As we set aside a day to reflect on the life and legacy of the great Civil Rights leader, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there are painful reminders that the last mile to walk toward achieving racial justice and equity remains too far. Last April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared racism a serious public health threat that demands national attention. The CDC statement was an important declaration, if not a national awakening, and certainly what Dr. King may have had in mind when he reminded humanity, that, “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
Today, health center providers and healers find themselves exhausted on the front lines of a pandemic that has disproportionately sickened and killed millions of people in communities of color. Health centers have heeded the national call to ensure equity in this public health crisis, through testing, vaccinating, and providing boosters. Their efforts are yielding results: 61 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines administered at health centers have protected people of color. Is it enough? Never. Is our job finished? No. So long as there is suffering and illness among our neighbors and friends, and people are denied basic health service because of poverty, racial and ethnic barriers, our mission presses on.
For as Dr. King also noted, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”