Voice for the Voiceless

Voice for the Voiceless

Because she was born in Liberia and emigrated with her parents to Detroit before she was five years old, and because she attended Cass High School and later the University of Michigan, where she earned her degrees and completed a preventive medicine residency, Monique Reeves, M.D., M.P.H. ’10, knows—with a precision most of us lack—how lucky she is.

Reeves knows, for instance, that if things had been different, she could be an underinsured mother in Detroit, struggling to find prenatal care for her unborn infant. Or she could be one of the women she saw on her first trip back to Liberia in 2006—women who were collecting water from a filthy pond where others were bathing and washing their clothes, and who would later use that water to cook food. Or she could be the patient she treated in Monrovia on that same trip, an 18-year-old woman who nearly bled to death because the hospital had no blood bank, and the woman’s family could not donate enough blood to save her life.

“And I was struck by the fact that I seemed to be the only person panicked or upset by the fact that this young woman was going to die,” Reeves remembers. “Not that people don’t mourn the loss of loved ones, but the line between life and death there is so thin.” Reeves cried for days.

Her keen awareness that her life could be otherwise helps explain why Reeves and her fiancé have built a house in Monrovia and go back as often as they can to work in local clinics and hospitals. It helps explain why she works twice monthly as a clinician in a small emergency clinic in Clarkston, Michigan, and is medical director of the FernCare Free Clinic.

“My father taught me that no man is an island, we have to do this together,” she says. Her dad, a nurse, “would literally give you the shirt off his back.” Reeves vowed she’d grow up to be different. “And I laugh now, because I look in the mirror, and I see his face staring back at me.”

As medical director of a clinic serving Michigan’s uninsured population, Reeves devotes much of her time and energy to battling the health disparities that afflict certain of the state’s populations. The job allows her to be “a voice for those who have no voice,” she believes, “a voice for those who may be afraid to use their voice, a voice for those whose voices may not be loud enough to reach the people who need to hear their stories in order to make changes.”