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'Achieving the Dream'
Health Parity Is Theme of 30th Martin Luther King Observance

By Carla Garnett

Photos by Ernie Branson

On the Front Page...

Inspiring words and song characterized NIH's 30th annual observance of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Featuring a provocative address by keynote speaker Dr. Rodney Hood, president of the National Medical Association (NMA), and stirring musical tributes — first by the Morgan State University Choir, then by the NIH Day Care Song and Dance Troupe — the Jan. 12 program, themed "Achieving the Dream: Health Parity in the 21st Century," was a fitting commemoration for a national hero.


"Dr. King serves as a symbol to each of us that progress can be made even with the testing of our own courage and strength, if we but dedicate our own advantage, wisdom and efforts to ensure that all Americans have equal opportunity," said Dr. Vivian Pinn, NIH associate director for research on women's health and emcee for the celebration.

Show Stealers: Back by popular demand, the NIH Preschool Song & Dance Troupe performed several selections to rave reviews.

"We can accomplish so much on Dr. King's behalf," added Dr. Yvonne Maddox, NIH acting deputy director. "Dr. King once said, 'Of all forms of inequity, injustice in health is the most inhumane.' Dr. King was not only a brilliant man, but he was a diverse man. He was a proud man and a man of vision. I think he would be very pleased today that NIH also has a vision, a vision that has led us to examine the health status of all people...Through our individual efforts, his work and his dream can continue even though he is not here with us."

Keynote speaker Dr. Rodney Hood addresses the annual King assembly.

Hood, who was installed to lead the NMA — the largest professional and scientific organization of black physicians in the U.S. — last August, and who was recently appointed to the Surgeon General's steering committee to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities, shared a historical perspective of such health gaps. He linked them to slavery and wondered aloud whether significant progress has been made.

"Dr. King was a revolutionary of the first order," said Hood. "He fought on the front lines of the civil rights battle with commitment and compassion for freedom, justice and equality for all Americans, a battle for which he gave his life."

Hood said he believed if King were alive today, the visionary would give a mixed review of the current state of the nation's civil rights.

The Morgan State University Choir led the audience in "We Shall Overcome."

"Certainly over the past three decades, some blacks have achieved a higher social economic status, a higher level of education, better work advancement or an improvement in health," he continued. "But, has there been substantial improvement for the masses? I will not attempt to answer that question today, but everything we know about Dr. King — this man, this revolutionary — suggests he would be appalled and incredibly saddened."

Citing statistics from as far back as 1980, Hood said blacks' overall health has deteriorated in almost every category since that decade. "Blacks suffer excessive morbidity and mortality and have the highest death rates in 14 of the 16 leading causes of death in this country," he said. "Many of these deaths are preventable with known, basic, cost-effective medical treatment."

Program participants Dr. Richard Harrison of NIDA and Elizabeth Chao of the Clinical Center read parts in the King litany.

Asserting a correlation between the poorer health status of minorities and the lingering effects of racism in the nation, Hood concluded his remarks by proposing establishment of a $15 billion international, multicultural health policy and research institute — to be named in honor of King — that would conduct social scientific research on ways "to lessen disease from all forms of racism."

Before the keynote address, the tone of the program was set by performances of traditional gospel music by an NIH perennial favorite, the Morgan State University Choir, under the direction of Dr. Nathan Carter. Also making a command return appearance was the culturally diverse NIH preschool troupe, directed by Lucretia Watkins-Diaby. In a unique interpretation of the King commemorative litany, NIH'ers read the lead parts in several different languages including Chinese, English, Ghanaian, Hindi, Osage, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. The program concluded with the audience linked arm in arm, singing a standard from King's nonviolent protests, "We Shall Overcome."

Keynote speaker Hood (second from r) is welcomed to NIH by (from l) Dr. John Ruffin, director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, NIH acting deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox and Dr. Vivian Pinn, NIH associate director for research on women's health and Hood's cousin.

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