The President, Past-President, Executive Board and Executive Director of the Child Neurology Society denounce racism and inequality
On Monday evening, May 25, 2020 George Floyd was murdered by four Minneapolis police officers and we all mourn his tragic and horrendous death. In the intervening days, first in Minneapolis, then in hundreds of towns and cities across the world, people took to the streets in protest because they knew that George Floyd died because of pro-institutional racism, a problem that has beleaguered this country from its founding. We are all heartbroken at the death of this man and countless other innocent and defenseless individuals who have been murdered, abused, and denied their rights as citizens and human beings due to the color of their skin.
Other professional boards, organizations, and medical associations, including the Child Neurology Society’s closest and most valued partners with whom the CNS shares many members in common, have issued statements condemning racism and committing themselves to embracing and enacting meaningful change in perspective, policies, and practices. We join them in this.
As child neurologists, we have dedicated our lives to the care of children. We hold them dear and show our love and compassion no matter what their race or background. We care for their families and offer help whenever we are called upon to do so. Our obligations carry a heavy load and we need to demonstrate the same caring and understanding behaviors to others, including our colleagues, nurses, staff, friends, and neighbors.
We as child neurologists are tasked with diagnosing and treating many diseases and disorders, including inborn errors of metabolism. There are many reasons for racism, but America is still struggling with an inborn error that was bestowed upon us by our founding fathers. In 1619, one year before the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts, the first slaves arrived in Virginia. Over 400 years later, we continue to struggle against racism and wonder why. Why are the inequities, injustices, and disparities that have plagued America from its birth still with us? Those questions haunt Langston Hughes’ poem of 1935, “Let America Be America Again,” with its anguished parenthetical refrain “(It never was America to me.)” and haunt us still:
“O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.”
What does racism and intolerance mean to us as child neurologists? What does it ask of us who are trained to recognize and remedy inborn errors of another sort? A little more than a year ago, in a Letter from the CNS Executive Director exploring the concept of “hope” as it related to child neurology and the recent, remarkable breakthroughs in genetic therapies for disorders previously deemed all but hopeless, Roger Larson quoted the great American architect, Louis Sullivan on the social responsibility of scholars: “True scholarship is of the highest usefulness….(when) applied for the good and enlightenment of all the people, not for the pampering of a class….In a democracy there can be but one fundamental test of citizenship, namely: Are you using such gifts as you possess for or against the people?”
“Child neurologists pass that basic test every day,” Larson wrote. “They are ‘citizens’ in the highest sense….The research, training, and direct care for patients to which they dedicate themselves daily is very much ‘for the good and enlightenment of all the people.’ Together, CNS members explore, open up, and make more readily—and democratically—available the most essential pathway toward realizing the Possibilities of Life in America : a healthily functioning child’s brain. They offer hope. Badly needed hope. Hope that is needed now, more than ever.”
But as we have seen in the past few weeks, as well as countless times prior, our love for children is not enough. We know that our patients are not clients and that we are not just providers. We are all human beings travelling together on this small planet. The children and their parents that we care for represent every race, religion, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation, income and employment level, educational background, and linguistic proficiency. We are in an excellent position to demonstrate that our caring and understanding attitude can be emulated by others.
As child neurologists, we can make a strong statement that racism be defeated. As scholars and physicians, we prove this every day in clinic, on the phone, and in interactions with each other. As citizens, we cannot and will not tolerate African Americans being treated as less than human. We need to join with others to mobilize as a society to end racism and intolerance. With this purpose in mind, we have initiated the following preliminary actions:
Board Action: Last October, the CNS Executive Board voted unanimously to identify and appoint a diversity officer in 2020; the plan is in motion. The CNS is a diverse society and we need to ensure that all of our members have a voice. Echoing Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” we are committed to exploring and encouraging ways in which those gathered around the boardroom table mirror the members they represent, just as, in time, the members themselves mirror the diversity of patients they see in the examination room.
Member Interaction: The Open Forum threaded-discussion on the CNS Connect website offers a mechanism for dialogue among our members. We can share a variety of perspectives and resources related to our Society. CNS Connect provides a safe, secure platform for discussions that contain a civil dialogue.
Imagining the Future: Members of all levels and backgrounds have always been encouraged to get involved, join committees, propose seminars and courses, and lead new ventures. We note the upcoming election in July for four new officers to the seven-member Executive Board. Nominations of CNS members for these positions by CNS members, including self-nominations, are being accepted online through June 30.
In the summer of 1968, when the first certificates were awarded in child neurology by the ABPN, American cities were smoldering from riots that broke out in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The “free air of America” was filled with smoke and ash. Fifty years later smoke and ash again fill the air of many American cities after four Minneapolis Police officers ignored George Floyd’s final plea, “I can’t breathe!” In marking our 50 th anniversary, we must resolve to join our fellow citizens in solving America’s racism. This cannot wait. We must work together to solve this now, fully realizing Possibilities of Life in an America that “yet must be,” a land where every person is free.
Phillip L. Pearl, MD; President
Jonathan W. Mink, MD, PhD; CNS Past-President
Bruce H. Cohen, MD; Secretary-Treasurer
Nigel Bamford, MD; Councillor
Nancy Bass, MD; Councillor
Lori Jordan, MD; Councillor
Mark S, Wainwright, MD, PhD; Councillor
Roger Larson, CAE; Executive Director