Ignite Magazine | Fall 2020

Page 13


is about recognizing the unique aspects of each individual and the value that their collective backgrounds, experiences and perspectives bring to society and to organizations. Inclusion is the idea that people with different identities feel valued and welcomed within a given setting. Racism is the biggest enemy of diversity and inclusion. Because at the core of diversity and inclusion, the common denominator of diversity and inclusion is that we all are human beings first. The acts that we all have recently witnessed — including George Floyd’s death and Ahmaud Arbery’s death — demonstrate our society’s failure to view and value Black and brown people as human beings. At every organization I have been a part of during my two decades in the field of diversity and inclusion, my work has always been around helping to create an environment where people feel valued, respected and represented. I drive to NEOMED from Cleveland every Monday through Friday laser-focused on that goal. Over the past eight years, I have experienced being followed by police for miles. People in a passing car have yelled “N…, what are you doing out here?” while I was getting gas at the station next to the University. I have received menacing stares

where disease prevention is more difficult. And frustratingly, it has been well documented and for a very long time, that racial and ethnic minority individuals are overrepresented in jails, prisons, detention centers and homeless shelters — aggregate living facilities where outbreaks in a pandemic are severe and lethal. But underlying all of these specific risk factors and circumstances, it cannot be overstated that the long-term effects of systemic and structural racism and persistent and institutionalized inequity undoubtedly inflicts chronic and toxic stress on Black, Hispanic and Latino bodies. It isn’t hard to understand why these individuals don’t live as well, or as long, as their Caucasian counterparts, or why a Photos: Andrew Mastushita

of disdain and what looks like hate while picking up groceries at Giant Eagle. These experiences are not uncommon for Black people, and they don’t happen just in Rootstown but in many other places. Again, valuing people as human beings: that is at the core of the change we need. Despite the fear I often feel — that I may have an encounter with law enforcement coming to work that could result in my death — I still come to NEOMED every day because I believe I may play a small part in impacting folks to value each other’s differences and to see each other’s humanity. I am proud of the many good works that we have done to enhance diversity and inclusion here at NEOMED. Yes, we have made great strides since 2012. But we have a lot of work to do. And it cannot just be me; it cannot just be President Langell; it cannot just be the Black and brown people here trying to make a change for the country and for our environment here at NEOMED. This is a time for all righteous people and people of good will to act. It is not the time to remain silent. I ask that you think about this: What if your family member had experienced what Mr. Floyd and Mr. Arbery experienced? Would you not want people to speak out and demand change?

This commentary by Andre Burton, J.D., vice president for Human Resources and Diversity, is adapted from remarks he delivered in June at a University forum on race titled Stand Up and Fight for the Safety and Wellness of Our Diverse Community.


disease like COVID-19 is a much more terrifying prospect for them. Clearly, the development of effective treatments for COVID-19, and of a vaccine, will have immense impact on the outcomes of this pandemic. But also clear is that these benefits will accrue unevenly across the population of the U.S., as the myriad social and structural inequities persist, and as systemic and structural racism remain alive among its citizens. No one would argue that finding treatments for disease and developing vaccines is the job of the health care professions. But these professions also have a moral responsibility to attend, not just to the health of the patients they see, but also to the health of their communities. These

professions have a moral responsibility to address the health of all members of their communities. And it becomes imperative that health professional universities take up the mantle of training a health care workforce that fairly represents the people they are privileged to serve, and advocate for health policy change as well as social and structural policy change, aimed at the elimination of the inequities that put certain individuals or groups at the margins of our society, with access to far fewer of its benefits. Training in social justice is just as important as the traditional training in biological, social and clinical science for those entering health care fields.