I am thinking about violence against people of color – violence from law enforcement and also violence from within the medical system. I am thinking about the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others. I am thinking about our individual actions and also how working within the healthcare space is an opportunity to counter violence. I am thinking about Audre Lorde saying, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own…and I am not free as long as one person of color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.”

I am thinking about empathy. How to foster empathy as a person, as a people, as an organization, and as a society. I recommend the article Six Habits of Highly Empathic People about cultivating empathy to use as a radical force for social transformation.

I am thinking about Melody Cooper’s piece in the New York Times, Chris Cooper Is My Brother. Here’s Why I Posted His Video. “If you’re an ally, what can you do? Stand with us. Bear witness. Continue the discussion and support legal action. Refuse to accept racism in your midst, even in small ways — call out a cruel joke or rude behavior. Be brave and challenge it all. You can transform your own world through how you teach your children, and how you speak to your neighbors and co-workers. It is up to you, not to a leader nor any single protest or petition. Your everyday commitment is what will start to bring the change you want to see. Start small, step forward and let your action join with others’ to become a rising tide that cannot be stopped.”

We all have communal ownership over being antiracist (see the video on implicit bias through peanut butter and jelly). I can educate myself, I can challenge myself, and I can speak up. You and I together can change systems that exclude and hold down people of color. Huge change is hard as an individual, but we are all a part of at least one organization or community that is larger than ourselves. There is power in social gatherings – just as there is power in the relationship between two people.

Back to the Bree Collaborative. We talk about health equity and what is possible within our spheres of influence. I think about our active workgroups and trying to embed first awareness of racial inequities followed by action into our clinical guidelines – why do people of color have higher mortality rates from colon cancer? In many cases this is because colon cancer is diagnosed at a later stage. How can our clinical community close this gap? We ask you to be our partner as we move from guideline creation to guideline implementation later this year. Help us increase colon cancer screening for everyone and especially for people of color.

I think about our work to develop sexual and reproductive health best practices for people of color and our priority populations. I think about the legacy within medicine of coercion, non-consensual medical experiments, and forced sterilization on people of color – the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in which syphilis was left untreated by the United States Public Health Service among black men in Alabama until 1972. We need to own our historical failure as a medical system and vow to not forget this history. We need to be a leader in creating an equitable system based in trauma-informed care that meets people where they are.

I think about the higher rates of maternal mortality for black gestational parents – caused by interpersonal interactions AND by systemic inequality. I think about Serena Williams’ birth story – how she was dismissed and ignored by hospital staff when she told them about her history of pulmonary embolisms and how her shortness of breath postpartum was concerning enough to her to request a CT scan and a blood thinner that was dismissed. Luckily both she and baby ended up being okay, but her care providers and the larger system failed her. Black gestational parents are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy. Read the article – Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth. Get angry. Make change.

This is a failure and we MUST do better. Thinking is a good start but we need to take action. Stay tuned.

Ginny Weir, MPH
Director, Bree Collaborative