by Leslie D. Gregory and Tom H. Hastings
“Racism is a serious threat to public health.” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
I, Leslie D. Gregory, am a clinician and have been for many years.
I’ve been Black for many more years, all my life.
More than a decade ago, I started a nonprofit, Right to Health, with the premise that, since racism is a proven correlate to poor healthcare delivery and worse healthcare outcomes, we need to fix this. The catastrophic covid-19 numbers showing a terrible disproportionate suffering in communities of color are only the latest in a very long list of such hurtful, life-threatening and life-ending phenomena over the entire history of our country.
Thousands signed my organization’s MoveOn petition to fight institutional racism as a threat to public health.
I traveled from Portland, Oregon to Washington DC and to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hearings to make my appeals, the primary one of which is that CDC should declare racism a threat to public health. I did so not to seek affirmation or a simple symbolic nod to political correctness—being woke is not a life-saving technique—but rather to have the CDC then engage.
When CDC announced that smoking was harmful, they began to educate and advertise about it.
When CDC decided that wearing seatbelts was helpful, they began to educate and mandate what they could.
When CDC announced that covid-19 was a pandemic, they rapidly instituted guidelines and other measures to combat it.
When CDC is left to clinical decision-making, when the science and evidence, the data and the inquisitive method are appropriately at the helm of practice, they live up to their global reputation as the gold standard in public health agencies. They declare threats to public health and then seek to mitigate those threats.
Tragically, under the previous White House direction and interference, CDC became corrupted and overruled, and its reputation is quite tarnished.
With a new leader in the White House and his appointee of a new leader in CDC, we are seeing a massive repair effort and, with this declaration, that “racism is a serious threat to public health,” even improvement. Key right now is to help CDC meet its mission by letting them and our federal elected representatives know that we expect solid steps taken to meet this challenge, to mitigate racism in any way possible.
Let me reassure you, dear fellow Americans, no matter how humble your origins or identity, when you stick to nonviolence when you practice persuasion and civil discourse, you can move that mountain of injustice and leaven that lump of ignorance.
We have both been up close and personal in helping that happen in our land. It is almost always a long, tough, uphill struggle, one that tempts resignation and acceptance of injustice, but one that we have the power to win, to gain, for the good of us all.
This was just proven again. Please remember that next time you want to make a change to help your community, your fellow humans, or future generations. We see steps backward, but we keep pushing and we can see the gains in our search for the best.
Leslie Gregory is a PA-C focusing on Preventive Cardiology and is Executive Director, Right to Health. Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.