On Monday, January 17, we have the opportunity to honor the contributions and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service, this day is a reminder that there is still much work to be done to achieve Dr. King’s vision for a more just, inclusive and equitable world.
As we write this, the omicron variant of COVID-19 is surging across the country. Throughout the pandemic, the virus has disproportionately affected communities of color – communities that already experience longstanding health care inequities. It is imperative for us to acknowledge the pain and adversity that exists within these communities. We must also use our positions within academic medicine to promote long overdue, meaningful and often difficult change. We can begin by rededicating ourselves to the collective aspirations highlighted in the SOM diversity, equity and inclusion statement:
- As educators, we need to support all our students and trainees so they can achieve their professional goals regardless of background, culture or socioeconomic status. Empowering this next generation of physicians and scientists will help solve many present day and future problems in our society and health.
- As researchers, we should pursue scientific advances to improve the health of all people and promote inclusion to improve the ability of biomedicine to deliver precision care.
- As clinicians, we must remain committed to serving all who pass through our doors with dignity, compassion and the best that medicine has to offer.
- As learners, we should seek to understand the cause and effect of racism and its impact on the lives of those in our community to stop the destructive cycles that have harmed so many.
- As leaders in our communities, we must act in alignment with our values and seek to right injustice by transforming words into action.
Starting Sunday, we all have the opportunity to find new ways to learn, grow and act through the university’s annual MLK Celebration Week. The first event will be a “performance and talkback” on January 16 at 3 p.m. at Grace Street Theatre (934 W. Grace St.). Written especially for VCU's 2022 MLK Week, this show explores Dr. King's lesser-known speeches, sermons and writings, illuminating his call to action and what it means for us as a community today. Each performance will include a facilitated discussion between the audience, cast and crew. The event is free to the public, and socially distanced seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Other events are being held throughout the week.
As an institute of higher education and as an academic medical center, we have a responsibility to seek out and dismantle injustice, while amplifying our shared humanity. We are asking each of you for your help and ideas as we work together to make Dr. King’s vision of respect, equity and justice for all a reality both within our walls and within our communities.
David Chelmow, M.D.
Interim Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Interim Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System
Kevin Harris, Ph.D., MSA
Senior Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion