“As I step into the role of President of the Academy, I extend my sincere thanks and admiration to my predecessor, colleague and friend Jo Ivey Boufford. I also add my voice of support to hers in expressing concern about the impact of racism, violence and toxic stress on health. As the Academy works to achieve health equity across all populations, we must closely examine all the factors that shape our health, to ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity to lead a long and healthy life. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and our accomplishments on this page in the months to come.”
Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS
A Message From Jo Ivey Boufford, MD
The recent events in Charlottesville and the continuing response to them from all quarters force us once again to reflect on and condemn the forces of violence and hate in our society that result in injury and death and can create lasting fear and resentment that divides our communities. What occurred in Charlottesville is part of an ongoing series of violent acts targeting individuals and groups of people who have historically been discriminated against and prevented from enjoying the full rights and privileges that should be available to all in our society. Those acts include the Charleston church murders of African-Americans by a white supremacist; the increased number of arson and other attacks on synagogues, black churches, and mosques; and the increased incidence of hate crimes targeting immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community. Particularly chilling about the events in Charlottesville was the prominent use of historic symbols of white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and genocide as acceptable organizing principles for groups and demonstrations.
These events, and others in the past, have deeply affected our staff, leadership, Fellows, and partners. We feel this is a critical time to raise our voice.
As health care professionals, many of us experience the loss of individuals who had so much promise in our society, and see and attempt to treat the direct consequences of violence in our emergency services and hospitals. We also see the short, medium and long-term effects of violence and the fear of violence from any source on the health and mental health of individuals—adults and children—families and communities. We have much more to do in addressing these long-term effects. As public health professionals, we see the health disparities in certain communities and groups and, through research and discussion directly with communities themselves, there is increasing evidence that the root causes of these disparities are a direct result of the kinds of structural discrimination and racism that prevent access to quality health care, excellent educational opportunities, and safe housing and create social, economic and environmental conditions with profound negative effects on human health and well-being.
Despite the efforts of many, these disparities remain frustratingly intractable: in NYC, a black mother is 12 times more likely than a white mother to die within a year of childbirth. Life expectancy varies across NYC neighborhoods: in East Harlem, where we are located, north of 96th St, residents can expect to live nine years less, on average, than residents of the Upper East Side, just south of 96th St. These stark life and death differences develop because of the myriad insidious ways that racism and other forms of discrimination create toxic stress that undermines the physical and mental health of individuals of all ages and decreases the sense of community that is such an important determinant of health. Recent national events make these pressures worse, but they must also be a call to action.
The New York Academy of Medicine’s mission is to improve the health of people in cities. This must mean addressing the current conditions that undermine health and create disparities as well as acting to prevent their root causes that affect everyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or race and ethnicity. We strongly condemn any acts of violence and messages of hate, especially those driven by racism and bigotry in all its forms. We pledge to renew our commitment to identify and build support to change policies and practices, especially those reflecting structural racism and discrimination, that cause and worsen health disparities, and we welcome partners on this effort.