Thoughts on Juneteenth

Thoughts on Juneteenth

On June 20, 2022, we in the DBEI celebrate Juneteenth. Along with the rest of the nation, we commemorate June 19, 1865, the day that a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform still-enslaved Black people that the Civil War had ended and that they had gained their freedom. Of course, President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier. Juneteenth is a happy day with an ironic underpinning — it memorializes a positive step taken much later than it should have been. That trend has continued in modern times:  It took the nationwide protests of 2020, which followed the police killing of George Floyd, among many other Black Americans, to inspire the designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday just last year. And the recent racist killing of 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket reminds us that progress can never be taken for granted.

Strong advancements within the Penn Medicine community over the last couple of years give us reason to hope — and push us to continue the fight. On June 5, 2020, just days after George Floyd’s murder, nearly 1000 people of our community and CHOP knelt at Franklin Field in his memory and in honor of other then-recent victims of racism. A week later, Penn Medicine convened a virtual Town Hall, attended by more than 1000 people and viewed on video by almost that many. That conversation was the first of many opportunities for our community to talk about race and racism and to affirm our commitment to making Penn Medicine a place of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. By the end of that month, Penn Medicine had launched ACT (the Action for Cultural Transformation), a framework to accomplish those goals.

More than 98 percent of Penn Medicine employees have now completed unconscious bias training, and we have seen important steps toward equity for patients, as well—such as steps to improve pregnancy care and birth outcomes among Black mothers. Members of the DBEI community made essential contributions in the lead-up to an important clinical milestone: Penn Medicine recently removed race from its formula for kidney function estimation. That part of the formula had interfered with fair diagnosis of kidney diseases in Black patients.  

This Juneteenth, let us continue that momentum, as Penn Medicine’s Florencia Greer Polite, MD, called on us to do on that memorable day at Franklin Field. Let us each think of a few things that we can do to help to address systemic racism in the US. Then, let us not wait for external events to compel us to action. Let us act on those commitments now.

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