As an osteopathic physician, I have been trained to search for and treat the root causes of an illness, not just the symptoms. The four tenets of my training: The body is a unit. A person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit. The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance. Structure and function are interrelated.
These medical tenets have guided my approach to solving problems as a leader in philanthropy, business, and our civic discourse. Just like a human body, our society is composed of different cultures, religions, dialects, and hues. As sick as it currently is, our society retains its capability of self-regulating and self-healing. To treat the disease of structural racism that has infiltrated our society, we must first understand and admit that we are sick.
We live in a society where black people are still reeling from the devastating effects of slavery. Just as I would never expect my Jewish brothers and sisters to forget about the horrors of the Holocaust and its effects, black people should not forget our painful past and painful present. Two hundred years of slavery was followed by being denied federally approved reparations, Reconstruction-era policies, public lynchings and massacres, Jim Crow, the struggle to achieve basic civil rights, housing redlining, and educational inequality. Then our “war on drugs” led to the disproportionate incarceration of millions of black men and women.
Slavery has now metastasized — spreading in the form of the institutional racism that cripples our communities today via educational, economic, health and criminal justice inequality. It is present in the form of covert and overt racism in our newsrooms, classrooms, workplaces, courthouses, trade unions, and even our places of worship.
In just the last few weeks, we watched a white woman in Central Park threatening to weaponize the police against a Harvard-educated black birder. Then, we witnessed George Floyd being held down by a uniformed police officer — aided and abetted by three other officers — with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. He was without a pulse for the last 2 minutes and 48 seconds of his life. We saw a black journalist arrested on live TV for covering the Minneapolis protests. Mr. Floyd’s death was after Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down while jogging, and Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her home by police officers.
Black people have said enough is enough! Many of our youth have already lost hope in our justice system and government, expressed from peaceful protests in our town squares, to rioting and looting.
The Inquirer itself offers an embarrassing and shameful case study in deeply rooted unconscious bias, with a June 2 story’s baiting headline, “Buildings Matter Too.” An apology was offered, but the damage is done. A newspaper’s failed editing system — largely lacking of ethnic diversity and more, ethnic sensitivity — triggered an error.
I am excited about the possibility of a new “cure” to this divisive racial disease. I am inspired by members of a young generation that believe they can heal our society. They are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American, and cross all religious, economic, and cultural lines. You have seen them peacefully protest throughout this country for justice. But they need our help!
This past week, I, like many other black professionals, have received calls from white allies who occupy seats of power and have long acknowledged how deeply our society is infected with institutional racism.
If you work in the media, corporate America, venture capital, philanthropy, education, the legal field, or law enforcement, I encourage you to genuinely connect with and mentor a black colleague in your field. Use your power to help remove systemic barriers that limit their growth and success. That’s what Gerry Lenfest was doing when he suggested that I succeed him as chairman of the Lenfest Foundation. He knew that voices like mine would be needed at times like this.
If a group led by young millennials and Gen Z can get the world’s attention, imagine how potent my generation and the boomers could be with the authority, access, and positions of power we hold. Will we be part of the cure?