Before you set eyes on Dr. Jeri Dyson, you will likely hear her hearty laugh and feel a positive energy engulf the room. She is one of those people who are probably described as larger than life quite often.
“Charismatic is the right word,” says Dr. Stacey Eadie, who first met Dyson during her medical school residency. Dyson, a D.C. native, and Eadie, who comes from Baltimore, Md., immediately connected.
“Jeri was always my go-to person [in residency] on handling issues,” says Eadie. “Although she was my senior, I found her friendly and approachable.”
It is perhaps that quality, Dyson’s sense of warmth, tinged with a rich, raucous and easy laugh that resonates with adolescents who have encountered Dyson through her a work as an adolescent medicine physician specializing in sexually transmitted infections. A combination of that work and her personality, landed Dyson a spot on the BET’s popular music program, 106 & Park, for an International Aids Day #RapItUp panel discussion. “I have always felt the need to give back to the community,” recalls Dyson, who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for her undergraduate studies and medical school.
That appearance on 106 & Park changed the direction of Dyson’s life. As she watched the young audience, Dyson was shocked by the crowd’s cavalier attitude in a conversation about a topic as serious as HIV/Aids. “I went home and cried,” she says. “That was the life changer — it wasn’t so much disrespect but rather the disregard these kids had for the subject. It was alarming.”
Pausing as she recalls that day, Dyson adds, “I knew that I had to do more. These young people, already in a high risk category, were even more at risk because they were not taking the issue seriously.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, African Americans are the racial group most affected by HIV in the United States, for a number of reasons–ranging from poverty, which often also means a lack of access to health services, to a lack of awareness about HIV and prevention options.
Dyson’s work with young people goes beyond their physical health, to shaping the whole person so they are informed and empowered to make decisions that impact their lives in positive ways. Despite the challenging topics she addresses through her work, Dyson’s personality and engaging presentation style helps connect with audiences of all ages.
“Dr. Dyson was absolutely awesome at the National Executive Youth Leadership Society! She kept the attention of over 300 students and parents the entire time,” Chonya Johnson, Director of the National Executive Youth, Leadership Society held at the U.S. Capitol, effuses as she recalls Dyson’s impact on members of the organization she leads.
It is perhaps ironic that in a hyper-connected society, people young and old can feel disconnected or lost. Dyson works with people of all ages helping them to resolve issues around intimacy and understand the difference between sensuality and sexuality.
Dyson is part of growing community of lifestyle coaches, or gurus even, who have recognized a growing need, especially among women, to find more meaning in their lives. Her own life exemplifies that idea — of living ‘an authentic’ life. “In order for me to make a difference, I really had to do my homework,” she says. “I was always studying, looking up statistics. I wanted to give [people] fresh and up-to-date information. A lot of times I was overly-prepared.”
As her transition from doctor to a hybrid motivational-speaker-educator-coach evolves, Dyson’s advice for her peers or others aspiring to this area of work is to be prepared to encounter people that will both encourage and discourage their ambitions.
She also emphasizes the need to be patient and persistent. “It is such a life-changing decision that I’ve made,” she says. “Every overnight success is 10-to-15 years in the making. You have to be patient and you have to stay on the path.”
Photo credit: Jackie Hicks of Fond Memories