The most gripping moment for me was quite private after my spouse suggested that we don our COVID masks and join some 5000 others at City Hall on day 6 of Seattle’s demonstrations against police violence against black people, and for massive systemic change. We were sitting on the curb during a break in the action. We were quite aware of how little we know and understand, even with the mentoring of a 24-year-old daughter who is hypersensitive to race issues. We leaned in close to each other as the mixed crowd of humans, nearer our daughter’s age than to our own, milled about. The course of our conversation led us to try to imagine needing to have had “the conversation” 15 or 20 years ago with our now 28 year old son, were we black, and he a young black man coming of age. That being his ritual welcome into adulthood.
This zone of race and equity is a challenging one for the integrative health field. Integrative medicine’s historic, cash-paying clientele tends toward upper income white women. Our students, practitioners and organizational leaders are mostly if not overwhelmingly white. Yet the felt desire to be good allies exists in many. A subset of integrative family doctors formed Integrative Medicine for the Underserved. Multiple organizations quickly gathered around IM4US to make sure the initiative would be multidisciplinary, and to offer support. Commentators from the Osher Collaborative for Integrative Medicine declared for the Imperative for Health Justice in integrative medicine. The intent had already been in action in the National Association of Certified Professional Midwives. NACPM’s multi-year, challenging, exemplary process has transformed leadership – see here and here – from from predominantly white to a majority of people of color. Here and there elsewhere institutions and organizations have formalized race and equity working groups and task forces. Yet whatever the good intentions, there is little relative to intentionally addressing our parts in the nation’s systemic race problems to be terribly proud about.
Amidst that sober accounting – and please correct me if there are major initiatives of which I am not aware – multiple organization in the field have been called to post statements that demonstrate their solidarity. Below are some that came across my various feeds, with links where available. If you would like to see any of these that do not have links, let me know.
National Association of Certified Professional Midwives (NACOM)
The subject line for the statement to their list was simply “Stand Up!” Below the headline were seven raised and clenched fists shading from white to black, in solidarity. They start, with the following, bolded:
NACPM acknowledges the depth of pain, outrage, heartbreak and trauma suffered by the black community throughout our country following the murder of George Floyd over a week ago at the hands of members of the police force, those whose job it is to protect.
The statement includes a direct call to white midwives:
“We also call upon the white midwives among us to confront our own privilege and power. Watch Van Jones’ cogent call to white liberals to move past innocence, to look in the mirror and find in our own lives how to dismantle the contempt for black lives that pervades our country. We must see, understand, and address our own racism, and we have an obligation to use our privilege to elevate and support black leaders in our organizations and in our communities.”
I include the entire NACPM statement below.
International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT)
The message to their list began with a simple statement that the IAYT “is committed to being an equitable and inclusive association,” noting that “after all, the essence of Yoga is unity.” They then spoke to an action step:
With humility and compassion, we continue to evolve, creating a yoga therapy profession grounded in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). To that end, the IAYT Board of Directors endorses and fully supports the creation of an IAYT DEI task force. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the IAYT organizational culture is transparent and one in which all members are valued and have a sense of belonging and purpose. The primary charge to the task force is (1) to inspire a deeper understanding of how IAYT reflects DEI in its programs, activities, and publications; (2) to foster a more diverse organization that reflects the diversity of our membership and the yoga therapy community; and (3) to incorporate key elements of diversity in our strategic guidance.
They note that “while this effort has been in long development, recent events have highlighted its importance and how crucial it is to complete the work yet to be done.” The Task Force is expected to announce some steps shortly.
Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI)
The headline of the letter from CHI was “Healing Our Nation: Addressing Systemic Trauma with Communities of Color.” In a brief introductory notice, CHI founder Shamini Jain, PhD writes of the “first step” of response from those:
We have been engaged in deep dialogue with one another on how we foster an end to the paralyzing, traumatic experiences caused by systemic racism, through holistic and non-violent means … To further open our collective hearts, minds and dialogue, we are offering as a first step, this joint letter from many leaders in the health and healing field. In this letter we address the systemic nature of racism and trauma, as well as offer practical holistic recommendations for both personal and societal healing. This open letter to the nation on behalf of leaders in the integrative and mental health fields is a call to action for our government leaders as well as ourselves.
Thea statement was signed by nearly 40 individuals. Sections focus on restorative justice, and skills training. Multiple leaders of the Academy for Integrative Health and Medicine were signers. I was honored to be invited to be among those backing the letter. The goal is to “offer some practical guidelines for fostering resilience and non-violent action beginning now.”
University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine
The letter from Victoria Maizes, MD, MPH, executive director of the Weil Center to the “AZCIM Family” was entitled “from out hearts to yours.” The message speaks to the depth of the patterns of racism, and the Center’s commitment to healing. The statement concluded with Nelson Mandela’s simple and difficult affirmation:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Attached to the letter was a terrific set of articles, books, organizations and other resources provided courtesy of the Faculty Diversity Advisory Committee of the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Institute for Natural Medicine (INM)
The not-for-profit charitable organization associated with the naturopathic medical professions began its statement with a expression of sadness and then turned to the harmful heath impact of racism, and a statement of organizational commitment:
We recognize the traumatic effect that long-standing institutional racism has and current events are having on communities across the US, especially black communities, and we stand in unity with those calling for change. Public-facing initiatives comprise much of our work. We are committed to understanding where our platforms, influence, and authority can be used to make progress in creating long-term health equity and dismantling racism – and to use them.
American Chiropractic Association (ACA)
On June 4, 2020, the ACA published a media release on their “Statement Acknowledging Need for Greater Racial Equality.” The statement is entitled Inequity in Culture Leads to Inequity in Health Care. The statement speaks to the ACA’s commitment and includes this action:
To this end, ACA has taken steps toward educating and informing our members. In December 2018, the ACA Diversity Commission drafted a Diversity Statement that promotes the development of cultural agility through “enhanced skills and knowledge of the needs of a multicultural society and [a] commitment to inclusion that begins with broader concepts of diversity.” We believe those skills and that commitment are the foundation of competent health care. Sadly, the racism we have witnessed in the news over the past few weeks is a symptom of something much deeper. It is the most visible sign of a problem within the systems that affect our daily lives, such as education, government and, most certainly, health care. ACA is committed to alleviating healthcare disparities by helping our members to understand and meet the needs of the diverse populations they serve.
National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA)
NADA is the exceptional integrative organization that was born in the heart of a black community – New York City’s South Bronx – in the early 1970s as part of a community based effort to provide healthcare services on the white government apparatus was failing to provide. The NADA notice in an introduction to their newsletter recalls the origins:
We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and everyone taking action against racist police violence, as well as the interrelated work of building community-centered care … Black lives matter. The NADA protocol was developed at Lincoln Detox, a radical community care and recovery center. It is our responsibility as a NADA community to know our history & carry on the work started at Lincoln. We, the NADA team, are committed to taking further steps to prioritize racial and economic justice within our organization, work, and vision.
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP)
The AANP’s letter, signed by its president and head of the organization’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, begins with a brief statement; “We see you. We hear you. We grieve with you. We stand with you.” They continue, linking their commitment to their principles:
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) believes that health and wellness are human rights. We recognize that our country, once again, is facing the reality that these rights have not been extended to all of its citizens, most disproportionately affecting Black people. The AANP supports and stands in solidarity with those who have and continue to raise their voices in the fight for these basic rights. We remain firm in our oath of “First Do No Harm,” which includes standing up and speaking out against systemic and institutional racism and the injustice and rampant, persistent discrimination Black people continue to face.
When I wrote in the introduction that my spouse and I “were quite aware of how little we know and understand” I was thinking both of the ways we participate in institutional racist and micro processes, and more, on how to right things. I am acutely aware that, other than the midwives and IM4US, raising consciousness and action on race, equity and justice are very rarely routinely near the center of to the integrative field’s dashboards. It serves the memory of George Floyd, and all the history that came before him, for us to learn to do better. I share the entire statement, from the one entity amongst us that has devoted the most energy to addressing racism in the country, and more importantly, in its own practices:
NACPM acknowledges the depth of pain, outrage, heartbreak and trauma suffered by the black community throughout our country following the murder of George Floyd over a week ago at the hands of members of the police force, those whose job it is to protect. George Floyd was the latest unarmed black person killed by a policeman, who knelt on his neck as he pleaded for his life and help from his mother, even past the time when he became unconscious, surrounded by other officials complicit in this crime and by yet others begging for his life to be spared. And all of this was video recorded by a 17-year-old, mirroring multiple previous video documentations of the killing of unarmed black people by officials and citizens, and echoing the haunting words repeated, “I can’t breathe”.
The demonstrations in countless cities throughout the country over this past week are a cry of mortal anguish by people pushed to the edge of despair and a thunderous call for reform and redress at long last. They are taking place during a once-in-a century pandemic, with1.7 million testing positive for the virus and over 108,000 dead from it in the United States alone, where people are willing to risk their lives to be heard and cause change once and for all. The legacy of racism from our country’s original sins of slavery and genocide ripples through this country’s history, institutions and structures and is most acutely experienced by black and indigenous people and other communities of color every day of their lives. We can no longer tolerate it! Murder is the most extreme instance, but racism underpins the everyday devasting social and health inequities and disparities suffered by black and indigenous people in the United States, including the deplorable mortality and morbidity rates for black birthing people, and the disparate illness and death experienced from COVID-19. The centuries of resources stolen and misappropriated from black and indigenous people and communities of color underly all the inequities and all the injustices suffered by people of color in our country today.
We are inspired by the hundreds of thousands of advocates demonstrating and by the strength and resilience of black leaders around the country in these terrible times – governors, mayors, police chiefs, commentators, celebrities, and people coast to coast. We are heartened by the racial diversity of the demonstrators, by the police and government officials who are out there listening, kneeling, empathizing, and comforting. We are deeply saddened by the death and destruction that is occuring, where, as usual, the damage and loss is falling most heavily on communities and businesses owned by black and other people of color, further eroding in flames resources already too scarce. We ache when we see protest against unnecessary force being met with unnecessary force by law enforcement. We deplore extremist groups who are taking advantage of these troubled times to incite violence and destruction for their own ends.
Our country and our leaders are not helpless in the face of these demands for justice! We call on our leaders, from the president to Congress to state and local governments, agencies and police departments, for a response that immediately raises the standards for law enforcement and eliminates the policies that resulted directly in the death of George Floyd and so many countless others. And we call on our leaders to urgently address the underlying social inequities and conditions that fuel and sustain injustice every day in our country and, beginning today, to devote resources where the suffering is greatest.
As midwives, we must stand up, show up and speak up now more than ever! As midwives, we must acknowledge that reproductive justice is inextricably linked to racial justice. In these deeply troubled times, NACPM renews our core commitments to equity. We will continue and double down on our work to eliminate racial inequities and disparities in birth outcomes, by dismantling systemic racism in midwifery and the perinatal care system, while investing in a strong, racially, ethnically and socially representative CPM workforce. We unapologetically and urgently commit to these ideals and to work with actionable results.
We also call upon the white midwives among us to confront our own privilege and power. Watch Van Jones’ cogent call to white liberals to move past innocence, to look in the mirror and find in our own lives how to dismantle the contempt for black lives that pervades our country. We must see, understand, and address our own racism, and we have an obligation to use our privilege to elevate and support black leaders in our organizations and in our communities. NACPM’s Equity Resource Guide offers a wealth of resources to engage, grow and change with.
We must do better – as a nation, as citizens, as midwives – and we will!