The weather by the Jersey Shore this weekend was almost perfect, and the COVID-19 crisis has improved from its peak, but in spite of the reasons for optimism current events remind us of lingering storm clouds over our society that we cannot ignore. I have no idea of how it feels to be black in America, though it is clearly devastating to be experiencing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 deaths and suffering and also seeing another black victim of excessive use of force by law enforcement. Last week I wrote you all over the Memorial Day holiday about the heroism and importance of our military and my deepest respect and admiration for our brave servicemen and women, and I truly feel the same way about the bravery and courageous service of law enforcement who risk their lives for our safety —but, recent events again highlight there is a systemic racism cancer that must be cured.
As a father of a 3 boys, I was especially struck yesterday by what was shared by one of the most successful and respected classmates of mine in medical school, Dr. Lutul Farrow who is an internationally recognized orthopedic surgeon, that has worked with the NFL and MLB and now heads up the sports medicine training at the world renown Cleveland Clinic. I will share it here for you:
“George Floyd. No one deserves to die like that. If you see no problem in the officer’s action, unfriend me now. Black Lives Matter. Many people get fired up when they hear this. It does not mean ONLY Black Lives Matter. It means Black Lives Matter, TOO. The seeds of hate are planted early. We as a people have to be better. We have to raise our kids to be better. Michell Farrow raised me better. I love myself. I love my people. I love all people. That’s what I teach my children. Teach your children to love, not some, but all people. That will help them to value ALL people. It is clear that certain members of our society are not valued. MY STORY (told here before). I grew up in Garden Valley. Rough neighborhood. AT 8 YEARS old I was walking home from the store. It was the early 80s and the height of the crack epidemic. My neighborhood was hit hard. As I was walking home a police cruiser pulled onto my street. All of the drug dealers scattered. The police cruiser pulls up to me, an 8 YEAR OLD, the officer rolls down his window, places his hand on the shot gun sitting upright between the two seats. He looks me in the eye, this 8 YEAR OLD kid, and tells me – “if I ever catch you out here being a lookout for these dope boys again I will haul your fat a$$ off to jail”. Honors student. 8 YEARS OLD with grocery bags in each hand. Outlines a key fact that to others outside our community, Black males are often seen as a threat, years older than they actually are and less likely to be let off with a slap on the wrist.”
The history of our organization and, in fact the entire home health movement, is based on addressing the untended suffering of the most vulnerable in our community. Lillian Wald, the incredible nurse leader and social reformer who founded the visiting nurse / public health nursing concept in the United States, focused her efforts on both direct health services as well as addressing racial injustice. Wald once explained “We commit ourselves to any wrong or degradation or injury when we do not protest against it.” Geraldine Thompson, the founder of VNA Health Group in New Jersey, was deeply concerned about access to healthcare for the most vulnerable and addressing the health and ethical treatment of people in prisons and jails was at the top of her priorities. We have over 100 years of history of being a force for good. It’s our responsibility to act, it’s part of our mission.
Every day in our work in home and community-based health care we have an opportunity to make a difference by showing people of all races, creeds, religions, and walks of life that they matter. We are the compassionate part of the healthcare system that leaves the ivory tower and our own comfort zones to go out into people’s homes and communities, we don’t bring weapons or hate, we bring love, skill, counsel and care. Our mission is to demonstrate that their health, their well-being, their lives matter—let’s seize that opportunity now more than ever to show people, especially people of color, that they’re important and valued and worth being tended to. We have thousands of encounters, visits, interactions with people every day— we have an opportunity to do what our founders expected and what Dr. Farrow reminds us–love all people. I know we will keep looking for healthcare and community service opportunities for us to make a positive impact—let’s dial up that healing spirit! Please don’t hesitate to share any ideas or suggestions for how we can make a bigger difference.