By Alicia Y. Christy, MD, MHSCR, FACOG
My mother was an activist, and my most important role model. She lived through segregation and was involved in the Montgomery boycott; the efforts of the NAACP; and her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first Black sorority. She refused to sit in the back of the bus, literally and figuratively. When my father was in dental school at Howard University, my mother worked at the Pentagon. Black people had to ride in the back of the bus in Virginia, but not in Washington, D.C. When the bus crossed into Virginia, my mother refused to move to the back. She was an outspoken advocate for civil rights for the Black community. When I was a little girl, she and my father purchased a NAACP lifetime membership for me. We were not the first Black family in our community, but the first Black family had crosses burned on their lawn, and during construction, the owner, a Black physician, and several of his friends had to guard the property so that it would not be ransacked.
When my father took the dental boards, he and the other Black candidates were forced to sing Negro spirituals before they began the exam. While stationed in New Jersey with the Army Dental Corps, my mother and father refused to live in segregated military housing. Black people were not allowed to live in the officer quarters, so my parents bought a trailer. I lost my father when I was 12, but both my parents were the model and the inspiration for my activism.
I believe racism is a critical factor in health disparities. Many social problems can be viewed from the context of public health problems. For example, the killing of unarmed Black men is both a social and public health problem. I use my artwork as a voice against social injustice. The George Floyd protests were the inspiration for Art Against Racism: When Will Black Lives Matter. The inspiration for COVID Tears was my frustration with the inequities in care that the Black community experienced during the pandemic. Proceeds from my artwork support the Black Doctors COVID Consortium.
Public policy affects health care access. It is critical to elect officials who will protect the health of the Black community. This need became clear during the pandemic when members of the Black community had disparate access to vaccines, testing, and mitigation efforts. For that reason, I am working with the National Medical Association on a nonpartisan initiative tentatively titled Electing Health Equity: Voting for Our Health in Color.