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Powerful Images Used to Spark Conversation About Social Justice Issues :

September 17, 2017

Editor's note: The 2017 AAP National Conference & Exhibition will take place from Sept. 16-19 in Chicago.

Images have the power to move people to examine issues like racism and inequality, and teach us about social justice.

In her Sunday plenary “Snapshots for Social Justice: Social Media for Advocacy,” Rhea Boyd, MD, MPH, FAAP, flashed powerful images to urge audience members to think about how these images can reveal racism, inequality and social injustice.

“Some of the images I’m going to show you are difficult to view and some may be triggering,” she said. “I encourage you to look away … But I want us to have a conversation about their power.”

Picture four Muslim women from the Twin Cities praying in the grass after their mosque was bombed during morning prayers. Or 3-year-old refugee Alan Kurdi, whose small, lifeless body washed up on the Turkish coast after he drowned. Or the bloodied body of Emmett Till shown to the world by his mother after he was murdered for “whistling at a white girl.” A more recent photo captured white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“These types of images moved people and have moved organizations like the AAP about how we talk about and address racism in our daily lives,” said Dr. Boyd, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee.

As symbols, images help make sense of the world and help move us beyond our windows.

The brain recognizes a familiar image within 100 milliseconds, about the time it takes to blink. The most recognizable images are moments that have moved us, Dr. Boyd said. “They stir something in us like a memory or an emotion. At their best, they move us to action.”

“You need not be in Baltimore after the murder of Freddie Gray to know what it’s like to be an African-American boy living in a police state,” Dr. Boyd said.

As windows, these images offer proximity and emotional closeness to a subject we might not have personally experienced, she said. They create opportunities for empathy, which can help us shift resources and public attention to help create public policy to achieve social justice.

She encouraged pediatricians to be mindful of marginalized patients, especially those in communities of color.

“We need to think about our hierarchies to elevate broad voices, to name the problem and fund the solution… Think about what it means to choose empathy,” she said. “… we should think of our offices as safe spaces.”

Be accountable to each other. Choose empathy, she told the audience.

“Social justice in pediatrics is ultimately about how we operate. To make the vulnerable and the marginalized not just visible but to give them power.”

Follow Dr. Boyd on Twitter @rheaboydmd. 

For more coverage of the AAP National Conference & Exhibition visit and follow AAPNews on Twitter and Facebook.

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