Loma Linda University’s Institute for Community Partnership’s (ICP) mission is to ensure that our institution is both relevant and responsive to the needs of our community. The COVID pandemic has introduced unprecedented difficulties in which minoritized communities are disproportionally affected. While we’ve somewhat survived the first wave of the pandemic, at least in our region, we are bracing for future “peaks” and “waves” to come. Unfortunately, during the last few weeks we’ve also experienced another “wave” of senseless killings of our Black brothers and sisters. These senseless losses of Black lives to police brutality continue to occur within the context of a history rooted in prejudice, systemic discrimination, and hostility. For the Black community, this is an inter-generational reality and a burden that Black families, parents, and children have had to carry. It has left many in our community weakened, discouraged, angry, anxious, and struggling to cope with a collective physical and psychological burden.
After the last string of shameful events, the senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, many may be wondering, “Where do we begin to address this systemic disease that has afflicted our society since it’s formation?” “What if we say or do the wrong thing?” “Who do we turn to for these discussions and for guidance?”
In response, I find ICP’s motto helpful: Listen, Respect, Engage.
Start by listening to those closest to the experience. Ask yourself “How many Black friends do I have?” “Does everyone in my friend group look and think like me?” “How many books written by Black authors have I read?” We are a product of what we read, assuming we all still read! (Book list below).
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
- White Fragility by Robin Di’Angelo
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Listening requires proximity. Only proximity will challenge our tendency towards othering the people who we perceive to be different than ourselves. Proximity allows listening and listening opens the door for respect. Without respect, we cannot have healthy relationships or overcome our biases.
Where do we go from here? How do we engage in the fight against injustice in appropriate and sensitive ways? Instead of concentrating on riots and condemning the responses of those who are hurting, let’s begin by focusing on the root cause of the discontent and hopelessness. Let’s work towards a future of respect, justice and safety for ALL members of our community. At a time when our country mourns the deaths of our Black brothers and sisters, let’s not detract with statements that belittle their experience. This is not the time to deplore the plight of the immigrant or the White Appalachian poor. Statements like “all lives matter” are not helpful. When Jesus went after the one lost sheep, the remaining 99 did not cry out “what about us?!” So, we say it clearly now, Black Lives Matter.
We, at ICP and CAPS are joining others on campus to support our students, and to facilitate and support conversations that will allow us to listen, respect, and engage in active ways that leads to healing and systemic change. Only then can we create whole individuals and communities. We cannot be relevant and responsive to our local community without first having these conversations on campus. Let’s do so and begin by listening, respecting, and then engaging in a meaningful way.
Juan Carlos BelliardAssistant Vice President for Community PartnershipsProfessor of Global HealthLoma Linda University Health
A special thank you to the students (Kristoff Foster, Danae Smart, Karla Estudillo Fuentes) and colleagues who reviewed this statement, improved and sharpened the message. It takes a village!
Note: Health professions organizations who have made statements calling out systemic racism as a health and public health crisis:
- American Association of Medical Colleges: https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/press-releases/aamc-statement-police-brutality-and-racism-america-and-their-impact-health
- American Occupational Therapy Association: https://www.aota.org/Publications-News/AOTANews/2020/AOTA-Statement-On-Systemic-Racism.aspx
- American Public Health Association: https://www.apha.org/news-and-media/news-releases/apha-news-releases/2020/racism-is-a-public-health-crisis
- Other medical and health organization statements: https://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/us-medical-groups-share-front-against-racism-healthcare-disparity