Letters to the UMB Community

Reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2021

January 18, 2021

“In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 
Those words from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail ring especially true today. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic, we see exactly how our lives and actions are related — how the masks we put on, the space we give, and the precautions we take help keep each other healthy and safe.
And, while I appreciate thinking about the interrelatedness we share facing COVID-19, Dr. King’s words, written from a jail cell, are not about how we should practice social distancing. They are a call for justice — a justice that we have not yet realized. 
The pandemic-level need for social justice continues to exist in this country. We declare that Black Lives Matter, because we continue to see so many examples of where our Black siblings’ lives are cut short, treated unfairly, and denied opportunities. To live into the promise of this country, that all are equal, we must continue to take action. We must, as Dr. King writes, “bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” 
To be true to our mission, we have to address issues of structural racism and inequality directly through educational programs, with our community engagement work, and in our academic pursuits. The University of Maryland, Baltimore can set a public example by examining our own faults and being unafraid of what may be uncomfortable or inconvenient — on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day and every day. 
Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS

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