Stanford Medicine community calls for action against racial injustice, inequities

The event at Stanford provided a venue for health care workers and students to express their feelings about violence against African Americans and to voice their demands for change.

Stanford Medicine community members attended the Rally for Racial Justice on June 4. The rally was held next to the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.
Steve Fisch

More than 800 members of the Stanford Medicine community gathered on campus shortly after noon Thursday to add their voices to a nationwide outcry against racism and violence against African Americans.

Health care workers and students in blue scrubs and white coats held up signs proclaiming messages of sorrow and determination, condemning police brutality and systemic violence, and expressing solidarity with black Americans. They all wore surgical masks or other face coverings to mitigate transmission of the novel coronavirus.

“We find ourselves at an all too familiar and horrible crossroads once again,” pediatrics resident Kamaal Jones, MD, told the crowd. “And the question that we have to ask ourselves is what are we going to do differently in this moment to ensure that future generations are not having the exact same conversation that we’re having right now.”

The Rally for Racial Justice was organized by Stanford Medicine’s Pediatrics Advocacy Council, with support from the Leadership Education in Advancing Diversity Program, to provide a venue for health workers to express their feelings about recent violence against black Americans in the United States and to voice their demands for change. The council is a resident-led initiative.

People attending the rally knelt in silence to commemorate African Americans killed by police officers and others.
Steve Fisch

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine; David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care; and Paul King, president and CEO of Stanford Children’s Health, stood behind the speakers as they assembled outside the Li Ka Shing Center. 

8 minutes, 46 seconds of silence

Jones and pediatrics resident Salma Dali, MD — both members of the pediatrics advocacy council — spoke briefly and led a tribute to George Floyd and other African Americans killed by police officers and others. Mirroring protests around the country, the crowd knelt silently, heads bowed, for 8 minutes, 46 seconds — the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck. Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after the assault.

For Natalie Johnson, RN, those moments were particularly poignant.

“As a nurse, our calling is to protect our patients, especially in the last moments of their life, so they have dignity, they have respect, and they transition from this life to the next with love,” she said. “While I was kneeling, I thought about Mr. Floyd, what our society has robbed him of.”

Dali told the crowd that for physicians, part of advocating for patients and their families is attempting to ameliorate social inequities.

“When I put on my white coat, I recognize the immense privilege that comes with it. But this coat does not make me or anybody else immune to the racial injustice that runs deep in this country,” she said. “We are all fed up and we need change. We’re here today as advocates for the black community, and we’re making a commitment for real change toward racial justice.”

Jones recounted an incident in his own life in which he and three friends — all of whom are black — were stopped by police officers. None of them had done anything more serious than neglecting to wear a seatbelt, he said; however, the officers questioned them at length, accused them of having drugs, searched the car and threatened to take them to jail. Ultimately, Jones said he was cited for not coming to a complete stop before making a right turn at a red light.

Pediatrics resident Salma Dali spoke at the event. She said that for physicians, part of advocating for patients and their families is attempting to ameliorate social inequities.
Steve Fisch

“Often, when times like this happen in our country, I think how differently that night could have gone,” Jones said. If he and his friends had shown anger or fear, he wondered, would they have ended up in jail?  “Or worse, memorialized like brother George Floyd. Like sister Breonna Taylor. Like brother Ahmaud Arbery,” he said, naming other victims of recent violence.

Ideas for effecting change

Jones named several ways people can improve conditions. Individuals can educate themselves and others about the country’s history of racism, and they can support organizations fighting racism. Medical schools can include anti-racism education at all levels. Communities can support policymakers and policies that change institutions with racist practices. And people can speak out and vote.

Others at the rally agreed that this moment should be seized to effect real change.

“There’s a sense of everyone coming together around certain issues, but we’ve been here before,” said Iris Gibbs, MD, professor of radiation oncology and associate dean of MD program admissions. “We need more sustained attention and real action towards eliminating health inequities, educating our entire community and going beyond ‘allyship,’ because that one fizzles out. We really do need people who are truly there all the way.”



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