Health equity and climate change: U-M alumna connects dots at MLK Health Sciences Lecture

January 22, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Michigan Medicine News,

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In honor of the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., U-M hosts a week of events aimed at thought-provoking conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion.

This year’s theme, “The (Mis)education of US,” highlights the miseducation and misunderstandings around diversity, culture and stereotypes.

On Monday, as part of the festivities, the U-M Health Sciences Committee presented its 30th annual Martin Luther King Jr., Day Lecture featuring Jalonne White-Newsome, Ph.D., who earned her doctorate from the U-M School of Public Health.

The theme of the event was “The (Mis)education of US on Climate and Health” and it drew a large crowd of faculty and staff to Dow Auditorium at University Hospital.

The event opened with a singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — a song historically referred to as the Black National Anthem. The U-M Health Sciences Committee then premiered a video showcasing various student perspectives on health equity.

Finally, White-Newsome — a senior program officer at The Kresge Foundation who is also a researcher on climate, health and equity — delivered a compelling keynote address on the current national state of health equity as it relates to climate change.

“How does a global problem become a bigger problem for black, brown and lower socioeconomic communities?” asked White-Newsome to the diverse audience that filled the auditorium. “Because those are the communities who feel the impact first and worst — as a result of systematic racism, mis-association, miseducation and plain old missing the mark.”

Making the connection

Throughout the lecture, White-Newsome shared examples — both personal and empirical — that connected the effects of climate change and structural racism.

For instance, she shared how health equity and climate change are directly related — especially in terms of dirty air, pollution, severe flooding and heat waves. She also shared the importance of protecting and educating children, homeless people and older populations on the seriousness of the effects of climate change. By providing information about the various available public health resources, such as public heating and cooling centers, lives can be saved.

“We must continue to connect and work together, intersectionally, and make each other’s fight our own,” said White-Newsome. “We have to respond head-on and reform what’s not working.”

White-Newsome also empathized with the challenge of determining credible resources for climate change education. She referred the audience to the Lancet Report as the best nonpartisan resource for tracking climate change. The report can be found here.

White-Newsome also shared a list of organizations and reference materials for further education on climate change and impactful methods of combatting the societal impacts.

An important week

White-Newsome’s lecture was sponsored by the Health Sciences Planning Committee, which includes the School of Dentistry, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Nursing, the School of Public Health, the School of Social Work, the College of Pharmacy, the Medical School/Office for Health Equity and Inclusion (OHEI)/Michigan Medicine, the U-M Flint College of Health Sciences, and the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research (MICHR).

The event was part of a busy week at U-M. Earlier on Monday, educator, author and activist Angela Davis, Ph.D., delivered a speech at Hill Auditorium, which was filled to capacity. You can view her speech here.

And even more events are scheduled throughout the rest of this week. Click here to see a full MLK Symposium schedule.

Miss the Health Sciences Lecture? Click through the photo gallery above to check out scenes from Dow Auditorium!

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