Confronting Racism as a Public Health Crisis
June 2, 2020
Dear SPH community,
We are all grieving the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and too many other Black men, women, children and transgender persons, named and unnamed, we have lost to violence fueled by racism, inhumanity and injustice. We have also been mourning the disproportionate and preventable loss of black and brown lives from COVID-19 as the pandemic has laid bare the structural inequities of our society and hit the most vulnerable among us hardest.
I share the outrage and sadness that many of you have personally expressed to me and I know are feeling deeply in your hearts. I also know that unless and until we confront racism as a serious public health crisis now, the injustices will not stop.
We must grieve AND we must act. This action will take many forms. I urge you to reach out to one another and to support our Black colleagues and people of color in our community. Some may want to be able to share their feelings, while others may desire to disengage from the news or to not talk about the violence at this time.
We must create, take and pursue opportunities to speak out and to fight against all beliefs, policies and actions that perpetuate a system that values some lives more than others. Public health is a caring and loving profession. And we must hold one another dear and show care and love.
Racism attacks people's physical and mental health, shortens lives and robs us all of the benefits of learning from each other and being in community together.
In the School of Public Health, we share a vision of "fearlessly promoting health for all." We have the public health tools, scientific knowledge and rich partnerships with communities that enable us to channel our sadness and dismay into action for real and lasting change.
While we may not always be without fear, we commit ourselves to confronting the systemic injustices and discrimination we see every day in all aspects of life, including housing, environmental exposures, education, health care, the criminal justice system and employment.
We must also take action to hold our governments and elected leaders accountable. I would like to echo what President Barack Obama shared in a message yesterday:
"...throughout American history, it's often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands."
Today is primary election day in Maryland and DC. If you received a mail-in ballot, you must send it in today to be counted. If you did not receive a mail-in ballot, you can vote in person today. Polls close at 8 PM. Visit the Maryland and DC links above for polling information.
In the coming days, you will receive more communications from Erin McClure, Chief of Staff and Diversity Officer for the School of Public Health about resources for support and opportunities to engage and take action. Erin is also available to speak with you if you need support or would like to be involved in contributing to the school's response and to ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Please also visit go.umd.edu/UMDSolidarity for events and opportunities to connect, reflect, learn and act this week and beyond.
Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH
Dean and Professor
University of Maryland School of Public Health