Monday, January 11, 2010

Honoring Dr. King

These are remarks delivered by our COO, Eric Buehrens, this past week at our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial celebration:

It’s a pleasure to be here and to see this community come together in reverence for the memory of Dr. King, his work and legacy.

I hate talking about race in platitudes. It’s perhaps the most difficult, volatile and emotional topic in American social discourse, and so of course we do what we often do when faced with difficult and controversial topics, which is to either not talk about it at all, change the topic, or talk in platitudes.

I’m old enough to remember when Boston was a very different city and when a person of color risked life and limb if they walked on the wrong side of Dorchester Avenue, or got off at the wrong T stop, or as happened to Ted Landsmark, just happened to be walking across City Hall Plaza at the wrong time.

I’m also old enough to remember the heyday of the civil rights movement, the struggles and successes, and the murders of black and white civil rights activists, and then of course the assassination of Dr. King himself.

It would be easy to reflect on those days and then on the man who took office as President of the United States a year ago and deliver a homily on “see how much progress we have made”. And of course we have made progress. As maddening and backward as this great country can be in many, many ways, we change. Too slowly, and often at high cost, but we find a way to have the difficult conversations and we change.

But just last night in this hospital, we had an incident where a group of employees were sitting around at shift change in the locker room, and in the course of chatting and bantering, a white employee made a highly, highly offensive remark to an African American co-worker. Maybe innocently, maybe not with racist intent, but a stupid and thoughtless insult nonetheless.

I was pretty gratified to learn that the supervisor, an old white guy like me, heard about it at home and got in his car and drove in to talk to the employee who was offended as well as the one who made the remark. This supervisor had the presence of mind to know that this was important, and to understand that the only way we change and grow as a community and as a society is to face our history and the legacy of racial division with honesty and a commitment to change. That is this hospital’s commitment to our community and to every one of our employees.

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