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Psychiatrist Says Build to Code and Don’t Cut Corners
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“She changed lives. She had students believing they could achieve their dreams,” Ken Lewis exclaimed, following one of Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia’s talks to Wood River High School students.
 
Monday, March 9, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia was a fourth-grader when a friend on a bicycle clipped her skateboard as she rolled down a steep hill. She fell and, as she lay sprawled out on the ground, she realized that her right knee was turned inwards and backwards, her femur broken.

The six weeks she spent in traction in the hospital changed her life forever.

“I was 8 years old. I was scared. I noticed everyone in the hospital was nice and wanted to take care of me. But I felt lonely because no one looked like me,” said Moreland-Capuia. “I began wondering how other black people like myself felt. And I decided I wanted to change that.”

Moreland-Capuia decided then and there that she wanted to be a doctor. She had help on her path through elementary and secondary school from Ken Lewis’ I Have a Dream Foundation. She received a scholarship to Stanford University and then got a medical degree at George Washington University School of Medicine, followed by a degree in psychiatry at Oregon Health Sciences University.

She has developed a violence prevention program for young men of color and worked as an addiction specialist in her hometown. And she will embark on a new life as assistant professor at Harvard University next fall.

Moreland-Capuia came to Sun Valley this past week on behalf of I Have a Dream Foundation-Idaho, which has mentored 45 students since third grade with the promise of tuition for college or trade school. While here she spoke to two assemblies of Wood River High School students at the WRHS  Performing Arts Theater.

Moreland-Capuia said that she grew up in a neighborhood with gangs and cocaine use.

“But my principals at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School would not allow us to do anything but be great,” she said. “My mantra became: Today I’m going to do my best to be my best. And: If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

Her principals understood that words and narratives shape who you are, Moreland-Capuia said.

“As Descartes said, ‘I think therefore I am.’ Think about the narratives you have for yourself.”

Moreland-Capuia said that Ken Lewis, who divides his time between Portland and Sun Valley, came to her fourth-grade class and offered the students the hope of a college scholarship if they would graduate. Moreland-Capuia jumped at the opportunity.

“All the suffering I saw as a young person, including hunger and racism, left an impression on me. And I was determined it would not go for naught.”

She described a neighborhood that was hit by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Half of the homes looked like pickup sticks following the storm. The Habitat for Humanity homes survived intact.

They all looked the same before the storm, but for some the foundation was not as steady, Moreland-Capuia said. Asked why theirs survived, those who built the Habitat for Humanity homes said: We built to code and we didn’t cut corners.

“Storms will come,” she told the students. “When they do, you must ask yourself: Am I built to code? Am I cutting corners?”

Moreland-Capuia asked the students what they were afraid of.

“In general, everything that’s going on in America,” said one boy.

“Coronavirus,” added a female student.

“These worries are real,” Moreland-Capuia told them. “We live in a hard world. It’s cold out there.  People are cruel. And when we’re afraid we don’t always make the best decisions or exercise the best judgment. When there’s a threat we respond out of fear.”

Moreland-Capuia recounted how she watched Freddy Krueger movies as a child, even though they scared her. The movies had one constant: The victims always dropped their keys as they ran to the door.

“The part of your brain that puts the key in the lock doesn’t work when it’s afraid,” she said. “We all understand what it’s like to be afraid. And, if you understand that, that should be the foundation for  kindness.”

Moreland-Capuia added that it never hurts to have a song that can carry one through the worst of times, even a college calculus class.

Hers, she said, is Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” she said, which purports, “I found the greatest love of all inside of me…”

“I want each of you to have a song with special meaning that will keep you through tough times on your path to purpose,” she said.

 

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