Coming Together for a Moment of Solidarity

On Friday, June 5, at 1 p.m., members of the Einstein and Montefiore community, joined by faculty members who are staff at Jacobi Medical Center, gathered along the lawns adjacent to the Price Center/Block Research Pavilion for a moment of solidarity in support of calls to reform the systemic racism in the United States that contributes to the murder of unarmed Black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

Those in attendance, who practiced safe social distancing and wore masks, listened to brief introductory remarks from Dr. Irene Blanco, associate dean for diversity enhancement, Elise Mike, an Einstein M.D./Ph.D. candidate, and Destiney Kirby, an MD/MPH candidate.

Dr. Nerys Benfield, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion, addresses those assembled
Dr. Nerys Benfield, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion, addresses those assembled

Elise, a rising eighth year, founded the Einstein White Coats for Black Lives chapter in 2015. The group provides a space for members of the Einstein community to understand the historical and sociopolitical context of anti-Black racism as a public health issue. She is also a founding member of the Student Collective for Action on Diversity (SCAD), which is a group of students working toward racial and social justice at Einstein and within the broader field of medicine. Since arriving at Einstein, Elise has worked to promote diversity and inclusion at the College of Medicine. Destiney, a rising second year, is co-president of the Einstein chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), a national organization created in 1964 to support underrepresented minorities in medicine. She is also involved in the Diversity Research Committee with SNMA on a national level and a member of SCAD.

A sign reminding us all that action that truly leads to change is what is needed
A sign reminding us all that action that truly leads to change is what is needed

Using a megaphone to project her voice to the large gathering, Elise said, “The Black community is in so much pain right now, and we find some solace in knowing that members of the Einstein and Montefiore family stand with us. Allyship is a vital part of this movement. I hope this demonstration moves you to further action because taking a knee today is not enough. Allies must amplify the voices of those who are doing this work. Allies must actively renounce white supremacy in healthcare and explicitly name anti-Black racism. Allies must inspire other non-Black members of our community to join the fight. At a time like this, complacency is complicity.” 

Destiney echoed Elise’s sentiments, reminding those listening that events like the killings of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, and Mr. Arbery in recent months are only a very small representation of what has been experienced by Blacks in the United States for hundreds of years. She added, “…The crimes that have occurred in the past month are absolutely not new. But because of the allies that have amplified our voices, action is finally being taken to bring them to justice.”

She then asked, “So where do we go from here? What responsibility do we—as medical students, healthcare workers, researchers, alumni, and faculty members—have in shaping our future?

During the moment of solidarity, many of those gathered knelt for 9 minutes--
During the moment of solidarity, many of those gathered knelt for 9 minutes—"a long time to kneel, a short time to take a life"

In answer, Destiney encouraged everyone to participate in tangible initiatives that are taking place to support the goal of better representing our ever-increasingly diverse patient population. She mentioned an ”ally toolkit” that was created by SCAD. This toolkit provides concrete actions that White and non-Black people of color can take to become allies in the fight for racial justice. She also encouraged participants to do the following:

  • support the efforts of our student organizations, 
  • mentor premedical students who can help make the changes needed in the future, and
  • encourage curriculum reform that better represents our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

As a group, nearly everyone among the approximately 800 individuals in attendance who were able to do so knelt. They were silent for nine minutes—one for each minute that Mr. Floyd could not breathe before he was killed by the pressure applied to his neck from the knee of a Minnesota police officer. 

“…we know that the actions and work to make change is not the work of a day. It is not the work of a year. It is the work of a lifetime.

Nerys C. Benfield, M.D.

At the same moment, other members of the community gathered in front of Montefiore Wakefield, Montefiore Moses, and the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and also knelt. Many more watched Einstein’s Facebook Live, which has now been viewed more than 14,000 times. In all, 4,100 members of the Einstein and Montefiore community (see photos on Flickr) were present at the moving tributes. 

At the conclusion of the nine minutes of silent kneeling, Dr. Nerys Benfield, senior associate dean for diversity & inclusion at Einstein, spoke. With her voice tinged with emotion, Dr. Benfield thanked those at Einstein for their participation. 

“I’m filled with so much pride here right now, seeing everyone coming together,” she said. Referencing the amount of time Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, she added, “I know I was feeling all the emotions in those nine minutes. Such a long time to kneel, but such a short time to take a life.”

While the recent killings highlight the inequities and the racism that plague our society, and the moment of solidarity offered an opportunity for all members of the campus community to demonstrate their support of Black Einstein students, faculty, and staff, it is the actions that we will take next that will truly matter. Dr. Benfield reminded everyone of this, saying, “…we know that the actions and work to make change is not the work of a day. It is not the work of a year. It is the work of a lifetime.”

Toward that work, Einstein’s Diversity & Inclusion Council is hosting five virtual town halls—"A Discussion on Collective Action and Institutional Change” —on June 9, 10, 11, 16, and 18. While registration for all five is full, all findings from the discussions that take place in each will be shared with the Einstein community. “Our Diversity and Inclusion Council members are interested in input from everyone,” said Dr. Benfield. “Those unable to attend who wish to share their insights, ideas, or contributions, please email me or any council member.

She added, “I’m incredibly energized to do this work with all of you as we move forward to transform the Einstein community and our home communities as well.”