"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday we celebrate the transcendent life and work of a great American, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His influence was worldwide, and here in Mississippi, the power of his vision and his unrelenting drive for justice was nothing short of revolutionary.
As I think about what has changed since he said those words in 1963, it's striking. Many of the goals he sought - the right to vote, to have equal access to education and public facilities - have long been achieved. Just as important, I believe the attitudes of most Americans have also changed for the better.
But in some ways, we've just scratched the surface. Our society remains largely segregated socially and economically. And although many black citizens have gained “upward mobility,” the American Dream seems to be increasingly harder to reach for too many.
The story is much the same at UMMC. We have made enormous progress since the early 1960s. Our attitudes have changed, but we do not have all the results we want.
We have a diverse and inclusive workforce. But we don't have rich diversity in our middle and upper management and in our faculty.
Our student body is diverse overall, but our Schools of Medicine and Dentistry still have too few African Americans.
We have worked hard to correct this. We have been national leaders in the holistic admissions movement, which goes beyond scholastic achievement as the sole criterion in evaluating the qualifications of applicants. And we have had the great fortune to receive the financial support of Jim and Donna Barksdale for scholarships to keep our state's most accomplished minority medical students at UMMC.
For medical schools, in particular, the recruitment of black male students has become a national problem. Last summer, the Association of American Medical Colleges released a report that illuminated the challenge. From 1978 through 2014, even while the number of black male college students rose, their applications to medical school declined from 1,410 to 1,337.
This is very concerning. Fortunately, UMMC is running slightly counter to this trend. Since 2010, the number of black male applicants to our medical school has increased each year.
But we could be better, and quite frankly, with the nation's largest proportion of black residents, and far too few African American doctors, Mississippi has to be much better than the national average on this measure. Because it's not just a medical school problem - this has implications for the future health of our state's citizens.
That's why I'm so proud of what happened here on a recent Saturday in December. Two of our medical students, Michael Chiadika and Jeremy Stocks, organized a recruitment event for male African-American high school and college students.
With visits to the gross anatomy lab, the simulation center and the emergency department, the 35 attendees got the chance to “test drive” medical school. Perhaps more important, they were able to interact with role models they can relate to - African- American students, residents and faculty.
How fortunate we are to have two students - and our entire student body - who feel such a keen sense of social responsibility.
And that brings to mind another quote attributed to Dr. King:
"The time is always right to do what is right."
As we keep choosing day by day to do what is right, I believe we will one day fully achieve his dream. And we will be that much closer to A Healthier Mississippi.