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Celebrating Juneteenth

Creating change is acknowledging that a problem exists
Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS
Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

On this day in 1865 and 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the United States of America celebrated the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.

Although the abolition of slavery remains one of the most historically significant milestones in our country, it also signified the beginning of the next chapter in the Black community’s enduring battle for equality. It is shameful to think that even after 155 years, we, as a society, are still not yet there.

When we dissect the policies and systems on which our country was built, we find a powerful and complex construct that has both overtly and covertly targeted and oppressed people of color.

I have committed to addressing these issues at OHSU. But where does one even begin to tackle such a pervasive problem?

The first step in creating change is acknowledging that a problem exists. I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks listening to our members’ experiences, ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams. And one thing is certain: We have a lot of work to do at OHSU before our institution fully reflects our ideals.

We will not transform OHSU in a day, a week or even a year. It’s going to be messy and hard. People who have historically held power may feel threatened, attacked or eager for things to return to normal. But we must not let up; we must continue forward making substantive changes to create the necessary impacts.

Some of the surface-level steps we have taken include granting paid time off for all members to observe Juneteenth, and using using our voice to support the Black Lives Matter movement. If you’ve been on campus you may have noticed the “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” signs. I fully recognize a day off and some signs won’t break down decades of discrimination, but they are meant to contribute to the larger effort being mobilized at OHSU and across the country while signifying the imperative to do better—we must do better.

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion has created a virtual Summer Seminar Series that was offered to everyone who applied for our Equity Internship, which was cancelled due to COVID-19. This seminar series will provide critical continued support to students from historically marginalized communities. I am also holding a Java with Jacobs next week to engage in a conversation with students.

We also are actively working with researchers and other experts from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color to ensure that the Key to Oregon study addresses the needs of those communities most effectively. Going forward, we will continue to work to ensure all research projects, especially those involving public health and the public, satisfactorily address racial and ethnic inequities. In addition to the other things we have we have publicly committed to do, we are planning to mobilize a series of other efforts that will help to shape change.

The more substantial programmatic and institutional reviews needed will take more time to implement, but please know that work is being done to put these things in motion. We will continue to keep you engaged and informed.

While the recent focus on Black Lives Matter is incredibly important, I also want to note that there is an intersectionality with the work we are doing that will cross over and create positive change for other underrepresented groups.

My job is to ensure these initiatives are prioritized and supported to the best of our ability as we seek to recover from the pandemic and its effects on us and the people we serve. I ask everyone to keep sharing their ideas, including opportunities for improvement, and keep holding me accountable as to the ways the institution can respond faster and communicate more effectively to concerns and complaints raised by some of our members. In my opinion, this will help us create the equitable environment we all want where everyone feels supported.

For 155 years, the Black community has not only been advocating for equality, but suffering and dying as a result of inequality, and that’s far too long. Meaningful change will require a combination of individual reflection and discovery, alongside our institutional commitment. I am ready to get to work. Are you?

Sincerely yours,

Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, OHSU President

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