Several hundred students, physicians, health care and hospital workers, and community supporters gathered at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center at noon today for a display of solidarity themed “White Coats for Black Lives.”
The demonstration was organized by UTHSC medical students and residents and the Bluff City Medical Society. It began with the crowd kneeling silently for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate the time George Floyd was pinned down by police and unable to breathe before he died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
“That 8 minutes seemed like a long time, but it was a lifetime,” observed Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer for UTHSC, in welcoming the group to campus.
“Today, you have begun the fight toward the biggest health pandemic of our lifetime, which is racism,” said Keith Norman, vice president of Government Affairs for Baptist Memorial Health Care. “Racism is a public health crisis. Give yourself a hand for being a part of the solution.”
He led the gathering in a prayer. “I pray you will turn to your faith and allow your faith to lead you,” he said. “We may not have the same practice of faith, but we all believe racism is wrong and what we witnessed 11 days ago must be stopped.”
LaTonya Washington, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAP, FACP, FHM, president of the Bluff City Medical Society said, she was encouraged to see the diversity of the crowd. “This is the beginning,” she added. “Our work has just begun. So this is a call to action. If you see injustices, please stand up, say something and call it out. There is no way we can overcome this alone.”
Second-year medical student Raven Okechuku-Wachuku said the black population is facing two deadly pandemics, COVID-19 and police brutality. “As a medical student, I can’t help but feel powerless. As a black woman, I can’t help but to feel a mixture of fear and despair. But in this gathering in support of White Coats for Black Lives, it is very inspiring. While inspiration is nice, the black community needs and deserves more.”
People are looking for change, said Elizabeth Clayton, also a second-year medical student. “We have to break down institutional racism that exists through prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviors in our justice system, health care system, educational system, and all forms of media,” she said. “This does not stop at this protest. We must continue to examine our own hearts and minds. We must continue to hold each other accountable and continue to have uncomfortable conversations, if we’re to create new systems that benefit everyone.”