The University of Michigan College of Pharmacy and MLK Health Sciences Committee organized a lecture entitled “This is America: Confronting Health Inequities … Writing Prescriptions for Change” to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This was the first of a complete symposium featuring future events on Medical Apartheid and Racial Disparities in Pain Management.
The lecture was delivered by Lakesha Butler, a clinical professor of pharmacy practice and the director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) School of Pharmacy. She discussed the importance of disrupting and dismantling inequities and injustices in healthcare and higher education. As a national speaker on the topics of antiracism, diversity, equity and inclusion, Butler began her presentation discussing the different versions of America that exist in society.
“There are two Americas. One is beautiful where millions have food and material, culture and education for their minds. They have freedom and human dignity,” Butler said. “But there is another America that has a daily ugliness. Millions are forced to live in distressed housing conditions. Unemployment is a reality in this lonely island of poverty. This causes bitterness, anguish and angst.”
Event host Cherie Dotson, student affairs program manager for Student Recruitment & Outreach at the U-M College of Pharmacy, opened the lecture with remarks and a performance by Committed of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
“We are so excited to host this event for everyone and wanted to extend a special thanks to the U-M Health Sciences Deans,” Dotson said. “Although we get MLK day off for school, today is very much a day … to remember the work of Reverend King.”
Butler continued to discuss how racism is a continuing issue and why it is relevant to remember the work of Dr. King Jr. She discussed this idea by relating it to the board game Monopoly, explaining that inequalities can still exist after implementing more rights.
“Many people believe that racism is a thing of the past and that it’s better now,” Butler said. “Imagine we are playing Monopoly but everyone whose name is “Lydia” cannot collect $200 when they pass “Go!” Over time all the other players will make thousands of dollars while the Lydias are left with nothing. Let’s change the rules now so that everyone, no matter your name, gets $200. The Lydias should be happy, but they still have considerably less money since they only started getting money recently. This is similar to how from 1619 to 1968, people faced racism and inequity, (but) now that they have more rights, it doesn’t mean that the past inequality disappears.”
Butler then discussed her views on the current status of inequity — particularly in the health field — and delivered a call-to-action to the audience.
“In 2022, we have still not moved the needle much to improve health inequity issues,” Butler said. “What have you done for those in need? Or have you just gone with the flow? There are many current health inequities, (and) the higher the poverty rate, the lower the life expectancy.”
Additionally, Butler shared an antiracism checklist as a resource for the audience to check in with their own biases and opinions.
“One, demonstrate knowledge and awareness of the issues of racism,” Butler said. “Two, I recognize my own limitations in doing antiracism work, three, I can identify racism as it is happening, and four, I strive to share power, especially with people from historically marginalized groups. With these four statements, everyone can remind themselves that you must be actively anti racist to do your part in society.”
Butler closed the presentation by reminding the audience about the true purpose of this holiday and all that it stands for.
“Join me on this journey of confronting healthcare inequities,” Butler said. “This journey requires consistent forward movement and active participation in going against the flow. We can all carry on the work of Reverend King, but it must be together.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.