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Writing His Way Through Life with Dr. Otto E. Stallworth Jr.

Written by Samantha Skelton

Dr. Otto Stallworth knew only Birmingham, Alabama, where he grew up, before embarking on a journey that took him from Washington, DC, to Nashville, and eventually Los Angeles. After an impressive career in medicine, Otto E. Stallworth Jr. couldn’t shake the knowledge-hungry bug and threw himself into writing. His memoir, “Are You a N****r or a Doctor?” A Memoir, chronicles his life's experiences, touching on topics such as racial encounters, adapting to new environments, navigating relationships, and of course there are humorous stories from his life as well. Can you tell me about your background and where you're from? I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I left Alabama for the first time at age 16 to and took a train to Washington, DC. and attended Howard University for premed and then went to medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. After that, did an internship at a Case Western Reserve Hospital in Ohio, and then to California for my residency in anesthesiology at UCLA. Wow, what an impressive background! And did you stay in Los Angeles after your residency? I did. I practiced medicine as an anesthesiologist for 45 years and had a pain clinic from 1975 to 1987. I also had some side ventures, including managing an R&B group that won a Grammy for Best New Artist. I got an MBA and had a restaurant called Hollywood Fries, but it closed due to the effects of 9/11. I've been married several times and have four kids, a stepdaughter, and six grandchildren. Did you have an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age? Where do you think it came from? I think my father's various jobs and my mother's ambitions influenced me. My father worked in a steel mill but also had a route to pick up and deliver clothes for a dry cleaner, sold suits through a catalog, and became a distributor for Jet and Ebony magazines. My mother was a beautician who wanted to be a teacher and went to college at night. I always had an adventurous soul and always had an interest in learning more about everything. Where did your curiosity to learn more take you? Well, after completing my residency and beginning my medical practice, at night I took classes at UCLA and USC Extension classes in various subjects like writing and music, which sparked my interest in writing. Joined a writing group after retirement in 2018 which kept me on track to write my memoir, which I don’t think I would have ever completed if it weren’t for that group, the Longwood Writers’ Workshop formed by actress and author, Denise Nicholas. Did enrolling in writing classes inspire you to write your memoir? Enrolling in writing classes at UCLA was a way for me to improve my English, as it was my worst subject in school because in college I was in pre-med focused on science courses. However, it was when I retired and joined that writing group that I truly felt inspired to write my memoir. Being part of that group of six, composed mostly of people from the entertainment industry, motivated me to share my personal stories and experiences. Can you tell me more about Are You a N****r or a Doctor: A Memoir? My memoir is a collection of stories from my life, starting from childhood and spanning through different stages like puberty, high school, college, medical school, and beyond. Some humorous, some not so humorous, and some a combination. It's a personal journey rather than a political or racially-focused book.


As mentioned, some stories are humorous, and I aim to provide readers with an understanding that even with obstacles and mistakes, you can achieve great things. I touch on subjects like racial experiences, adjustments to new environments, and the challenges of relationships. What’s one of the stories you tell in your memoir? My writing group always said, “Just write down what you remember.” So the first story I remembered was where the title of the book came from. That was something that happened during my internship in Ohio, where I was the only black physician out of 30 to 35 residents and interns. I had been to black kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, and in medical school, out of 80 students, we had 8 white students. So, I had never been in a predominantly white environment, and here I was in Ohio in an all-white environment. I’d also like to bring attention to one more important part of my journey. In my book, there's a story about Reverend John Wesley Rice, who played a significant role in my life. Despite having good grades, I had no money for college. Reverend Rice, who is Condoleezza Rice's father, helped me find a little-known scholarship program called the National Defense Loan. It provided 50% loans and 50% scholarships based on family income, allowing me to complete four years of college. I later received a similar opportunity through the National Health Defense program, which supported my medical school education. Inspired by my experience, my wife and I started the Stallworth OhYes Foundation, offering four-year full scholarships to Howard University undergrad and full four years to Meharry Medical College. People can go to www.stallworthohyes.foundation for more information about the foundation and to learn about Reverend Rice's role in my journey.

How would you like readers to feel after reading your memoir? I want readers to feel inspired and hopeful. I want them to be entertained by the humorous stories. I want them to understand that despite obstacles and the mistakes you make in life, it's possible to achieve your goals. In sharing my own journey and the challenges I faced, I hope readers will gain a sense of resilience and realize that they can overcome their own obstacles. Additionally, I want to provide insights into the complexities of relationships and how personal experiences can shape your actions and decisions. For example, as I ventured into my past life, I got a peep as to, maybe, why I had five marriages and four divorces. What else are you working on? I’m currently working on a fiction novel called “Murder at BeautyWorld.” I started and discovered it's very different than writing a memoir so I’m excited to keep learning and working on that. Where can readers find your book? www.ottoestallworthjrmd.com

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