One Year Ago on May 25: Reflections on This Moment We Share

By Eve Higginbotham SM, MD, ML

One year ago today, on a street in Minneapolis, a man lost his life.  George Floyd parked outside a convenience store in his neighborhood and was accused of passing a counterfeit bill.  A call to the local police quickly escalated to an attempt to place Mr. Floyd in a police vehicle, then a pinning of his body on the ground, and a knee on his neck for more than 9 minutes.   The world soon saw what bystanders witnessed, captured on video by a teenager.  If we had not seen the video, there would be other explanations of this moment.  That video, forever connected us as witnesses to the translation of that moment to a movement. 

In the past year, we experienced a national reckoning regarding the impact of racism on the lives of Americans.  We have changed administrations, witnessed “gas lighting” at the most blatant levels, and absorbed supportive statements made by corporations, institutions, and organizations to commit to change and address structural biases collectively.  We have experienced these statements before, but this moment, so blatant, and so heartless on the streets of Minneapolis brought newly minted allies into the fold.  The collective energy of this shared experience created renewed passion for a new future.   

At Penn Medicine, we have experienced our own moment.  Last July, ACT was born, a movement that has already had an impact.  With more than 50 actions implemented and compelling mission, vision, and values established, there are now strategic priorities which outlines the work that remains in the years ahead.  The voices, hearts, and minds of over 5,000 of our colleagues are represented.  There are eleven actions within these priorities that are currently underway, led by colleagues and leaders throughout Penn Medicine. Almost 45,000 of us have completed unconscious bias education, sharing a new language and understanding of our own agency in this new wave of action and accountability.  On one hand, we can lament over the observation that many of these actions were only possible because of the video of Mr. Floyd on the street of Minneapolis.  However, on the other hand, the heightened energy fuels a renewed sense of purpose.

My personal hope is that more of us in our Penn Medicine community will realize that this is a moment that we all share.  The values of ACT remain at the core of who we are as agents for change: Equity, Empathy, Cultural Humility, Accountability, and Respect.  Embracing these values will lead us to our shared denouncement of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, BIPOC, Jewish, and Muslim populations.  Discrimination against our colleagues because of religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation or disability is never acceptable and fails to meet the expectations of our values.  We must hold each other accountable and work together to make difference.  As Martin Luther King once stated, “All men (people) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”  The video of Mr. Floyd should remind us all, that for our common good, we are connected in a mutual aspiration of a more civilized, inclusive, and equitable future.