UAMS Honors Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Chris Carmody

The event, “Remembering Dr. King’s Other Dream: Economic Security and Health Equity,” was sponsored by the Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Subcommittee of the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI).

Brian Gittens, Ed.D., MPA, vice chancellor for DDEI, noted King’s passion for creating a society that provides everyone with an opportunity to experience economic security and health equity. Gittens highlighted remarks made by King during a March 25, 1966, press conference in which he called for hospitals and medical professionals to comply with the Civil Rights Act and stop discriminating against Black patients.

Addressing reporters in Chicago before his speech at the second convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, King said: “We are concerned about the constant use of federal funds to support this most notorious expression of segregation. Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

Gittens said King’s comments ring true today, as health inequities and economic insecurities continue to affect communities of color. But Gittens also noted UAMS’ efforts to improve health and economic conditions by diversifying its health care workforce, raising its minimum wage, serving the community and providing programs that enhance educational opportunities for youths.

“UAMS takes seriously its mission of improving the health and well-being of Arkansans and others in the region, nation and world,” he said.

Anika Whitfield, DPM, co-chair of the activist coalition Grassroots Arkansas and former tri-chair of the Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, served as the keynote speaker for the event. Referencing King’s famous quote about the “urgency of now,” Whitfield encouraged viewers to take action to eradicate systemic poverty and racism.

“Rather than dreaming about economic security and health equity, I truly believe Dr. King was insisting that they become an essential part of our tangible medical recovery plan for this nation,” she said.

Whitfield noted the political controversies that surround critical race theory, an academic and legal framework based on the idea that systemic racism is a part of American society. But if people looked at the issue through the lens of King’s work, she said, then they would see a need for another kind of CRT: a critical resuscitation of the truth.

“Economic insecurity and health and wellness inequities exist as we, the health care professionals, have failed to uphold our oath to do no harm to our patients,” she said. “We have not offered support to people who need critical resuscitation of the truth that their lives, their health and their histories matter.”

Whitfield said everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect; the right to healthy groceries, affordable housing and clean air and water; and the right to receive excellent evaluation, treatment and follow-up care from their health providers.

“The critical resuscitation of truth is not something we should eradicate,” she said. “It is something we should embrace with open arms. Let us honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by no longer accepting the unacceptable, by moving with urgency and taking actions rooted in love.”

Viewers also enjoyed a live musical rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” provided by Marcus Murphy, biomedical equipment technician in the UAMS Office of Academic Services, and Dana McEwen, instrument technician for Sterile Services.

The celebration of King’s legacy represents the start of the 2023 UAMS Serves campaign, which encourages volunteerism among students and employees. Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., provost and chief strategy officer, said UAMS volunteers are making a difference throughout the institution and in the community, and there are plenty of opportunities available for those who would like to join the effort.

“Dr. King’s message that ‘everybody can be great because anybody can serve’ reminds us of the importance of supporting those in need,” she said. “In the years ahead, I look forward to hearing how Team UAMS is being great by being of service to one another and to our community.”

Those who are interested in finding volunteer opportunities through UAMS can click here.