Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, inaugural director of the newly established Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry’s Center for Racial Equity and Justice, is leading anti-racism efforts in the department, the psychiatry field, psychiatric research and more.
During the COVID pandemic, we have witnessed first-hand the best of humanity as staff from different backgrounds have united in extraordinary compassion, collaboration and courage. Yet, this week we also have been starkly reminded that we as a society have a long way to go on the journey to a truly stronger, just and tolerant nation for all.
We were horrified by the accounts of the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This incident—which was videotaped and broadcast widely—is another heartbreaking example of unacceptable violence in our country. George Floyd’s death, which has led to riots in Minneapolis and protests across the nation, came on the heels of the senseless death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man in Georgia who was jogging when confronted and allegedly shot by two white men, an incident that also was caught on videotape. As actor Will Smith noted during an interview in 2016, “Racism is not getting worse, it is getting filmed.”
Closer to home, one of our Asian-American physicians was harassed by a man who made hurtful and threatening remarks as she walked just outside the doors of our hospital—after a long and difficult shift caring for COVID patients. We know that for every one of these reports there are more that go unsaid, unreported, unrecorded.
It is our collective responsibility to combat hatred and xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds. As a place of healing, a place dedicated to humanity and hope, Massachusetts General Hospital stands firmly and resolutely in our commitment to work toward a community and a nation where no one has to live in fear because of what they look like, where they come from, what they believe or who they love. Sadly, we still have much work to do.
Peter L. Slavin, MD
Mass General President
Timothy G. Ferris, MD
Massachusetts General Physicians Organization CEO
Joseph Betancourt, MD
Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer
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