Eight years ago, the American Medical Association issued an apology for its long history of excluding Black physicians from obtaining membership, listing Black doctors as “colored” in its directory and neglecting to speak against federal funding of segregated hospitals.
This year, about 30 doctors and local residents came together on July 15 to remember this historic event during the AMA Apology Prayer Brunch at St. Paul United Methodist Church. The brunch incorporated a series of presentations from special guests, including Pulitzer Prize-nominee Dr. Michael Byrd, Dr. Linda Clayton and Dr. Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.
“We’ve never had world-class health care, so I thought it would be a great idea to have a prayer brunch to talk about the issues without emotionalizing it and bring awareness to [the] difficulties we still have in the healthcare system,” said Dr. Dralves Edwards, brunch coordinator. “
Rev. Ronald Wright, moderator for the event, kicked off the brunch with a powerful, no-holds barred sermon addressing the lack of support for Black hospitals and the lack of medical centers in Black communities.
“There are 51 hospitals in Dallas,” he said. “Out of those 51 hospitals there are only two in the southern sector of Dallas. And that’s sad.”
Wright didn’t shy away from speaking on the mistreatment of African American doctors and recounting stories about local doctors that have been shunned by AMA because of their race. Attendees responded in shock and mutual disagreement of these treatments with groans and slight shakes of the head.
Nonetheless, after Wright’s hard-hitting sermon, a solo gospel cover of Great is Thy Faithfulness, by Nachita Pullen Aldrich, restored a light balance.
Following the solo performance, Thompson set the brunch back in motion with a speech tackling health challenges and the importance of overcoming them after disclosing that Dallas County has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the state.
“Your health is your wealth,” Thompson said. “It all starts today. Our lives matter, but our health definitely matters.”
The event also featured a reading of the apology letter by Dr. Jessica Edwards-Shepard and a two-part presentation by Byrd and Clayton over the history of health disparities and mistreatment of Black doctors in the health community.
“We have received the worst health care [and] the worst health services since we have arrived in 1619 … 397 years ago,” Byrd said.
In his slideshow, he thoroughly explained the start of racial inequalities in health care and how different races and social classes are divided into distinct sections of the health care system. Audience members actively took notes from the lecture as Byrd discussed how health care isn’t designed to benefit African Americans, especially low-income African Americans.
Clayton followed up with another slideshow detailing the flaws within health care policies and programs and how it relates to the demise of Black lives.
“Health care and the way services are delivered is bad due to how the system is structured,” she said. “There are more Black people dying than any other race to diseases such as HIV, high blood pressure and diabetes.”
She informed attendees about what health care policy is best designed for minorities.
“Although it doesn’t get that much support, the Affordable Care Act is one of the most comprehensive health care policies.” Clayton said.
She also explored the many questions that could be asked after the presentation and ensured that the audience acknowledged the need to revise the health care system.
“The term health reform has been abused for so long. We must reinvent our health reform,” Clayton said.
After the presentations, guests participated in a Q&A session with the guest speakers. Most participants questioned whether there was an increase in Black doctors in the AMA after the apology. Clayton said he saw no evidence of new Black doctors.
Other guests inquired about the current condition of medical programs for young Black doctors. Clayton said that current programs are rhetorical, repetitive and “filled with empty rhetoric.” She said they need a comprehensive plan that benefits young Black doctors.
Edwards concluded the event by solidifying the unity among the collection of doctors in attendance.
“We can do better,” he said. “I hope we can recruit more doctors in this community and build [more] relationships next year.”