2020 has been a year of both marking and making history. What the AAP has accomplished this past year — and in the 89 years that went before — is a great source of pride. The Academy is a stronghold of pediatric leadership, and our work has led to breakthrough advances in pediatrics, disease and injury prevention, as well as in promoting and protecting the health and well-being of children in all matters that affect their welfare.
Yet as we celebrate our legacy, we also must enter into the record where we have fallen short. To that end, the Academy has published a statement titled Truth, Reconciliation, and Transformation: Continuing on the Path to Equity, in the September issue of Pediatrics and the August issue of AAP News. The statement acknowledges that the AAP has not always lived up to its founding ideals and apologizes to those it has wronged.
This apology is long overdue — and a precondition for a better future.
The experience of our first Black members, Dr. Alonzo deGrate Smith and Dr. Roland Boyd Scott, reveals an AAP Executive Board that was not immune to racist attitudes and beliefs. From their initial rejection in 1939 to their eventual acceptance in 1945, Drs. Smith and Scott were made to bear numerous indignities and clear many hurdles, despite being successful clinicians and established leaders in the pediatric academic community. In fact, Dr. Scott would go on to receive the Abraham Jacobi Award, the Academy’s highest honor.
I am pleased that the AAP is vocalizing what for so long has gone unsaid and proud that we are turning those pains of conscience into plans of action.
Though AAP bylaws never explicitly prohibited physicians of color from membership, they did not go far enough to ensure their eligibility and acceptance. So, as part of the statement, the Board included its intention to introduce a long overdue bylaws referendum that clearly states membership eligibility does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
And we will continue to confront bigotry and racism through child health policy and programs as well as broader social change and community engagement. We will be counting on AAP chapters and all of our committees, councils and sections to share ideas about actions the AAP can take and to stand with us for the long term as we work toward equity.
Last summer, the AAP released a groundbreaking policy statement The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health, which defined racism as a social determinant of health. This policy has renewed salience in light of the deepening health, social and economic inequities laid bare by the coronavirus and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. With a reawakened conscience and deepened resolve, we continue to implement and build on this policy by combating racism in all of its forms.
Of course, there is much work ahead, but we are hopeful that the dramatic confluence of events sweeping our nation will make it possible for change to happen more quickly than before.
With children of color becoming the majority of our pediatric population, it is critical we embrace racial and ethnic socialization and wrap our arms around our nation’s youths, so they understand they are loved and cared for and have a bright, healthy future ahead.
As a young girl, I witnessed racism and was horrified by its ugly consequences. As a pediatrician, I have seen the harmful impacts racism has on development and health outcomes. As an American, I see how unjust structures and systems can devalue Black lives.
I know what stirs in my heart stirs among the hearts of all pediatricians. We come together to acknowledge our past, put an end to these injustices and open more pathways to equity so that every child has the opportunity to grow up in a world where they can achieve their full potential.