Some days I sit, staring out at the Chester River which flows to the Chesapeake Bay, which empties into the Atlantic. It’s beautiful here. There is room to think, room to dream, room to reflect. It is not Baltimore. It is not Hong Kong.
The Institute for Integrative Health is on Fleet Street in Baltimore, Maryland and, in many ways, this is our town. But our work has taken us around the world, with many stops including Hong Kong, visiting and collaborating with our colleagues at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
There’s a headline in last week’s Washington Post which reads, “We don’t get justice” and the story comes from Baltimore. It details the death of the youngest victim of COVID-19 in the region – a 15-year-old, whose race and place on the economic ladder left her particularly vulnerable. She lived and died in southeast Baltimore, her home, less than four miles from our office on Fleet Street.
I would like to be in a world where George Floyd was not murdered by a policeman. Or Freddie Gray. I would like to be in a world where Dar’Yana Dyson didn’t have to die from a virus she made every effort to avoid. I would like to live in a world where the voices of freedom in Hong Kong are not silenced, and my friends do not have to live in fear.
But this is our world.
A poem I read recently by Lynn Ungar says, “The fact that you are swept along by the river is no excuse. Watch where you are going. Lean in toward what you love. When in doubt, tell the truth.”
I wake up in the morning with options – and I know I have to lean in. We have spent decades striving to broaden the view of medical care through an integrative approach. We have cross-pollinated – connecting the dots between science and sociology, nutrition and wellness, clean air and healthy communities. We have helped disseminate information, funded projects, and supported the work of brilliant thinkers who are seeking to change the status quo. But it is not enough.
The incredible inequities in America which have been laid bare by COVID-19 and by the unwarranted death of black men have been brought to us by a broken system that is upside down. Simply put, racism and social injustice is a public health crisis that puts the entire community’s health at risk, not just those of color. This must change.
We cannot sit idly by as communities that have been historically under-served in every way, suffer at a disproportionate rate. We cannot pretend that this problem will go away. And we must address the bigger issues.
Healing is not about writing prescriptions. Healing is about listening. Wellness is a daily practice – it’s food, and sleep. It’s clean air and water, it’s hope and dreams. It’s freedom.
Around the world, people are marching for justice. In the poorest neighborhoods, people are fighting for their lives. The courageous voices of teenagers are ringing out to remind us that the earth is struggling. There are throngs of people protesting in the streets of Hong Kong, London, New York and Washington, DC.
There is an urgency, an opportunity for change, and this change is not incremental. We cannot go back to normal, now is time to bounce forward to a new normal.
At the Institute for Integrative Health, we have always been dedicated to envisioning a world that values wellness, that treats people with dignity and listens, that recognizes healthcare is not just about medicine, but also the interconnected web of everything in our lives, our communities, our planet. The work of our Scholars, Fellows and programs is raising awareness about inequities – the challenges being faced by primary care providers during this time of COVID-19, the undue impact of COVID-19 on communities of color – and is helping people and communities to heal from trauma and thrive – through art, time in nature, healthy eating. Now, at this moment where evolution meets revolution, our work is adjusting and growing. . . we choose to lean in.