June 2020 President’s Message

June 2020 President’s Message

Medical community must advocate for health equity for all

by Patricia Wyatt-Harris, MD —

We live in stressful times. That is certainly an understatement.

First, we’ve been battling a global pandemic. Then racism, which has long been a problem, came front and center after another black man died at the hands of police. Protesters around the world took to the streets to demand change and declare that “black lives matter.”

I am white, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be black. But I want to share a story that happened to my family in 2004. It involves how racism escalated in my own home.

I had a hard time believing it then. Looking at current events, I’m not sure we’ve made much progress.

Our church had a sister church at that time in Nairobi, Kenya. We had an exchange program that involved some of our parishioners traveling to Nairobi to do mission work. Some of the Kenyan parishioners came here to visit. They also did mission work, such as volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

One of the Kenyan gentlemen was a youth pastor. Our church sponsored him while he worked on his master’s degree in the United States. His name is Edward. We became friends, and he stayed with us several times. He is a kind, gentle person.

After I left for work one morning, he was at our house. He was eating cereal in our kitchen. Someone came to pick up dry cleaning at our home. When she saw a black man in our house, she called the police. He was eating cereal!

Several police officers showed up and entered the house. They proceeded to force Edward to the floor and handcuff him. He speaks English and kept trying to explain that he was our guest, but they would have none of it. Luckily, my 70-year-old mother showed up and said: “What are you doing? He is a guest in this house!”

One of my neighbors called me at the office and said there were several police cars at the house. By that time, my mom was there and the police had let Edward go. They said that they had the duty to “secure the house.” They apologized later, but it was traumatic for all of us.

The police were called because Edward was black. The person who called the police assumed that he had broken into the house because he was black. I was and still am embarrassed about that incident. We remained friends with Edward and kept in touch for a long time.

People are angry, and they should be. Blacks and other minorities continue to experience racism and unequal treatment in our society.

Minorities also suffer health inequities. They have been hit harder by COVID-19 than white people. It is often harder for minorities to get medical care. They often suffer from comorbidities. I’m afraid that the rallies and protests may increase the number of cases of COVID-19.

I hope progress will come out of this crisis. Langston Hughes wrote a moving poem called “Let America Be America Again.” It is very telling about the struggle for freedom and equality.

MSSC members will continue to work on health equity. We will continue to provide excellent health care to everyone.