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Students/Faculty News Kevin Storr February 06, 2024

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Last Fall, a group of undergraduate students from the UAB HSA Health Equity Leadership Academy embarked on a transformative journey to Montgomery, Alabama, led by Geoffrey Silvera, Ph.D. The students, known formally as the John Lewis Equity Scholars, visited the renowned Equal Justice Institute’s Legacy Museum to delve into the profound intersections of racial injustice, civil rights, and health disparities in American History.

During their visit, Dr. Silvera guided aspiring health care leaders through a poignant exploration spanning 400 years of American History – from the harrowing legacies of enslavement and racial terrorism to the enduring impact of codified segregation and mass incarceration. The experience offered a sobering perspective on the systemic inequities rooted in racism and discrimination that continue to shape health outcomes today.

At each exhibit, alongside the injustices of each era, students were also made aware of the individuals and groups that were active in the fight for justice in that period. Upon reflection, students were asked how they saw themselves in the present era and the degree to which their efforts would be aligned with the heroes of the various ages.

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Reflecting on the significance of the trip, Dr. Silvera emphasized:

“Health disparities are not new; they reflect longstanding systemic inequities deeply entrenched in our society. However, there is also a narrative of progress that is often forgotten when we discuss the harsh realities of our history. I am hopeful that the knowledge gained today will inspire meaningful action among our students and myself.”

Avery Wiles, an undergraduate Health Care Management major and participant in the trip, shared a heartfelt reflection, stating:

“As we traveled to Montgomery, I was reminded of the need for celebration. Celebration for the differences amongst our group, celebration for the lives we are able to live, and celebration for new and impactful opportunities. We still live in a world that is in desperate need of change and has a very long ways to go. I am thankful for this opportunity and the experiences that came with it as I was able to learn more about the past. I am now part of the fight for a more unified world and have a newfound gratitude for the life I can live.”

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The Health Equity Leadership Academy, aka “The Academy” is a program dedicated to increasing the experiential, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in graduate level health leadership education programs. Undergraduate students from geographically and demographically marginalized backgrounds (such as being from a rural area or being first generation or being from a marginalized racial or ethnic groups) have persistent barriers to access to graduate education.

Through programs, like The Academy, students are able to develop peer and professional networks, gain professional development, graduate application training, and enjoy cultural experiences that will improve their knowledge of the graduate landscape in health care leadership and ultimately ensure that the lived experiences of health care leaders reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Participants selected are recognized as UAB John Lewis Health Equity Scholars in honor of Alabama native and civil rights hero John Lewis.

For more information on The Academy, please contact its director, Geoffrey Silvera, Ph.D., at gsilvera@uab.edu or visit our website.


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