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MLK Day speaker explores health inequality issues

Jan. 24, 2013, 9:01 AM

The Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D., M.Div., discusses health care and Civil Rights during his Martin Luther King Jr. Day address Monday. (photo by John Russell)

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day address at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was part statement about progress toward health goals, and part sermon about the need to finish the march to the promised land of health equality.

The Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D., M.Div., a former Vanderbilt faculty member and current pastor and chief executive of St. Andrew AME Church in Memphis, delivered the 2013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address Monday in Light Hall.

Robinson, a former Tennessee Chief Health Officer and a Nashville native, explained to the capacity audience that because he is a preacher, they should expect something of a sermon.
Then he launched into a history of Civil Right efforts from Presidents Abraham Lincoln through John F. Kennedy, King and President Obama.

At each point along the timeline, Robinson gave examples of successes, but also brought the audience an understanding of what work remained at that time.

He said today, 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, with a black President celebrating his inauguration to a second term, there is still much work to be done.

“Today, there are no hospitals that will refuse to admit people of color, but every hospital is full of African-Americans whose health is half as good as their white counterparts, whose life expectancy is five years shorter — 11 years shorter for African-American males compared with white females,” Robinson said.

Robinson urged the audience of mostly faculty and students in health and medical fields to keep these “triple aim” goals in mind: better population health; better care at a lower cost; and a shift from treatment to prevention. He said the time is now, with the Affordable Care Act, to address socioeconomic inequities, and to keep in mind that race is still an issue in this country.

“If I were to retitle this talk it would be ‘It’s about time,’” Robinson said. “Today there is a man in Washington, D.C., who looks like me: a man of color. But more important: a man of character. Barack Obama is finding a way forward.

“On this day I say to him, when we celebrate your inauguration, when you put your hand on the Bible, I hear Dr. King say it is time to go get what is ours. It’s about time to take us to the promised land,” he said.

To view Robinson’s lecture, go here.

Also at the event, Carol Etherington MSN, R.N., associate director of Community Health Initiatives and associate professor of Nursing, received the annual Martin Luther King Jr. award.

The award is given to a caregiver who embodies what King stood for.

Etherington is well known for with her work with underserved populations locally and globally.

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