“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
– James Baldwin, New York Times, 1962
A little over a year ago, I penned a statement reflecting on how we cope following the senseless and tragic killings of Mr. George Floyd, Ms. Breona Taylor, and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery. With input from some of my trusted colleagues, that piece was written to draw attention to the invisible pain so many of us were feeling as the stillness of the pandemic and ubiquitous camera footage forced a segment of our country to stop pretending that racism is a ‘thing of the past’. These events while outside our institution, still touched very close to home for many of us. The recent treatment of Ms. Hannah Nikole Jones in her bid for a tenured faculty position hit us squarely at home and although this kind of struggle is prevalent across many institutions, our curtains were wide open for the world to witness. I am disappointed Ms. Jones will not be returning to UNC as faculty. As a proud HBCU graduate, I share in the celebration of her decision to continue her work at Howard University.
As a proud Tarheel, I remain committed to what we are building here. I echo many of the sentiments our journalism colleague Dr. Freelon wrote recently. UNC has been my home for as long as I can remember—starting with early pre-college pipeline programs. It’s not perfect. There is work yet completed, but the same factors that attracted me those many years ago are the same ones that keep me here today. It’s the supportive colleagues, the culture of excellence, and most of all, the promise of our students and trainees that inspire me every single day.
As I’m talking to parents in the ICU in the most horrible moments of their lives watching a child fight to hold onto life, I often tell them to resist being discouraged by what happens moment to moment. Some days we take two steps forward and then the next day one step back. I’m giving myself that same reminder. Within our department, we celebrate a training program that is a much closer representation of our diverse state. By championing this diversity, we have recruited a very accomplished and talented group of individuals. The integration of anti-racist education and justice in healthcare is expanding throughout all of our educational activities within our department and the entire school of medicine. Faculty and staff are not only engaged but setting national standards to promote health equity by decentralizing care and bringing quality healthcare to people in the community.
There are some who argue that our efforts to continue conversations regarding racism and the past perpetuates trauma and inhibits our ability to heal open wounds. Without doubt, these reflections and conversations are often painful. They are exhausting. But what is even more exhausting and traumatizing are the efforts to force these discussions back into the shadows without resolution and without acknowledgement. With this in mind, our work to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue without reservation.
Keisha Gibson, MD, MPH
Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion