Rochester Medicine

Allan Augillard: Succeeding Against the Odds

Nov. 17, 2016

Allan AugillardOn one of the first few days after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Allan Augillard was driving his Acura Integra back to his family's home on a predominantly white street in the town of Destrehan, La., when five police cars flashed their lights and pulled him over.

"I was following behind my mom, my grandmother and my brother in their car, going back to our home," he says. "When the police pulled me over, I took out my license and registration, and held it out the window for them. The next thing I knew, they pulled me out of the car, put me on all fours, and put the cold steel barrel of a gun against my head. They thought I had been looting or stealing. The police officer was scared, I could feel his hand trembling through the barrel of the gun, and I knew he was going to shoot me. It was weird, that this calm came over me thinking, 'I'm going to die right now.'"

As his mother and grandmother began running hysterically toward him against his urging to stay back, Augillard could feel the situation turning from bad to worse, until he heard one of the police officers speak.

"'Wait, wait, wait...that's a good kid, that's a good kid,'" said one officer who was the father of a high school classmate of Augillard's, he recalls. "And they realized their mistake, and let me up, and left like nothing ever happened. No apology, no nothing."

For Augillard, the incident was an unforgettable bookend to a childhood shaped by many challenges and inequities. He spent much of his youth in the rural, predominantly black, working class town of St. Rose, La., wedged between "the swamp and the French Quarter."

His father, a shift worker in the nearby chemical refineries, left the family when he was three.

"I haven't seen him much since, and don't remember at all what he looks like," says Augillard. "All I remember is that when it was his visitation weekend, my brother and I used to put on nice clothes, fix our hair, and sit on the front steps waiting, but he never showed up."

He was raised by his mother, Shelia, a kindergarten teacher who earned her master's degree at Southeastern University, and his grandmother, Anna-mae, who owned a house nearby that had been built by his maternal grandfather. "Those two women mean everything to me," says Augillard. In the absence of a father, he sometimes looked to TV for male role models. "Like Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Heathcliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show," he says. "But not having a real-life father also gave me the opportunity to be my own man, and figure out what manhood was for myself."

Even though he grew up in a home with bars on the windows and drug deals taking place on the street, Augillard's mother made it clear that college was non-negotiable.

Augillard"My mother's influence was a game-changer for me," he says. "My reality was, you go to elementary school until you become a big kid and then you go to high school and then you go to college and get a job. That was what was taught to me. But for most of my friends, that wasn't the reality at all."

As a bright and hard-working minority student in a large public school district, Augillard found himself often having to prove he belonged among the mostly white, privileged students in the accelerated classes.

"When I walked through the doors of the honors classes, all of the white kids would walk through, but they would constantly stop me to make sure I was on the roster," recalls Augillard. "When I took a test and did well, they would often make me re-take it. Or, they would make me re-write a paper in front of them if they didn't think I really wrote it."

In Destrahan High School, he was routinely excluded from study groups, and forced to work all that much harder to stay on top of the material.

"I would be up studying many nights until early in the morning, especially working on key concepts in math," he says. "On the bus the next day, one of my white classmates would ask for my math homework to copy from and I would always give it to him. He would scribble it down on the 10-minute ride while the bus is bumping along. The amazing thing was, he would end up getting on A on his, while I would get a C or a D on mine. That was when I really began to understand what racism meant. But what stuck with me more, fortunately, was learning how to make the sacrifices."

On his last day of high school, Augillard remembers a white teacher telling him not to be disappointed if he didn't make it through medical school, "because I could always be a nurse or a technician or something. That summed up my experience in high school."

Augillard was courted by Yale, Howard and Emory Universities, but chose Xavier for Biology/Pre-Med because it was the best at placing African-Americans in medical school. Poignantly, his own father had started as a premedical student at Xavier but never finished.

There, he formed a friendship with future SMD colleague Steve Morgan (MD '16) during his junior year. When they weren't working in the tutoring center together, they fished for trout and redfish in the nearby marshes and bayous, frying up whatever they caught.

"His friendship helped me a lot," says Augillard, who utilized the Early Assurance Program (EAP) and committed to Rochester in his sophomore year.

"It was nerve-wracking because EAP is risky, and I didn't have a back-up plan if I didn't get in to Rochester," he says. "I wanted to go there because it ranked so highly, and I had heard UR students at Xavier pre-med meetings talking about how great it was."

At the UR, Augillard was dismayed to experience instances of racism that reminded him of his upbringing. Once, a fellow student spoke out in class about how she felt Xavier students were not as smart, and had an easier route to medical school because of the EAP.

"I don't think she realized I was from Xavier when she said it," says Augillard. "And then, my professor (professor of Pediatrics Jeffrey Rubenstein, MD) pointed out that, 'No, in fact Xavier students are very intelligent, and it's an asset to have them here. For instance, Allan.' At that point, she just got up and walked out."

Now with his medical degree in hand, Augillard is eager to apply his education to his residency in Emergency Medicine closer to home at LSU's University Hospital.

"I've learned that when I feel injustice is happening, and there's an opportunity to educate the person that's committing it, I can't live with being quiet," he says. "My silence affirms whatever injustice they're doing. It's therapeutic for me to educate someone and make sure it doesn't happen again. If that means I have to raise my hand and say something, or talk to an instructor about a racially-energized joke, that's just what I have to do. And, if you fail me because of that, then I just failed. I can't just shut up and let it happen, because nothing's going to be different for the next person."