A message from Dr. Carlos Smith, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the VCU School of Dentistry.
The School of Dentistry, under the auspices of both the State of Virginia and the greater Virginia Commonwealth University, recognizes Juneteenth as a state wide and university holiday on June 18, 2021. As part of the School of Dentistry’s continued commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, we pause to celebrate and honor the Juneteenth holiday. Juneteenth is the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, finally heard that the Civil War had ended, and learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had made them free nearly two years earlier. You may wonder, how is this still relevant today?
Many of the health disparities and inequities we find ourselves still combating today have their roots in the well documented historic discriminatory and racist practices and policies of yesterday. The Health Policy Institute of the American Dental Association recently released a multilayered report looking at racial disparities specific to oral health and the oral health workforce. Among the U.S. population, dental care utilization, for all age groups, shows that both Hispanics and Blacks are most likely to face cost barriers to dental care. Other notable findings included:
Recently, scholars, professional organizations and even the public at large have made a clarion call that racism is in and of itself, an actual public health issue. The American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have resoundingly named racism as a threat to public health. So what role can you play? As a practicing dentist or dental hygienist, dental or dental hygiene student, resident, faculty member, staff or dental team member – each of us has an obligation to do our part in ensuring optimal oral health for all. Commit to gaining more knowledge, speak up when you see racism and discriminatory behavior at work, review your practice policies and practices to eliminate biases and always be mindful to not readily dismiss the lived experiences of others.
As we celebrate the historic freedom for many of the most vulnerable among us, let us commit to eradicating the health disparities and inequities that remain today.
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