Juneteenth, Today and Tomorrow

Today is Juneteenth, which commemorates the final emancipation of enslaved Black people in the United States in 1865. Learn more about the importance of this date. Slavery was abolished in Jamaica, the land of my birth, in 1834. My maternal grandparents, Phillip Baker and Ina (Lillian) Haynes, were both born in 1909, and my paternal grandparents, John Abel and Eva Henry, were born respectively in 1909 and 1911. I have reliable records on my maternal side. Philip’s father, Philip (Sr), was born in 1867 and Lillian’s grandfather, John Haynes, was born in 1849. John Haynes’s father was a slave.

JuneteenthThus, today gives me pause to reflect on what freedom means, particularly in the present moment, when we are witnessing the awakening of a recognition that there is much work that remains to be done to create a truly equitable society. I recently held a listening session for members of my lab to talk about our feelings and reactions to racism. Word got out and the group expanded to a broader listening session for trainees and colleagues within the Diabetes Research Center. In the end a diverse group of individuals representing many cultures, ethnicities, and races contributed to a powerful conversation, and we are planning another session soon. These forums for dialogue are one step to create an environment of mutual understanding and respect that will improve our university, department, and community.

I am pleased to share with you that leaders within the Carver College of Medicine have also begun the hard work of identifying the insidious influence of racism within our institution. Under the guidance of Dr. Denise Martinez, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Nicole Del Castillo, Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Dr. Kanya Ferguson, Director of GME Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, a series of meetings have offered an opportunity to students, residents and other trainees, and faculty who identify as Black or African American to voice their experiences and ideas on how to make the college and University of Iowa Health Care a more inclusive, safe, and welcoming place for underrepresented minority people. These meetings have highlighted both troubling concerns and hopeful recommendations that can be translated into action. Many eyes have been opened both in these meetings and in quiet reflection. Leaders in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion distributed copies of Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism to CCOM leadership, with the intention that this could be discussed at the leadership level and contribute to the shaping of institutional initiatives to address racism and strengthen our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

SanchezGomezCorwinGRFor our part in Internal Medicine, we stand ready to assist and participate in the college’s efforts, including deploying unconscious bias training to all members of our department and rigorous examination of other factors—personal, institutional, and societal—that knowingly or unknowingly erect barriers to success and advancement. In relation to this I hope that you were able to attend Internal Medicine Grand Rounds yesterday and will tune in next week. Yesterday’s presentation addressed the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Latinx Iowans and challenges that many of our faculty had to overcome to deliver care, as well as the unique needs of caring for undocumented immigrants during the pandemic. Next week’s presentations will examine the link between inequality and the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.

With the help and guidance of Dr. Nicole Nisly, our Associate Chair for Diversity, we will discuss proposals with our division directors to establish our own forums in which we can listen to one another, without fear of recrimination but with a shared sense of belief that a better, more just world waits on the other side of our efforts. These guided conversations, whether one-on-one or in supportive group settings must have concrete outcomes as their goal. We will chart out sustainable steps forward that persist well past this current moment. We must engage in this work. Our oaths compel us as does the urgency we have seen in the streets of cities both large and small across our country and around the world. As John Lewis said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

Examples of our responsibility to work toward equality surround us. They are in our community, but they are also here in the hospital. Our patients require us to see them and hear what they tell us, free of preconception and bias. Our trainees need the same. By valuing them as individuals and being cognizant of where they are coming from, we can discover how each person needs to be taught, mentored, and nurtured and what will light the spark within them. There is room for improvement, though I know we already know how to do this. One look at our current crop of graduates should tell us we are doing many things well already. Our celebration for the residents earlier this week barely scratched the surface of everything that our residents have accomplished since their intern year. But a search in our department’s blog over the last three years for graduates’ names reveals many instances where they have showed us who they would become, from publications to presentations to conferences to a day in the life, and many others, all consolidated under a “Residency Class of 2020” tag for you to browse. I would also invite you to read the recap, see the photos, and watch the recording of Tuesday’s wholly unique event. It was really something.

gradbanner2020Before we send these graduates off, I would like to offer one more note of congratulations. For many reasons, the majority of the discussion and the speeches on Tuesday night focused on the challenges the graduates and their Chief Residents rose to meet this academic year, instead of all those other successes linked above. The camaraderie this class has built is unlike any I have seen in a set of graduates in a very long time, if ever. This group has formed a bond that only comes from shared adversity. None of us would have wished for even one of the crises this class faced, but multiple crises came seemingly in rapid fire and this class faced them all together, secure in the knowledge that when anyone grew weak, their colleagues would help carry the burden. I am so proud of all of you and I know that I speak for the rest of this department when I say thank you. You inspire us. May you have trainees of your own very soon who give you the same sense of renewal that you have given us, rooted in the belief that anything is possible, especially when you work as a team.

About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

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