No matter how educated you are, you can always continue to learn even more.
Case in point: I just learned that back in the day, in April of 1915 to be exact, Booker T. Washington first proposed “National Negro Health Week,” convinced that “without health and long life, all else fails.”
With time, his idea evolved, eventually resulting in April being observed as National Minority Health Month focusing on raising awareness and working toward eliminating the health disparities confronting racial and ethnic minorities in America.
The month also provides a platform to shine a spotlight on the long-entrenched injustices lived each day by people of color, also allowing the opportunity to highlight the many accomplishments of Black public health champions who have committed their lives to protecting and advancing the health of people from marginalized communities.
First, I submit that we should make this a yearlong trek, not something that’s done for a mere 30 days. Second, I need to state that no longer what the U.S. Census or boxes we’re asked to check on standardized exams or job applications, I refuse to utilize the term “minority” when describing myself, or other Blacks and Hispanics in America. After all, in just a few short years, if not already, those who should be described as “minority” — at least in terms of the number of citizens in the U.S., are not people of color but whites.
We already know about Dr. Charles Drew, father of the modern blood bank, who ironically died after being involved in an automobile accident and refused admittance to a segregated hospital. We know about the government-funded Tuskegee Syphilis Study that denied treatment to almost 400 Black men over 40 years in order to gain new medical insights about the disease. And most recently, thanks to Oprah Winfrey, we know the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancerous cells were used in order to make significant gains in medicine — all without her consent or the knowledge of her heirs.
But there are so many other men and women of color who have served on the battlefield in order to contributed as scientists, physicians and health advocates but whose accomplishments have been downplayed, denied or eclipsed by their white counterparts — often being entirely omitted from historical records.
Of course, if we must also note that those whites who have been recognized as the forefathers of modern medicine were students of African scholars who had already perfected some of the medical procedures or had acquired knowledge essential to today’s medical world. And yet those African scholars of medicine have been perfunctorily ignored.
Tragically, race is still a key predictor of the quality of health care a person will receive in the U.S. Race, or more appropriately racism, continues to impact America’s public health agenda. That’s reason enough for us to insist that America and the rest of the world should be honest, erasing and replacing the numerous “historical narratives” on which our country is based and admit that not only has modern medicine has been built on the backs of marginalized populations but that the contributions of people from those same communities have improved all our lives, and our health, for the better.