Florida A&M University pharmacy professor Jamal Brown went viral on TikTok for both singing and playing the keyboard while teaching a lesson on diabetes in his therapeutics class — a mini performance that reached tens of thousands of viewers.
The 25-second clip has more than 96,000 views on the social media platform after a FAMU student recorded him and posted it Friday after the class session took place Tuesday, Jan. 17.
“I’ve been singing and playing the piano since I was a kid, so I’ve been doing that for years,” said Brown, 35, who is a FAMU alumnus. “I would have trouble remembering things, so if I turned it into a song, I would be more likely to remember it. It’s just that nobody recorded me in class singing before.”
The lyrics to the short tune are “insulin secretion, suppressing glucagon, slowing down my food, my brain says I’m full.”
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Brown — a Tallahassee native who lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife Carmen Brown and 2-year-old daughter Olivia Brown — graduated from the university’s College of Pharmacy in 2011 along with his wife and has been a full-time FAMU professor since 2015.
He usually conducts his class of third-year students in the Doctor of Pharmacy Program virtually, via Zoom, while his students attend from their seats in a classroom on FAMU’s campus.
But his arrival when he walked through the university’s classroom doors with a keyboard in his hand after a four-hour drive from Tampa was a shock to his students on all fronts.
Celestine Chandler, a FAMU doctoral student in the College of Pharmacy from Kingstree, South Carolina, says that Brown always “does the most for us.” She added that he has been instrumental in reassuring her that she can get back on track in the pharmacy program after she took a pause due to some challenges.
“He said, ‘I’m going to make sure you have a good understanding of diabetes’ and when he taught us that song, that was just the icing on the cake,” said Chandler, 54. “He has always been a proponent of encouraging students to hang in there.”
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Tamia Martin, another third-year student in the program, expressed her astonishment at the video’s popularity.
“Honestly, I was pretty shocked because I really wasn’t expecting it,” said 23-year-old Martin, an Aurora, Colorado native. “Over the weekend, the views were just increasing by the thousands. I was appreciative about people actually caring about the content in the video, too, because it sparked their interest in pharmacy.”
A web platform called AfroTech reposted Martin’s video Saturday on its Instagram page, where it received over 58,000 views. FAMU also reposted the video on its Instagram page Monday, which received a climbing number of over 6,000 views in less than an hour and is currently at over 58,000 views as well.
Brown dedicated his diabetes lecture to his mother Jacquelyn Williams Brown, who was born in Gadsden County and struggled with type 2 diabetes before passing away in 2019 at the age of 67.
“I was really motivated because this was my first time having the opportunity to teach diabetes to the pharmacy students in class, so I was doing everything in her honor,” Brown said. “That’s what made me really passionate about it in the way I was teaching. She was just an amazing lady who taught me so much.”
His mother, who was a choir director, taught him how to sing and how to play the piano.
Brown also comes from a musical family altogether as his father William Brown and brother Rashad Brown are both FAMU alumni who were members of the university’s Marching “100” band.
“The song is cool, and it’s catchy,” Brown said, “but to me, it wasn’t even about the song. It was an opportunity to talk about type 2 diabetes and how it affects the Black community and everybody else. There’s just too many people who know somebody who got a leg amputated, or somebody who’s taking insulin.”
Statistics show that over 2 million people in Florida — 12.5% of the adult population — have diagnosed diabetes, and Black individuals are 60% more likely than white individuals to be diagnosed with the disease.
Diabetes is mainly caused by a person’s body not having enough of the hormone called insulin, which is needed for energy like glucose to be taken into the cells. Type 2 diabetes causes the energy to sit in the bloodstream, which leads to high blood sugar.
Prevention methods such as exercising can help insulin get to the blood cells quicker. Limiting carbohydrate intake such as rice, pasta, bread and sweets and eating more green vegetables instead can also help make sure a person’s blood sugar doesn’t get too high, according to Brown.
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Besides being able to spread awareness about diabetes, Brown hopes the viral video attracts more students to attend the university’s pharmacy school as well.
“People may think this learning style is a little silly or it’s a joke,” Brown said. “If somebody walks by a classroom and they hear a lot of noise and laughing and singing, somehow it’s interpreted as unprofessional. But to me, it’s quite the opposite. If this is the way that people can learn and have fun, let’s do it.”
Contact Tarah Jean at tjean@tallahassee.com or follow her on twitter @tarahjean_.
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