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On Unity -- February 2022

On Unity


Dear JCP Families:


I am keeping my New Year’s resolution to bring you a monthly blog on a non-COVID related topic.  In honor of Black History Month, I would like to write about the concept of unity.

One thing I learned early in my career is that we are all more alike than different, especially when it comes to how much we love our children.  I tell expectant parents that they are vulnerable to marketing because they will spend their money on anything that promises a baby that is healthier, smarter or sleeps longer!  They always chuckle and agree.  It doesn’t matter our ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, we all want the best for our children.  The best health care, education, and opportunity.  We go to great lengths to procure these commodities for them.

Johns Hopkins Hospital, where I went to med school and residency, is in an impoverished part of Baltimore City.  There, families struggle with putting food on the table, with sub-par schools, drugs and violence.  But the mothers who brought their children to me in my continuity clinic were more like me than they were different.  As a young mother myself, I could see that they wanted the same opportunities for their children that I wanted for mine.  One day, I went with a nurse making home visits into the housing projects to follow up on a premature baby who was recently discharged from the NICU.  How incongruous to see a tiny premature infant on a cardiac monitor and tube feedings in these circumstances.  Yet despite her limited resources, this mother was doing her very best for her baby.   This lesson on unity has stayed with me throughout my career.

In the last few years, we have all become increasingly aware of the ongoing disparities between races in our society.  I do not want to let politics be a part of this discussion because it always leads to division and not unity.  This is a human concept, not a political one.  Last month I asked my patients to share their new year’s goals.  This month I have been asking them how racism affects them.  What I have noticed is how awkward I feel when I ask this question and how uncomfortable it makes most people.  Kids usually reply, no matter their race, that they don’t think it affects them.  I hope that is true, but I suspect they just don’t want to answer.  How can we build unity if we can’t even talk about racism? 

I have learned the difference in the concepts of equality and equity.  As a child of the 70’s, I saw desegregation of schools, race riots and blatant racism.  In my mind, things had come a long way.  But as I became more aware, thanks to some parents who really didn’t mind talking about the issue of race, I saw that equality was not the same as equity and that racism went on but became more underground, taboo but present.  A long way from equality and equity and even further from unity.

This month I have focused on learning from Black heroes as well as from the experiences of my patients.  One such Black hero is Howard Thurman, a 20th century philosopher, educator, theologian, and civil rights leader.   In one of his famous quotes, he tells his listeners that we must all continuously find our “green growing edge.”  His observation of this most human need for ongoing goals throughout our lives reminds me again of how we are so much more alike than different. 

We have all experienced being “prejudged” in our lives   Whatever the reason for being treated with prejudice, it feels bad.  We feel “less than” or misunderstood.  As a result, we may feel more comfortable being with those who are like us.  But boy do we miss out on the richness of life when we are fearful of diversity and difference and always seek the things that we obviously have in common.  I have learned so much by getting curious about my patient’s experiences.  While the menu may be different, grandmothers in all cultures like to feed people! 

 If we could only remember that each person we encounter is experiencing a range of joys and traumas, that he or she is someone’s child, mother or father.  That she is not a cashier at the grocery store, but a person with her own strengths and struggles.  That his different language and accent do not make him any different at all in his essence.   If we could only look deeper into what we truly have in common which transcends race or ethnicity, religion, or gender.  Then we can go beyond equality and equity, seeking the unity we all have in this one, human journey through life.  Then, maybe, when we discussed racism, every person could truly say that race doesn’t affect them.  Until then, let’s look into each other’s eyes and see each other as human beings, beautiful in our difference and diversity, but alike in the ways that matter.

And let it begin with me.

Dr. Karen Dewling, M.D.

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