The following statement on the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests was issued by Susan G. Komen CEO Paula Schneider. As an organization working every day to save lives, Komen Philadelphia certainly echoes Paula’s sentiments. As authorities, organizations and governments work tirelessly to protect lives at risk in this current situation, Komen Philadelphia remains focused on continuing to work on our breast cancer mission to make sure those efforts aren’t in vain. Whether it’s violence, COVID-19 or any type of effort to save lives, we advance our mission to help ensure lives saved in one arena aren’t lost later on to breast cancer. Moreover, with African Americans comprising approximately 75% of the population we serve, a top priority in Komen Philadelphia’s mission today is our breast health equity initiative that works to ensure African-American women have equal access to the same high-quality of care as other populations, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. We are proud to say we are moving the needle on increasing early detection and, ultimately, survival among black women in our community.
By Paula Schneider
CEO, Susan G. Komen
Like so many, I’m angry and saddened about the events occurring in our country this week. We all should be. Yet this is about more than the death of George Floyd, as grotesque and tragic as that was. This is about the hundreds of other black men and women who have suffered similar fates. This is not an isolated incident, but a symptom of a larger problem and need for social justice that has existed for generations. Let this moment be the awakening we need to do better as a people.
At Susan G. Komen we have long believed that where a person lives and what a person looks like should not determine whether they live. Yet it would be naive to believe that this is not the case. As a white woman, I cannot possibly understand or appreciate what it is like to walk in my black neighbors’ shoes. I don’t have to worry about what will happen if I am pulled over. I don’t have to fear that my mere presence will be seen by some as a threat and any innocent misstep will be perceived as an act of aggression. I have not had to have “the talk” with my children about interacting with police.
While we are a breast cancer organization, the issue of social justice is an issue for us all. We cannot achieve health equity until we achieve social justice. Health inequity is on display every time the U.S. faces a health-related crisis — think back to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when African Americans impacted by the hurricane faced the additional indignity of being unable to access necessary health care from no fault of their own. Now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that African Americans are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This has little to do with race or genetics and everything to do with the terrible health disparities that have existed in African American communities in the United States — and have been largely ignored for decades.
When it comes to medical research in the U.S., African Americans have long been victims of racism, from J. Marion Sims honing his surgery techniques on slave women without anesthesia, to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment conducted on unsuspecting African American males, to Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cells were used for years to develop vaccines and test the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones, and viruses on cancer cells without her family’s consent or knowledge (and without compensation). Even today, African Americans are rarely asked to participate in clinical trials, which limits their options and limits our true understanding of a potential treatment’s effectiveness. It is outrageous that now, in 2020, access to quality health care is still out of reach for so many. It is unconscionable that so many people are unaware that these disparities exist, and it is offensive that those in power who are aware have chosen not to address them until people are dying.
We all should be banding together, to support people of all races as we stand in solidarity and uplift the voices already in this fight. We can’t keep repeating history. This is an ongoing saga of outrageousness in our country that has got to end today. We must be better than this.