February 01, 2023

Black History Month, a letter from Dr. Fouad

Written by

For 97 years, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has designated themes to focus the attention of what is now known as Black History Month.  

As I saw each theme displayed chronologically, a picture was being painted—a look at the prejudices, celebrations, reflections, and trailblazers—of those working for racial justice.

As I think about how we contribute to the picture, I turn to this year's theme: Black Resistance. The ASALH wrote about this year's theme selection, "Nearly 179 years ago, the Rev. Henry Highland Garnett proposed that the only path to freedom, justice, and equality; self-determination; and/or social transformation is resistance."

In our roles at the Heersink School of Medicine, whether as faculty, staff, students, or trainees, our duty is to foster excellence through the education of physicians and scientists and provide outstanding medical care and services to patients. To accomplish either of these goals, we must recognize the impact of history and show resistance to repeating past mistakes while celebrating achievements.

We know that chronic diseases, infant mortality, obesity, and other health disparities disproportionately affect those who are Black and African American. According to the NIH National Library for Medicine, “in 2013, infants born to African American mothers experienced the highest rates of infant mortality (11.11 infant deaths per 1,000 births)."

An individual's health is more than eating healthy foods; it also depends on the factors such as zip code, income, education, race, and family history—factors that have been subject to systemic racism and discrimination. We know, "...systematic individual and interpersonal patterns continue partly due to non-Black people’s inexperience with Black Americans and reliance on societal caricatures" (2021, Banaji MR, Fiske ST, Massey DS.), which is one reason that recognizing and celebrating Black History Month is important to all of us.

Thankfully, the Heersink School of Medicine has people working to address such problems at the school, global, and community levels.

For example, the school equips the next generation of physicians with the knowledge needed to understand the role of health disparities and methods to advance health equity by providing all residents training through the school of medicine’s Health Disparities Academy (HDA). The HDA's topics are an Introduction to Health Disparities, Bias in Healthcare, Role of Place in Health, and Anti-racism in Healthcare.

In addition, The Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health was founded in September 2021 to improve overall health and well-being and promote equity in health outcomes worldwide. The institute uses a coordinated, comprehensive, and sustainable approach to mitigating complex global health challenges.

On Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, at noon, the director of the Mary Heersink Institute of Global Health, Alan T. N. Tita, M.D., Ph.D., will be speaking at our annual Diversity Grand Rounds. I invite each of you to join our virtual session as Tita reflects and shares insights from his professional experience identifying innovative solutions for the most significant local & global health problems.

If you want to see the work being done to address health equity in our communities, look no further than UAB's inaugural Grand Challenge winner, Live HealthSmart Alabama (LHSA). 

A program of the UAB Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center, LHSA focuses its efforts on the neighborhoods where we live, work, and play. In Alabama, 67% of people live with a chronic disease, many of them in our underserved communities. LHSA is a transformational movement to reduce the instances of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol in Alabama and make good health simple for all. 

While we may choose February to highlight Black History Month, its impact affects us year-round; a perspective, legacy, and lived experience we value not just in February but every day. Recognizing and celebrating Black History Month is a way for us to strengthen our understanding of that history and advance better healthcare because of it.