One would think with the Corona Pandemic at hand, the doctors who probably don't even have time to scratch their heads wouldn't be able to think beyond the virus. So, what is bigger than the Pandemic itself that brought the Physicians out on the street? It is the nation outcry and anti-racism demonstration triggered by the murder of George Floyd in the hands - or rather knees - of a white police officer, Derek Chavin on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, USA.
WC4BL (White Coats for Black Lives) - A medical student-run organization founded in 2014, sprang into action. The organization with a mandate for eliminating racism echoes in its mission statement: "To dismantle racism in medicine and promote the health, well-being, and self-determination of people of color."
The main speaker was Alicia Barrow, co-founder of Safe Spaces for BIPOC (Black, indigenous, People of Color), a part-indigenous and part-Black woman, mother of five, who drove down from Vermont. Other speakers included Nino Brown of ANSWER, DR. Padma of The Boston Coalition, Rev. Vernon Walker of Massachusetts Peace Action, Dr. Raagini Jawa, Physician just to name a few.
Joining Physicians and health workers under the White Coats for Black Lives banner stood many organizations including the Association of Pakistan Physicians of New England (APPNE) and Indian Medical Association of New England(IMANE).
IMANE statement was read by the Moderator and the past president of APPNE, Dr. Khalil Khatri on behalf its president Dr. Dhrumil Shah: "The Indian Medical Association of New England stands with all who are mourning and those who daily experience racism, including our physicians and patients of color. Racism permeates all sectors of society and Health care is no exception. We stand in solidarity with Black community and commit to ongoing collaboration and support towards developing a better and safer community."
Dr. Naheed Usmani, president of Association of Physicians of Pakistan-descent of North America (APPNA), pointed out that there are approximately 18,000 doctors of Pakistani descent in USA. Appealing to the hundreds of protesters, Dr. Usmani said, "Our Nation once again finds itself at a profoundly important infection point that demands the resolution of the fundamental question; When will we as a Republic finally confront and dismantle the Centuries old structure of racism that has marred the system, Institution and way of life." she further added what needs to be done, "we need to vote, volunteer and speak up when we see injustice."
Dr. Naheed Usmani along with past APPNE presidents Dr. Asimah Qayyum and Dr. Salman Malik initiated this event. Dr. Qayyum echoed the sentiments of the protesters, "we need to speak up and be heard." Dr. Malik expressed his feelings that they were still living in an era where the people helplessly see a man dying in front their eyes, "and cannot do anything about it."
Dr. Javed Saud, vice president APPNE, started out with the words, "enough is enough" and got the crowd all pumped up as they joined him shouting, "No justice - No peace." Dr. Saud demanded that "racism also needs to be dismantled from the medical field."
Dr. Lachelle Weeks, an Oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer hospital said that she was asked to speak about how being a Black physician today affects her in the work-place, "but that is a story for some other time." Weeks moved on to mention that she received thousands of emails saying that they were her allies. She said that she grew up seeing violence against Black people. Weeks apparently likened all recent protests by mostly non-Black people, a rude awakening as she took on the crowd and pointed out that this wasn't the first-time police has killed a Black man. She respectfully added, "if you are awakening to this reality for the first time, then your first step as an ally is to ask yourself - how the hell did I sleep through all of this?" - The Oncologist ended with a kind note, "so all you ally we have to fight for justice."
Dr. Zafar Naqvi, representing IMF/IMCNE talked on how Islam deals with racism. He said, "Being a Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, I can easily relate about the psychological aspects of ingredients of racism and its roots linked to trauma."
Dr. Shujat Ali said, "I was surprised to learn that there were so many black people killed by police that it took Alicia 20 minutes to read out the names from the list. HIs wife Dr. Sadia Chagtai added, "we are here to support the cause and represent Aligarh Medical Alumni Association of North America (AMAANA). AMAANA is among the many endorsers of the event.
Dr. Muhammad Ramzan, past president of APPNE, and the current president of the Worcester Islamic Center (WIC), called the rally very productive. "The speakers were eloquent and I am glad that the connection was made about the disparities in medical care, which puts the Minorities [Black-Americans, Hispanic] at a disadvantage. We saw this reflected in the current pandemic."
Beena Sarwar, a journalist got the press release out in a timely fashion, thus having a large media presence. Beena has been the backbone of the publication 'Aman Ki Asha' - launched a decade ago, is a joint initiative of two giant media groups: The Times of India and Pakistani based The Jang Group. In an interview with Voice of America (VOA), Beena Sarwar said, "I was pleased to see that the Asian community is out here supporting the rights of the minorities." For Beena all this strikes home as she told me. "My father Dr. M. Sarwar was a Physician who as a medical student at Dow led Pakistan's first nationwide student movement."
Akthar Mahmud Faruqui, the editor of 'Pakistan Link' the largest Pakistani paper in USA, quite eloquently wrote about the inception and the systematic growth of APPNA, and its promise to pay back to Pakistan. "Thanks to the steadfastness of its leaders and the unstinted support of members, APPNA has come to live up to its promise."
Dr. Naheed Usmani, proud of APPNA's growth now wants to take it to the next notch. She wants to take this awareness nation-wide reflecting on the famous words of MLK: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Medical doctors getting involved in the ongoing anti-racism protests - over the Covid-19 Pandemic - adds another dimension to these protests thus raising these collective efforts to a higher plateau.
Ironically today (6/19) is 'Juneteenth' - June 1865 is the day the 'Emancipation Proclamation' was read out and is considered the day that marks the end of slavery in America.