In the small town of Terry, Mississippi, entrepreneur and cattle rancher Edward “Bo” Owens, had a vision for his family. The week before he passed away in 1964, he had a meeting with his wife, Inez Moncure Owens, and their seven children – Jody, Bob, Dianna Faye, Jasmin Rena, Sutton Levon, Gwendolyn, and Darline. Among his seven children, he envisioned a lawyer, a doctor – fashioned after one of his role models Dr. Robert Smith – and a preacher rising up from the group.
Though he did not live to see it, his children did fulfill his dream of finding success in life and his wife’s dream of understanding the importance of education. His children’s occupations ranged from educator, fourth generation cattleman, pharmacist, preacher (by marriage), lawyer, and doctor.
The doctor in the family would learn from Dr. Robert Smith and take the helm of ushering in the future of community health centers in Mississippi. She would become the CEO of Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, MS which is the largest provider of primary healthcare for underserved and uninsured individuals in Mississippi. The center has now tripled in size under her direction, and she has led it – with its over 23 locations from Jackson to Vicksburg, 13 school-based clinics, and two mobile clinic units that serve 17 schools – in this capacity for the last two decades, starting in 1999.
Her name is Dr. Jasmin Rena Chapman, and she is the 2022 Jackson Advocate Woman of the Year for being the epitome of this year’s Women’s History Month theme: “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.”
Following in the footsteps
The same year of her father’s death, when Dr. Chapman was about nine years old, Terry, Mississippi native Dr. Robert Smith served as the liaison for the doctors of the Medical Committee for Human Rights who came to Mississippi to aid in the care of civil rights activists and demonstrators during the 1964 Freedom Summer. He was an “unpaid physician to the Movement” and he, along with a few others from MCHR, paved the way for the birth of community health centers. One of the first CHCs opened up in Mound Bayou, MS as a federally funded clinic backed by Tufts University in Boston in 1965.
Dr. Smith – the man that Edward “Bo” Owens looked up to – is responsible for mentoring young, gifted, and Black men and women of Mississippi to enter into the field of medicine, which took the number from 25 to 300 from the 1960s to the 1980s. He is the first multi-doctor with a multi-specialty primary health practice, specializing in family and internal medicine, cardiology, optometry, and surgical specialization. The movement that he began to provide quality healthcare to underserved populations now totals almost 15,000 centers nationwide.
In 1970, Dr. Smith, along with Dr. James Anderson, who was known as “everyone’s physician”, and Dr. Aaron Shirley, the first Black resident at UMMC and the first Black pediatrician in the state of Mississippi, founded JHCHC. About two years after that in 1972, Chapman graduated from Terry High School with the highest ACT score and the third highest GPA in her class. She then enrolled at Jackson State University where she majored in biology and at the age of 19 – the same age her mother married her father – she joined in holy matrimony with Clyde Chapman, who was a history and political science major at the university.
Chapman would go on to become the first Black graduate of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry where she graduated in 1979. She’d heard about the CHC movement from Dr. Smith when she was a medical student there. “When I was in dental school, I heard about the community health center movement, and I talked to Dr. Robert Smith, and he told me this was a program for the poor and the uninsured. It would be a safety net program, and I definitely wanted to be a part of that,” said Chapman.
She interviewed for a dentist position at Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in 1979 while finishing her medical degree and becoming pregnant with her first child, Rozell. Over the next four decades, Chapman would achieve excellence in every area she stepped into at the center.
Taking the Big Step
Dr. Rosie Walker-McNair, who is the current medical director at JHCHC, met Dr. Chapman when Dr. Chapman was a practicing dentist at the center. “I have watched her grow from a clinical worker to an executive person, and she has shown strong leadership abilities. I’m very impressed with her. She’s moving Jackson-Hinds forward and has a big vision for the future. She’s trying to get Jackson-Hinds ready for the next generation. What I’ve learned from her is to take the big step.”
Dr. Chapman has had to take a few big steps in her forty-year career at JHCHC. In 1984, she became the dental director at Jackson-Hinds. “All of my early developmental skills, I learned from her,” says Dr. Rose Straughter, the current dental director at JHCHC. Straughter was hired by Dr. Chapman as a dentist in 1989.
Then in 1996, Dr. Chapman took another big step, moving up from dental director to medical director. “Jackson-Hinds got in severe financial trouble to the point that we were almost bankrupt,” remembered Chapman. “At that time, Dr. Shirley was the CEO, but eventually he left, and Dr. Anderson became CEO. Now I am a dentist and Dr. Anderson selected me to be the medical director. And I said to him, ‘Dr. Anderson, I am not qualified to be the medical director. I’m a dentist.’ I didn’t take the position when he first offered it to me, but eventually he said that ‘we’re going through a crisis, and I want someone to help me get us through this crisis. And you are the person that I want to be over not only the dentists but all the clinical people as well.’ And so I actually went from dental director to medical director.”
She served as medical director for two years before Dr. Anderson fell ill due to a stroke. It was during this time that Dr. Chapman became fearful of the future of Jackson-Hinds for the first time. But she listened to Dr. Anderson’s advice to support the interim CEO sent to fill in for him. Dr. Anderson was able to recuperate for about 18 months and then fell ill again. The center was on the brink of falling back into financial trouble again and so the board of directors set out to find a permanent replacement. That permanent replacement came in the form of none other than Dr. Jasmin Chapman.
“I didn’t apply for the position. I really thought that I had as much as I needed to do as the medical director. Then the staff asked the board could they put my name in as the CEO.” Chapman became interim CEO in 1999 and has been the CEO of JHCHC for the last 20-plus years.
“I never applied for the positions. I was sort of drafted for my different positions. And so that’s why I often tell people that you just have to do the best you can in whatever position you are in and be prepared. People will see your worth and they will help promote you up.”
Dr. Chapman’s older brother, Bob Owens, says that she is one of the smartest people he knows and a person one should not bet against. “She has an amazing ability to find solutions to any problem. Her ‘gut’ reaction to resolving problems is truly astonishing,” he adds. As the middle kid with three older siblings and three younger siblings, Dr. Chapman says she grew up as “the negotiator” of the bunch.
Owens reflects on his sister’s character and recalls that as a child, teenager, adult, and as a professional, Dr. Chapman has always been a wonderful person – kind, humble, brilliant, and faithful to God and her family.
These characteristics seem to be traits of the Owens family, passed down to them from their mother and father. After their father’s death from a car accident at the age of 35, their 32-year-old mother, Inez, was tasked with raising seven children, ranging from the ages of 2 to 15, on her own. “We, as small children, could hear my mom cry at night, through the night. But we saw in the morning, there was no sign of her weakness. When she woke up in the morning, she did whatever it took for us to survive. And once people tried to give her accolades, she said ‘I did only what every mother does for their children,’” recalled Chapman.
Inez Monclure Owens, who’d previously stopped her schooling at 10th grade, showed her children the value of education by her actions. “My mom was the type of person that led by example,” stated Chapman.
While Dr. Chapman was finishing up high school, her mother went back to get her GED and entered Jackson State University at the same time. “My dad and her both valued education because they thought that was the one thing that couldn’t be taken away from you. That’s why they’re my heroes,” expressed Chapman. There is now a scholarship in her name at Jackson State for single mothers.
Another value that Dr. Chapman’s mother instilled in her is the importance of family. “My mom taught us the rule of a family. She said I want you guys to stick together. You are as close as the hand but as separate as the fingers. And I’m the base.”
The Owens siblings grew up on a farm in Terry, MS. They learned farming and ranching skills. They had horses, cows, and pigs, and they raised cotton and corn. Dr. Chapman says that the epitome of their childhood and a lesson that has stuck with the siblings throughout the years happened when they all had to work together to get a cow out of a ditch.
“We had cows and horses. And a lot of times, they would get in dangerous situations that they couldn’t get out of, so they needed our help. One time we had this cow that got stuck in a ditch, and it was really muddy. If we couldn’t get him out of the ditch, we knew that he was going to die. So it was just my siblings and my mom, and we tried pushing and pulling the cow out the ditch. We couldn’t push him from the top of the ditch, and we couldn’t pull him. And so we were trying to figure out how we would get this cow out the ditch.
“Eventually, we decided that we all had to get in the ditch. There were some of us that got in front; some of us got behind the cow, and we got in the ditch. We were able to get to a solid area where the cow could move out of the ditch with our help. And so we had this saying, as we grew up, when we were in trouble. When one was in trouble, all that they would have to say to the other one is ‘the cow is in the ditch.’”
Paving the way
Dr. Chapman has applied the same principles to her work at Jackson-Hinds. Indeed, her role is now similar to the base of the hand that is a growing network of community health centers which employs and trains countless Black medical professionals. They all have their respective duties, but they all work together as a whole. “Jackson-Hinds has never been about one person. It is this team. They’re so brilliant. And they’re so committed to the mission of Jackson-Hinds,” expressed Chapman.
She adds, “If you go and talk to the nurses, the medical assistants, the dental assistants, the dental hygienists, you’re going to see some Black people here that have some big dreams, great ideas, and they know how to make things happen.
“I think my strongest attribute is growing leaders. Sometimes they leave, but if you look at the people that have worked at Jackson-Hinds somewhere in their career, you might be surprised,” said Chapman. Congressman Bennie Thompson and Representative Alyce Clarke are just a couple of examples.
In addition, that same hand works to lift up its staff and the communities that surround it. “All the physicians that started at Jackson-Hinds, maybe as a medical assistant or a nurse, are now physician leaders of organizations, leaders of other community health centers, or a big organization. We grow leaders.
“If you need to have someone to mentor you to hone your skills, this is a place. For some reason, we give you the confidence. I think it’s similar to what HBCUs do for college students because we are of the community from the community. And when you see whatever we do, you know that you can do it. We come from similar situations. We come from broken homes, single parents; we come from the community. And so when people see me or see many of my doctors or my leaders, they easily can see themselves.”
Ten years ago, JHCHC became one of the first community health organizations to have a partnership with a leading medical school (UMMC) to train its residents. “We see things that they might not see at an academic facility. Jackson-Hinds was a place that you felt safe. You could trust the physicians, and you were more likely to follow them because you knew that they were from and of your community. Community health centers always knew that preventive healthcare was a lot more effective than treating the person after they get a disease,” stated Chapman.
At the onset of the pandemic, JHCHC was only second in the state to UMMC in administering COVID-19 testing. “We were able to test the minority and elderly population when they couldn’t access computers. They knew where Jackson-Hinds was. We were able to get them in the front of the line to get the COVID testing. And then when we were able to do the vaccinations, they would come. They were confident, and they trusted us. We were able to make sure that the Black elderly from Mississippi were able to get vaccinated at a rate that was better than most of the people in the United States that meet that population. And we think it was because of the [impact of] community health centers. ”
Just as they did with COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, Dr. Chapman wants Jackson-Hinds to grow where there is a need. For her, mental health is a huge need in the state of Mississippi. “I want to see Jackson-Hinds truly integrate mental health so that there is no stigma at all for people. I want us to be the safety net for the young. I want us to be a safe place for our youth in the most critical areas, [so that they will] be able to come and see people and know that there’s another way that you can survive.”
In the future, Dr. Chapman envisions JHCHC tripling in size. Although this is a feat the center has accomplished already under her direction, Dr. Chapman believes that Jackson-Hinds is still in its adolescent stage. “I’m going to sit back at 90 and just be so proud of where they have taken it.”
Until then, she looks forward to continuing the work she’s doing, riding horses out in the country, and spending time with her family – her husband Clyde, her children Rozell (Dashleen) and Ja’Nee (Chad), and her grandchildren Blake, Rohan, and Roman.