Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Please forgive me for diverging from my original plans for today, the Sunday before graduation, which I typically devote to thanking the departing Chiefs.
The Chiefs richly deserve our gratitude: for the thoughtful schedules and exceptional morning reports, and for the coaching and counseling. Their residents adore them. We all do. When the pandemic hit, the Chiefs led. They heard our fears and saw our vulnerabilities. They spoke clearly and honestly and they worked quickly and effectively. In a world desperate for leaders, they showed how to lead.
In most years, I’d end there with thanks and farewells and a look towards Tuesday’s graduation, the rising Chiefs, and the incoming Interns.
But this morning, we have a crisis to address.
We need to talk about a series of recent calamities: the killings of two black men, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and a black woman, Breonna Taylor, and the abuse of another black man, Christian Cooper. You’ve heard the accounts and you’ve seen the videos. None of these stories are news; rather, they’re the retelling of an oppressive narrative that endangers people of color every day.
It’s easy for some of us to ignore racial injustice between periodic flare ups that make the news, particularly when your skin color protects you. But not everyone shares that privilege.
Look and listen. Look at our hospital, and the skin color of our coronavirus patients. Why do people of color bear a disproportionate risk? Listen to the stories of colleagues who are underrepresented in medicine. Why are they stopped at the hospital entrance while the rest of us waltz through? Why are their credentials questioned while the rest of us are believed? Our patients and colleagues bear undue burdens, and they deserve our support.
I like to believe we treat all patients equally, regardless of skin color, but do we really? I also like to believe we’ve created a respectful and welcoming community, but does everyone agree? Sadly, we have work to do. Do we really think Connecticut is immune to the horrors we’re seeing in Georgia, Kentucky, New York, and Minnesota?
We need to speak up. To recognize suffering. To acknowledge hard truths. To call out injustice. To state our principles. Our community is listening to what we say, and what we fail to say. Silence is not an option.
On this day when we traditionally honor the departing Chiefs, let’s shine the light on effective leadership. Let’s emulate the best qualities of leaders: the ability to listen, to inspire, and to respond to the moment. It’s one thing to speak up when the topics are easy, but real leaders have the courage to speak up when the topics are hard- like calling out the racism that surrounds us.
As we close this academic year, let’s commit to fighting discrimination and injustice. Let’s open our eyes, our ears, and our minds. Let’s listen to the painful stories and acknowledge the gruesome scenes. Let’s recognize the suffering of our brothers and sisters. We can’t ignore it. Not anymore.
We’ve tolerated racial violence for too long. It’s time to build a world that is welcoming, just, and free from fear. Let’s do it together. As leaders, this is our calling. These are the things that matter.
PS Let’s discuss how to come together to address these issues. What’s the best way to learn and support our colleagues and patients and to build a better community? Please share your ideas.
PPS For reading, viewing, and learning: