Frontier Nursing University (FNU) alumni Rachel Sherman spent last year working as a nurse practitioner in her community, earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and advocating for racial justice in her hometown of Prince George’s County, Md. As a result of her tireless efforts to bring awareness to her community, Sherman was honored with the Rosa Parks Award for Excellence in Community Activism at the District 9 Day of Service Awards this year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The award came as a result of her actions last year when a black man was kicked out of a local restaurant in Prince George’s County, Maryland for wearing an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt. Already known throughout her community as someone who stands up for equality, Sherman was one of the first to know about and respond to the event.
Despite working 10-12 hour shifts each day at Prince George’s Hospital Center, Sherman organized and took to the streets, protesting the restaurant seven days a week for three months. During this time, dozens of community members and local organizations joined Sherman in the protests. The story was also covered by the Washington Post.
However, this was not the first time Sherman’s activism had gained national attention. Sherman first became an equal rights advocate in her community in 2017 when she went with her younger brother on a routine car inspection to a local BP gas station (such routines are mandatory in Maryland for all vehicles). When the inspector attempted to overcharge her brother, Sherman stepped in, at which point she was berated by racist remarks. Rather than leaving or spewing similar hate, Sherman leaned into the platform that has brought increasing racial awareness in recent years- social media.
“I posted the video on Facebook and woke up in the morning to over 300,000 views,” Sherman said, “and that is how I became involved with grassroots activism.”
As the event with her brother spread across social media, individuals and politicians throughout the community reached out, and Sherman began to organize peaceful protests.
“After watching the video, many people were angry, but I always insisted that our protests remain peaceful. I believe that our words and actions can be much stronger weapons than violence.”
And it worked. BP flew in an executive to personally apologize to her and her brother on the evening news. Additionally, the inspector who harassed them was terminated and had his license revoked. The company also now makes a point of hiring community members in Prince George’s County.
“These protests were never about closing places down; they were about recognizing a problem and getting the change this community deserves,” Sherman said.
“Prince George’s County is a community where African Americans are thriving. We have the highest median income, education rate, and homeownership numbers for African Americans in this country. So why is it that we have a substandard education system and archaic hospitals?” Sherman asked.
Due to the history of inequality in the area, many minorities are hesitant to trust healthcare providers. Sherman is working to change that. For her DNP project, Sherman enacted a virtual community-based advance care planning program. Of Sherman’s participants, 85 percent completed the process, leading to 81 community members equipped with confidence in the future of their medical care and a personalized advance directive.
“What was most important to me about my DNP project is that it raised awareness and built trust. The participants were all encouraged to share the information they learned with their loved ones, and I have since been asked to speak on advance care planning in front of many local congregations. I’m really pleased that I have been able to get this information out into the community,” Sherman said.
Following her graduation from FNU, Sherman has joined Frontier as a faculty member in hopes of continuing to move healthcare in a more equitable direction.
“I was extremely impressed with the stance FNU took on social injustice over the past year. Doctor Stone’s statement on Breonna Taylor and George Floyd made me feel like this was the organization for me. The FNU community shows an understanding of how the lack of social justice impacts minority students and the future of this country. They have proven that they intend to help move healthcare in a more equitable direction and are an organization I am proud to be a part of.”
Thank you, Rachel, for working hard to expand equality, justice, and healthcare services. We are proud to have you as an alumni member and delighted that you have chosen to continue your FNU journey. We can’t wait to see what big things you do next!