This coming Monday, Jan. 18, we have the opportunity to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose contributions to American society continue to serve as an inspiration. Sadly, more than 50 years after his death, Dr. King’s vision for a more just, inclusive and caring world remains to be realized. Moreover, as we know all too well, his vision of an equitable and peace-loving society stands in stark contrast to the violent and heart-wrenching events that have occurred over the past few days, weeks and throughout the last year. These events, and the worry of impending violence over the coming days, are painful for all of us, and we long for the calming influence of Dr. King and his powerful messages of humanity and kindness to all – timeless messages that transcend differences in race, creed, gender, orientation or personal values.
The COVID-19 pandemic, racial violence, social unrest and political division continue to highlight the inequities that pervade our society. We can – and must – do better. As we reflect over the coming days, please let’s reaffirm our commitment to eliminating the direct and indirect effects of injustice. Dr. King’s unyielding dedication to justice and integrity embodies what we as learners, educators, researchers, clinicians and community partners aspire to accomplish through our work.
Starting Sunday, I encourage you to join us as we remember and reflect on Dr. King’s impact by participating in VCU’s eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week. The first event will be an online keynote panel on Jan. 17 at 2 p.m. – “Social Justice and Contemplative Practice: Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Oliver Hill Jr.” This discussion will shed light on local efforts with a focus on Dr. Hill’s civil rights work in the greater Richmond area. Dr. Hill was another remarkable leader in the Commonwealth of Virginia who left a great legacy for our community and for our nation.
Additional events and service activities will be added to the university’s MLK Celebration Week website by the beginning of next week. Please be on the lookout for these.
In addition to our own individual commitment, as an institute of higher education and as an academic medical center, it is both our privilege and our responsibility to seek out and dismantle injustices in our community. While so much more remains to be done, I am appreciative of the recent steps we have taken within our own School of Medicine to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI):
- Developing together and implementing the first ever DEI action plan
- Appointing an interim senior associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion
- Establishing an Inclusion Council
- Addressing institutional racism and discrimination through new student orientation sessions
- Launching an annual SOM DEI lecture
- Conducting health disparities research
- Enabling equitable access to quality care throughout the ongoing COVID-19 crisis
Going forward, we look to extend our outreach to support minority students’ early interest in medicine as a career, raise scholarship funds, remove confederate and related symbols, assist our health system with establishing and implementing a DEI action plan, and collaborate with other VCU schools / colleges and community organizations to host DEI-focused events.
I’m grateful to our students, residents, staff and faculty for contributing to these concerted efforts. And yet, the present day is still a painful expression of just how much more work there is to be done to truly realize our obligations to each other and to become a more inclusive, equitable society. Dr. King’s mission and message of respect, equality and justice for all remain ours today – and tomorrow – until greater progress is made for all in our society.
That day cannot come soon enough.