Why It Matters
Black Lives Matter is more than just a hashtag.
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Why Black Lives Matter Matters for Health Care Improvement

By IHI Multimedia Team | Friday, October 23, 2020
Why Black Lives Matter Matters for Health Care Improvement
Photo by Joe Flood

Every year, IHI invites leaders from outside health care to give keynote addresses at our biggest events. We value the fresh perspectives they bring and the lessons they share that will help us think in new ways about how to improve health and health care. This year is no exception. Longtime criminal justice reform activist, educator, and artist Patrisse Cullors will be a keynote speaker at the IHI Forum 2020 (December 6–9, 2020).

Like many others in July 2013, Cullors recalls feeling “disturbed and dissatisfied” after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. She turned to social media to see how others were responding.

Cullors saw what she called “a love letter to Black people.” Activist Alicia Garza had posted a message that read, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” Cullors responded with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, never imagining that it would eventually launch a member-led global movement against anti-Black racism and violence.

Though support for Black Lives Matter surged after millions viewed the videotaped killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer this past summer, many people may not be familiar with Cullors and her work. Here are some of the reasons why her insights and experiences are relevant for health care improvers around the globe:

  • Exposure to violence and experiencing racism are social determinants of health. Anti-violence and anti-racism activists like Cullors see their work as an important part of improving health in communities. As Cullors has said, “What does it look like to reinvest in our communities, into social services, into people having access to adequate public education, people having access to adequate health care, people having access to healthy food? Let’s invest in human care, dignity, and the lives of human beings.”
  • Cullors has experienced the maternal health crisis in the US firsthand. Cullors is a senior fellow for maternal mortality at MomsRising, a network of women, mothers, and families whose goal is to “build a more family-friendly America.” As she has said, “Prior to my pregnancy, I had no idea that the US had the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world or that Black women were at the center of this epidemic.” Much of what Cullors has described experiencing during pregnancy — family members begging doctors and nurses to pay attention to her poorly managed pain or not being informed of post-partum risks, for example — has been faced by too many women, especially Black women. As Cullors has stated, “The whole experience was hell and awakened me to the dangers of childbirth for Black women in this country — a full-on maternal health crisis that specifically puts Black women in the crosshairs of sexism and racism in our health care system.”
  • Avoiding burnout and enhancing well-being is important for both health care providers and activists. Whether it’s improving patient safety or addressing inadequate mental health care services in county jails — as Cullors does — years of challenging the status quo can take a toll. Cullors is a strong advocate for self-care. “My being alive is part of the work,” she has explained. “To reclaim our bodies and our health is a form of resistance, a form of resilience.” For Cullors, finding joy and restoration means spending time with family. She has said, “I take myself off the Internet and do simple things with them like going out to eat, going into nature, making a routine for self-care. I go to therapy regularly and spend a lot of time laughing with friends.” She could be addressing health care professionals amid the COVID-19 crisis when she says, “There is a long fight ahead of us. Do not overburden your body.”

Jo Ann Endo, MSW, is IHI’s Senior Managing Editor, Digital Content & Blog.

You may also be interested in:

Sessions about Leadership, Equity, and Joy and Well-Being at Work are part of the IHI Forum 2020 (December 6–9, 2020).

“You Can’t Achieve True Health Equity Without Addressing Racism” – Part I

You Can’t Have Quality Without Equity

Questions to Guide the Future of Primary Care

“Do No Harm” Checklist Makes Care Safer by Design

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