It’s hard to watch what is happening in our city and around the country and stand by silently as we try to find the right words to say in response to what we are witnessing. And we can’t stand aside and say nothing hoping someone else will say it better. Racism is present in our community. Racism is a public health crisis and represents a longstanding paradigm of systemic racism that cannot be ignored. We grieve for the family of George Floyd. We grieve for the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Philando Castile, O’Shae Terry, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black people, named and unnamed, whose lives have been taken by the hands of those who have sworn to serve and protect. Our grief has turned to resolve; we must recognize ways we have been complicit and commit to becoming increasingly vigilant in seeking ways to eliminate racism, particularly in healthcare.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel
Just as cancer does not discriminate, the Breast Cancer Coalition recognizes the importance of a culture that strives for diversity. We honor individual differences whether color, race, religion, political viewpoints, socioeconomic status, physical abilities, gender, gender identity, and/or gender expression. We want everyone who comes to the Coalition for services to feel safe and accepted.
But everyone is not safe in our community. Everyone is not accepted. And we can no longer stay silent. Black lives DO matter. Racism has long been a factor in the disparities we see in cancer diagnosis and treatment. We have long known that the mortality rate for the Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ community is measurably higher than for White women. We have long known that racism destabilizes public health and disproportionately impacts those with cancer. These populations are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage and less likely to be offered clinical trials. They are least likely to be referred for genetic counseling, least likely to complete their treatment, and least likely to be referred for palliative care. These have been the patients with the worst breast cancer outcomes. These inequities are unendurable. Though we have done much within our mission to impact these outcomes, we can and MUST do more.
Although COVID-19 has forced us to temporarily close our doors to in-person programs, our hearts remain open to all affected by breast and gynecologic cancers, as well as their family members and other loved ones. As we strive to live the inclusivity of our mission, we will also strive to step off the sidelines of racism and employ resources to address the real, unmet needs that are occurring. We will not allow our words to become an echo of performative activism. We pledge to listen more and talk less, to learn more and act accordingly, and to stand with these patients in demanding a more just world with better outcomes.
We join the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and others in formally pledging our support for the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group in their May 19, 2020 DECLARATION: RACISM IS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS.