen and to this day, I hold that in very high esteem.
So, if I had taken the path that naturally spoke to my talents in high school, I really should have been a linguist.
Two things happened though.
Number one, the death of my father, that we will speak about later, it truly shook me to my core, especially since I was not with him and being in a divorced household it was a shock.
I remember being 15 years old and the only thing that brought me comfort was the thought that my father was with a medical team and my hope was that they brought him comfort and they took care of him, more than just the medicine because he was was in a foreign land and very very ill.
We only found out later on about the illness let alone his death right up until the end.
That was a spark for me, but it was also the advent of HIV and Aids in our country and how that impacted my own family and family members where you could not talk about what happened.
One in particular, whose name I will keep anonymous for their dignity, but when you go to a funeral and you do not understand why it happened to this person who has otherwise been a leader and someone who is so well-respected.
It was those two things that really made me want to do medicine.
Fast forward to Cleveland Clinic. The money was not there, even for undergraduate, it was not as if my mother just had some sort of savings account with hundreds of thousands of dollars for an American education.
From the time I was young, I will never forget this, I was six years old.
The first major present my mother got me was a bicycle.
I was so excited because I thought she wanted me to play, I could ride the bicycle around the streets.
She said no, I could only ride the bicycle to two places, to school, as a single parent she could not always take us to school and sometimes she was away on flights working for Air Zimbabwe.
Then the second place she said I could take that bicycle to was the library.
So, we had a library card from the time we were young, and our mother early in our lives from the time we were young, impressed upon us that the only way we would be able to get out of our current surroundings was through education and through scholarships because she did not have the money.
So, we knew as children that if we wanted to excel, if we wanted the sort of dreams that we had at the time, that scholarships were our only way forward.
So, every step of my curriculum vitae (CV) that you see, is because that was the opportunity that afforded me an education with a full scholarship, there was no partial scholarship.
I played hockey for Zimbabwe B Team, not the greatest, but I played in the B teams of my schools my whole life.
I remember I sent a hockey video to Princeton, this Ivy League College, and they offered me a partial scholarship, I could not do anything with that. What does partial mean?
Partial might as well have been full school fees!
So for me, every part of my CV that you see was again that divine intervention where I worked so hard to be of the calibre for full scholarships, but really the only places I could go were places that would offer me a full scholarship because the money was not there.
TN: Yet you found those places that offered you the full scholarships. How amazing is that? How do you explain that Mati?
MHD: Oh it is the triumph of my story.
I think because my mum had instilled in me, this independence.
Our mother was not the sort of mother who had the luxury of being able to cuddle us while we were doing homework, or you know where you used to have those big projects where it was either an essay or a big art project, we had to figure it out.
My mum was too busy flying and working deals to bring extra money.
For her, the tenet of our upbringing was an education, she did not have the resources.
So we were going to school with children from rich neighbourhoods and affluent families.
The only thing that we had is that we were well travelled because my mum had these deals through Air Zimbabwe, but the rest of it we had to figure out how to excel, how to stand out.
So, very early in life I figured out I had to study, and that I had to be different from everyone else and I think that when that came to my scholarship applications and my school applications I knew that straight As were not enough.
I always had to be multi-faceted.
I was this incredible athlete, I used to write in those national writing competitions in Harare, I used to win those.
I used to be the captain of different organisations, so it was the well roundedness.
I was not always the number one in everything, but I was always top five in several different things.
So, when you have a resume that looks like that, you peek people’s interest, especially abroad where you are also international and you bring that cultural diversity.
I had to really excel but also be multi-faceted, so at every stage I was able to excel and be awarded these scholarships that are very rare for other children.
That is the part of the mentorship that is hard, because I think some people come to me for mentorship thinking that what I have done is easily reproducible and it is not.
In many ways I have never seen someone being able to go through an undergraduate, a graduate and tertiary education all on scholarships.
That was really one of the blessings of my journey.
- “In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. Please get your free YouTube subscription to this channel. The conversations are sponsored by Nyaradzo Group.