"I can’t breathe." George Floyd’s final plea, a final statement of fact, made painfully evident to all of us as his life ended while a police officer held him down with a knee on his neck… as other officers stood by or assisted in restraining him…. as bystanders felt helpless to intervene in any manner other than to record the act, themselves intimidated by the brutality before them… the very same plea uttered by Eric Garner before he died at the hands of police in 2014.

We, at Charlotte AHEC are deeply saddened and outraged by the cycle in which, with appalling frequency, Black men and women are harmed by those who are supposed to protect them and are suppressed in their ongoing struggles for equality and justice. Such struggles should be a common cause of evident importance to all Americans. We therefore share the national shame that to be a person of color in America is to not feel fully safe, seen, heard or equal. We deeply regret the circumstances that have led to well-justified protests and will stand allied with those who seek permanent and just reforms.

In addition, we recognize that the legacies of slavery and discrimination create a magnified impact on the lives of Black men and women and are additionally manifested through an extraordinary number of social determinants of health across all marginalized communities. Prime among examples is the higher COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rate observed in Black and other underserved communities. But other disparities exist that impact health equity: access to acceptable housing; to appropriate fresh food sources; to meaningfully compensated work; to education; to freedom from exposure to environmental pollutants and access to appropriate green spaces. All these, and more, have prematurely ended lives in those communities still struggling to realize the American dreams of justice and equality for all. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “somehow we must come to see that in this pluralistic, interrelated society we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” March 14, 1968.

Charlotte AHEC’s mission is to improve the supply, distribution, retention and quality of primary care and other healthcare practitioners in medically underserved areas. However, we commit to the alleviation of inequities in every aspect of our daily work. We will increase focus on our values of diversity, excellence, and integrity. We will do this through timely and provocative continuing professional development for practicing and future healthcare professionals. We will carry the torch for justice and strive for the elimination of health disparities and social determinants of health in the communities we serve. We will improve health, elevate hope and caring, advance health equity and population health efforts for ALL and will be allies to those that do the same.

Join us in continuing our work to make our nation and the world in which we live a better place!

Michael Ruhlen, MD
Director, Charlotte AHEC

Joann Spaleta, FACHE
Assistant Vice President, Charlotte AHEC