White Coats for Black Lives

Black Lives Matter

Dear Morehouse School of Medicine Community,

In 1975 on the campus of Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine established its roots as a preeminent academic health center focused on serving underserved populations and communities and eliminating health disparities. That mission has blossomed over our 45-year history, bringing us to today and our laser focus on leading the creation and advancement of health equity.

At the foundation of our mission and vision are the many individuals, families, and communities we are privileged to serve. As researchers, public health professionals, community partners, and front-line workers, we see the impact and devastation of social and racial injustice in some of the most intimate ways possible. Each health disparity statistic where black men and women are more likely to be negatively impacted, whether it’s heart disease, diabetes, cancer, maternal mortality, or COVID-19, is a reminder of the political, environmental, economic, and social determinants of health that disadvantage minority families.

So, when we witness the brutal death of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement, we become that much more dedicated to our mission; because we know that education and health are critical to empowering communities towards a future of possibilities. I continue to remain even more committed to demonstrating our support of social reform and justice that is in my opinion the key components of the Black Lives Matter movement.

While some people exhibit their support through participating in constructive protests, others have chosen to demonstrate their support in other ways, such as writing to and speaking in their circles of influence, volunteering their time to support those who are disenfranchised, and giving financially to organizations and causes dedicated to creating change.

What I ask of our community is that we not pass judgment on the ways that people are deciding to demonstrate their support; we do not know an individual’s heart. You have heard me say many times, “presume good intent until shown otherwise.” This is one of the phrases I have lived my life by, and it has not served me wrong. In fact, it has helped me, in many cases, to see what I otherwise might have missed had I prejudged.

I bring this up based on a couple of instances specific to Morehouse School of Medicine. Recently, a well-intentioned alum passionately dialogued with other leaders and copied me, expressing his disappointment that MSM had not posted a stronger external statement supporting Black Lives Matter.  As the current president of the Council of Presidents (COP) of the AUCC, I chose to support the joint statement of the COP and to send an internal statement to our community and Board of Trustees on Friday, May 29.

It has always been my intent to respect the process of “laying to rest” Mr. Floyd and to come out with a statement following that would focus on “how we move forward.” Yes, I have had the urge to be more actively engaged in voice and action. However, what I have learned as a leader is that sometimes you need to observe and focus your energies on things you know you can control.

What are those things? We can sustain and advance the mission and vision of MSM, ensuring that we have the resources to reopen (remember that COVID-19 has not gone away), and bring our employees and students back to a safe environment so that we can get back to our business of advancing health equity. That means we must complete our budget, get our facilities in order, and ensure that our community feels safe. We can also focus on serving as a model for the AUCC undergraduate schools to safely reopen, allowing them to educate the generation that becomes the Black middle class.

Many may question how this aligns with Black Lives Matter and fighting the systemic injustice, social, and health determinants that allow for these injustices to continue. My response: We must ensure that we empower the black community through health and education, imbuing our future leaders with the competencies and skills to create lasting positive change in our communities, our nation, and our world. This is who we are, and this is what we do at Morehouse School of Medicine.

We support Black Lives Matter in multiple ways, individually and collectively.

We support those who choose to march in non-violent protests. We support those who choose to kneel for 8 minutes and 46 second. We support those who desire to speak at their churches and host Zoom calls to discuss the injustices within their circles of influence. We support those who choose to write op-ed pieces. We support those who choose to make masks to keep us safe during this COVID-19 pandemic. We support those who work to bring higher education to more Black lives. We support those who are writing grants that will create data repositories related to injustices.

We know that transformational change does not occur in a silo and it is predicated on having strong, diverse voices at the table to carve out the solutions. Beyond the marches and protests, we must continue to provide evidence of wrong and injustice, supported by history and actions, then be prepared with rich solutions that will bring about monumental progress and usher in equity.

We recognize that no life will matter until Black Lives Matter, and not until then will all lives matter.


Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD
President and Dean