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The events of the last few weeks have been upsetting and overwhelming. The recent killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the systemic racist policies and inequities facing African Americans in the United States.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the African American community in the United States. In Alabama African Americans make up about half of the cases and deaths of COVID-19, whereas African Americans comprise 25% of the state’s population. This is not likely to occur by chance. As if COVID-19 has not been enough of a stressor and spotlight on societal inequities, the recent killings of Mr. Floyd, Mr. Arbery and Ms. Taylor have again drawn attention to racial profiling and use of deadly force by current and former police officers. Racist attacks against blacks are also common and contrived in our society as evidenced by the recent incident in Central Park when Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police and falsely accused Christian Cooper, a black man, of threatening her. The offense of “driving while black” and the risk of being pulled over because of racial profiling is a serious fear of black people, especially parents of black teens and the teens themselves. 

The pervasive negative effects of racism on youth development, as well as on youth health and well-being, and the toll it exacts on families and communities who have been racially marginalized have been well documented. As health care providers, there are strategies we can use to address this with our patients and we should use them (1).

Many in the Department of Pediatrics, UAB and Birmingham community are scared, angry, frustrated and sad right now and we want to send a strong message of support. We have commonly said, “We are all in this together.” What does that mean? It is more important than ever to support each other and find ways to address the inequities and injustices we see. Some in our community are disproportionately affected and threatened by violence. Some in our community have family members who have been hurt or killed. Others are deeply affected because they see their friends and colleagues suffer. The fabric of our society is torn apart by violence, hate, and injustice resulting from 400+ years of enduring racism. Alabama, and therefore we, have a special role to play. Julian Bond said, “The civil rights movement didn’t begin in Montgomery and it didn’t end in the 1960s. It continues on to this very minute.” Bryan Stephenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative, teaches that, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It's justice.”

This is a time for all of us to reach out to each other and offer support. This is a time for all of us, as health care providers, to think harder about how we can contribute to narrowing health inequities through education and health care. New initiatives in the Department of Pediatrics will need to identify how they will mitigate health inequities or health disparities. This must be central to our mission, and we must effect change. Words are not enough. It is also time for all of us to think how we individually and collectively, as citizens, can address the injustices that exist well beyond health care. We can begin by truly listening to others whose lives have been different from our own. We can start to eliminate racism and other structural inequities by the conversations we have with others, by speaking up when we see individual hate or institutional racism, by supporting anti-racist and anti-oppression efforts, by directly engaging in advocacy work, and by acknowledging and working on our own biases. We are all accountable. We can help address the psychosocial and health care needs of oppressed communities and we can mentor medical students and trainees of color while also working to ensure a diverse pipeline. People of color are disproportionately affected, but the work of resistance should not fall solely on these colleagues. All of us have responsibility for this work. As healthcare providers we must be committed to engage in this work if we desire to improve the health of our communities.  

Silence is not an option. No one is free when others are oppressed. Racism and bigotry of any kind, similar to SARS-CoV-2, may disproportionately affect some, but both are a threat to all. 

Mitchell B. Cohen, M.D., Chair, Department of Pediatrics, UAB

Tamera Coyne-Beasley, M.D., MPH, Vice Chair for Community Engagement, Department of Pediatrics, UAB


1.  Svetaz MV, Coyne-Beasely T, Trent M, WadeJr R, Ryan MH, Kelley M, Chulani V.  Chapter 42: The Traumatic Impact of Racism and Discrimination on Young People and How to Talk About It in Ginsberg KR, and McClain ZBR, eds. Reaching Teens: Strength-Based, Trauma-Sensitive, Resilience-Building Communication Strategies Rooted in Positive Youth Development, 2nd Edition, American Academy of Pediatrics.

Additional Information and Messages

A Special Dean's Message: Confronting racism—the country's systemic, pre-existing condition

Important Message from UAB Leaders