LaMenta "Sweetie" Conway, MD, MPH
LaMenta Sweetie Conway, MD, MPH, is truly one of Chicago's very own gems. Some say nothing good comes out of Englewood. Dr. Conway, however, was born and raised in Chicago’s Englewood community. Though it clearly wasn’t easy, she defied immeasurable odds to arise successfully from a community blighted with hopelessness to live out her childhood dream of becoming a doctor. She is currently board certified in both Pediatrics and Internal Medicine practicing Hospitalist Medicine with over a decade of teaching experience in top academic hospitals in the Midwest.
She is known by most as simply “Sweetie”, a childhood name that has followed her into her professional circles, into the boardroom and even on to the hospital floor. “She is one of the most informal and down to earth professional women I have ever known. Her name truly fits her,” describes one of her long time patients. Known for her warm and exuberant personality and bedside manner, her colleagues share that she has “mastered the art of the patient physician relationship.” Even as an Attending physician, her days remain as long as those of residency because she never misses an opportunity to walk into a patient’s room and hear their stories. “I tried the 15 minute visit. I can’t do it,” chuckled Dr. Conway. It takes that long for me to greet everyone in the room and pull up my chair,” she laughs. “She has an excellent bedside manner and practices the true and some would say dying art of the collecting the patient history,” described a colleague. “She is known for her trademark greetings to each patient and family member present which are so cheerful and warm that patient’s always feel at ease” described her nurse. “She always pulls up a seat so that the patient doesn’t feel rushed. It is remarkable to see her energy. Quite often, patient’s, though ill, are left smiling or laughing when she leaves which is truly a testament to her love for and connection to her patients.”
“not only are you ABLE and capable, you are ABEL, and yes, from the biblical story, you are expected to be your brother’s keeper. You are responsible not only for your success but for those who hope to follow. "
Outside of the hospital, Dr. Conway shines in the areas of community service and mentoring. She has spoken on radio, television and at community forums educating the urban community about diseases afflicting our populations. People have described her talks as upbeat, comical, captivating and always relevant. She says her true passion, however, is mentoring and preparing her successors. She has received numerous awards for her mentoring of youth, especially young women interested in careers in medicine. Her mentoring and community leadership has led to her receiving numerous community honors. She will be a featured honoree of the National Congress of Black Women, Metro Chicago Chapter at their annual celebration 2015.
Dr. Conway is the founder of the “I Am Abel Foundation” a non-profit organization whose mission is dedicated to empowering and uplifting Chicago’s inner city youth and providing them with mentoring opportunities and meaningful exposure to careers in medicine, STEM, business and ecology. Though it’s in it’s infancy, she’s convinced it will be life changing for Chicago area youth. “Without a vision the people will perish” shares Dr. Conway. “But how will they see?” The I am Abel Foundation is committed to helping Chicago’s children recognize the multiplicity of opportunities that are available to them then provide them with the mentoring, connections and exposure they need to make their dreams actually happen. The organization is heavily founded on the principle of “reciprocal giving” which means, “When you’ve been blessed… pass it on! “ The children are all expected to participate in structured volunteer programs and will be expected to provide peer mentoring to fellow students.
“We will help them see beyond the confines of their inner city blocks and more importantly, beyond the limitations of their very own minds. They won’t hear “you can’t,” says Dr. Conway. “I can’t tell you how many times I and so many of my now successful colleagues were told by some incompetent student advisor what we could NOT do or accomplish. Thankfully, we had the strength to ignore the stupidity and irresponsible advise of those given charge over directing our futures and to believe in ourselves anyhow. I Am Abel Foundation seeks to empower, build self esteem and help provide the building blocks of success.
On asking Dr. Conway why she started the I Am Abel Foundation, she describes the sadness that overtook her family on Mother’s Day in 2014 after receiving the call that her 15-year-old cousin was shot and killed on Chicago’s far south side. Six months later, her 14-year-old cousin, a promising football standout and “A” student in the Englewood community, was paralyzed by a bullet meant for someone one else changing his dreams forever. It was then that she knew she would have to formalize her outreach to create mentoring and programming opportunities, conferences and even international internships for urban children that would provide unparalleled resources and true opportunity that would not ordinarily reach the inner city enclaves. “Violence exists where there is hopelessness,” Dr. Conway explains. Moreover, she would have to reprogram the minds of city kids who have been told “no” and “you can’t” and tell them “not only are you ABLE and capable, you are ABEL, and yes, from the biblical story, you are expected to be your brother’s keeper.
You are responsible not only for your success but for those who hope to follow. Dr. Conway’s philosophy is that when you have been blessed, you’re to pass it on. That is why a feature of her program is not just vertical mentoring, from professional to student, but also horizontal mentoring from student to student. While her not for profit organization is new, her mission has been long lived and her successful students have given testimony to this.
Outside of the hospital walls, Dr. Conway is an accomplished gospel and contemporary music singer. She has performed with her band at neighborhood festivals and across the country. Even within the medical community she is known as a songbird singing at many not for profit gala’s and hospital events. She credits the black church for nurturing this skill and many other talents for young people. “They were a bedrock for many inner city children.
In one place, there was inspiration, encouragement, mentors and true role models. The church was a community even for the intellectuals. It was the place where movements would begin and social activism was fostered. It’s where I found my mentors and where they told me “yes you can.” That was certainly my experience. It was a place for the broken and broken hearted. While drugs, poverty and despair was at our front door, the church was our refuge.” Those lessons and inspirations would carry her through many challenging days. Certainly the church was also that place that if you had a talent, you would be discovered”, chided Dr. Conway, “because they would push you until they found out what you were good at!” After years of singing and directing choirs, she recalls one of her most memorable and culminating moments was her debut concert where she opened for the legendary Albertina Walker and Dorothy Norwood. She has performed on stage with many world famous artists including Otis Clay, Rance Allen and many more. She says, “If I wasn’t a doctor, I would definitely be somewhere singing.”
“I was given a second chance.” “I am living a dream
that was deferred but not denied,”
Dr. Conway has been a physician now for 17 years and feels her life has come full circle from her days growing up in Englewood. She has served Chicago’s inner city vulnerable populations for most of her career with care to a large population of Latino, African-American and European immigrant populations. “I love all people and I was born to make a difference and change lives. My life is not my own exclusively. I hope that I make the world better than how it was before I came here.” Dr. Conway says, “Part of the I Am Abel mission through it’s international internships and language programs is to encourage students to learn multiple languages so that they can be of service to those who need us most. Chicago is a huge melting pot and there is so much need!”
Dr. Conway smiles as she reflected on her life and her ascent from her small Englewood community. She says, “I was given a second chance.” Struggling to lasso her dream as a late bloomer, medical school seemed to quite possibly be the impossible dream. “I am living a dream that was deferred but not denied,” she spoke passionately. Honestly, I still smile, shake my head and sometimes cry tears of joy when I think about how I made it here. It’s nothing short of a miracle. I started at Rush Medical College in with a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 6-month-old baby. I had just finished my Master’s in Public Health with concentration in Biostatistics and Epidemiology while working full time and raising my family. As a mother of really young children and a wife, medical school would be an incredible undertaking. “I wasn’t sure if it could be done. Who goes to medical school with three babies under three years old?” In my moment of doubt, my mother said, “you do… that’s who does it!”
Dr. Conway also managed to be president of the Student National Medical Association, her sophomore year and graduated 4 years from her start with the Distinguished David Jones Peck Award, honoring an outstanding African American student of her graduating class. She recalls trying to juggle it all and credits her mother and grandmother for helping her manage her young children while she pursued this major dream. Today, those children are all grown up and well on their way to successfully pursuing their own dreams with the oldest starting law school, the youngest heading to medical school in a few years and the middle son completing his studies in engineering at Purdue. “I’ve been blessed” Dr. Conway says with a smile and “when you been blessed, what do you do? Pass it on!” That’s the mission of I Am Abel Foundation….“Our hearts to the pulse of Chicago’s children.”
by Corey A. Conway
I Am Abel Foundation
Correspondent, Division of International Programs
Linguistics Major, Purdue University, Senior
Want inspiration? Stay tuned!
Take a glimpse into the early years from Englewood till now where
Dr. Conway talks about the challenges of becoming a physician and how
it was the dream that almost wasn’t !