Steps from where white supremacists held a banner last month protesting the hospital’s antiracism work, several dozen employees at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Thursday held up a banner of their own, this one broadcasting the staff’s unity against racism.
The event was coordinated by Brigham and Women’s communications staff after employees voiced a desire to come together. In January, two dozen people affiliated with a neo-Nazi group held up a sign that read “B&W Hospital Kills Whites,” protesting the hospital’s work to reduce inequities in medicine.
Staff standing behind the hospital’s “United Against Racism” banner presented a counterimage.
“I believe that we have to take the opportunity anytime you have a chance to speak up and say and express our feelings regarding racism and discrimination,” said Izabel Lima, a unit coordinator at the Brigham.
Lima said as a Brazilian and woman of color, she understood how difficult it could be to break barriers for equality and said change would only come by speaking up.
Jennifer Latoza, an IV nurse at the Brigham, wasn’t even aware of the neo-Nazi demonstration but said she participated to help bring awareness to inequities.
“I have a grandson who is half-Black, and when I hear or see the things that are happening to persons of color in the news, it literally hurts my heart. And I want the world to be a better place for him,” Latoza said.
Dr. Sunil Eappen, chief medical officer at the Brigham, said at the event that many hospitals across Mass General Brigham’s system had posted the United Against Racism banner on their campuses. Holding an event around it at the Brigham broadcast not only to the campus internally but also to the community at large the work the hospital is doing.
The lawn where the group gathered, at 15 Francis St., has been the site of a variety of demonstrations, including a memorial demonstration in honor of George Floyd in June 2020, where staff kneeled in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Floyd’s murder, coupled with poorer COVID outcomes for minority residents, is what sparked the hospital’s wide-reaching work around equity two years ago. That work has included rooting out race classifications in electronic medical records and algorithms that have hurt the care of minority patients. Dr. Robert Higgins, president of Brigham and Women’s, said it made sense to reaffirm that work during Black History Month, especially weeks after the white supremacist demonstration.
“It creates an opportunity for us to dispel the rumors and the lack of understanding of what the issues are,” Higgins said. “We want people to understand the facts, the science, the importance of disparities in care, to make a difference in everybody’s life.”