SNMA member Chidi Akusobi's speech for the HMS National White Coat Die-In

December 31, 2014
SNMA member Chidi Akusobi's speech for the HMS National White Coat Die-In

Good Afternoon Everyone

My name is Chidi Akusobi and I am one of the student organizers for this event. We want to thank you all, faculty, students, and staff, for your attendance at this National White Coat Die-In. We are joining over 1500 students from 50 medical schools in a show of solidarity with demonstrators around the country protesting the non-indictment of police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Both were unarmed black men.

Some may ask, why is it important for us as future physicians and dentists to take a stand against these non-indictments?

Because Black. Lives. Matter. Because the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner matter. Because like so many American institutions, the medical profession is not immune to racial bias.  

As activists wisely call for reform in the criminal justice system, it is our responsibility as physicians and dentists in training to look within our healthcare system and to not only recognize, but also eliminate the effects of institutional racism and structural violence on patients of color. We are participating in this die-in with medical schools nationwide to demonstrate that our profession views these issues as public health problems. We are participating in this die-in because we care.

So what can our community at Harvard Medical School do to combat racism and prejudice in health care delivery?

We have three requests.

One: Insure that cultural competence and humility is a prioritized core proficiency in curriculum reform efforts.

Two: Challenge the administration both at HMS and the University at large to lend their voices in support of this issue. I want to make sure to thank Dean Oriol and Dean Hundert for their unwavering support thus far. Thank you.

Our third and final request is for students. Colleagues, I am asking that we do not run away from the manifestations of institutional racism and structural violence in our profession. Instead we must acknowledge them, educate ourselves on these issues, and finally, work to dismantle their destructive effects on patient care and healthcare delivery. This is very important work that will indeed save the lives of our future patients.

Before we start our white coat die-in, I want to remind us that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were someone’s brother, son, cousin, nephew, and friend. Eric Garner was a husband and father of 3. Michael Brown was murdered just two days before he was scheduled to start college. Their lives mattered. Black. Lives. Matter. Our. Lives. Matter.

We will partake in a 15 and ½ minute die-in in memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. 4 and ½ minutes to symbolize the 4 and ½ hours Michael Brown’s bullet ridden body was left on the street plus 11 minutes for the 11 times Eric Garner gasped “I can’t breathe” while held in an illegal chokehold. 

As we lie on the ground in silent protest, let us reflect on the privilege and responsibility our white coats afford us to speak out against racism, prejudice, and discrimination especially in health-care delivery. For if we are silent about these injustices and if we do not stand up and say enough is enough, (pause) then we have chosen the side of oppression.

I will end this speech with my favorite Martin Luther King quote, a quote that has always given me solace and hope, and I wish does the same for you.  

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”

We know that this arc will not bend on its own, so thank you, thank you HMS for your role today in bending our profession’s moral arc more closely towards justice.

With that, let us commence the National White Coat Die-In.

Thank you.

Chidi Akusobi
M1 MD-PhD Student
Harvard Medical School

Speech delivered on December 10, 2014, at Harvard Medical School.
Photo credit: Tamara Rodriguez