GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 3

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This is a guest post by Nebat Ali, PhD Candidate, UCSF Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Program

One of the final pieces we read as part of this course was an article by Boyd et al titled “On Racism: A New Standard For Publishing On Racial Health Inequities”. This article encompasses many of the concepts we discussed in class and exemplifies how racism continues to be maintained in our medical and scientific spaces. As the article states, racism is “America’s earliest tradition” and was used as the foundation for all aspects of American society.

As someone who grew up in the Bay Area, there seems to be the misconception that liberal parts of our country are somehow free of these frameworks. This is far from being true, and one can quickly come to this realization by taking a brief look into the history of our institutions.

Fifty years ago, Black employees at UCSF initiated the formation of the Black Caucus- the first affinity-based group established in the UC-system- in order to protest the racist policies and mistreatment they faced at UCSF. Members of the Black Caucus coined The Medical Center at Parnassus “The Plantation on the Hill” due to the discriminatory practices they faced in the workplace (reference linked below). As a united voice the Black Caucus demanded for the improvement of their working conditions and for their fair treatment. In addition, they also fought strongly to advocate for the recruitment and retention of Black students at UCSF. When I casually walk through the halls of my building or sit and have lunch in the cafeteria, I’m often reminded that only fifty years ago Black and Brown UCSF employees didn’t have the right to freely navigate through campus the way that I do. The strikes and protests organized by the Black Caucus were transformative, and while their impacts are still felt today there is still a long road ahead in order to dismantle the systems of oppression these institutions were built on. Within our own communities in San Francisco, we are witnessing and experiencing some of the most alarming disparities in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

I have a vivid memory of a discussion that took place in a microbiology course I was taking early in the pandemic that revolved around genetic predispositions to severe COVID-19 infections. It was even more troubling to see subsequent studies that additionally failed to assert the contributions of racism in the prevention, detection, and treatment of COVID-19 infection. As we discussed through some of our previous readings, studies like these result in both the erasure of systemic racism’s impact on health as well as the large numbers of Black scholars who specialize in this area of research. Some of the recommendations provided by the Boyd et al article will be critical in improving the practices in scientific research that ultimately contribute to this. In the case of the pandemic, I always find myself wondering how beneficial NIH funds could have been if they were redirected to provide care to highly impacted Black and Brown communities instead of being used to do poor research and/or research that is only tangentially related to the virus. In order to begin repairing the damage that’s been done, it will additionally be important to consider how federal funds are allocated to agencies like the NIH and CDC. Improper allocation of funds to these agencies can sequester money away from developing sustainable care programs in underserved communities and subsequently direct them to research practices that only reinforce racism in science and medicine.

UCSF Black Caucus Records Re-description Project

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This post has been written by Jazmin Dew.

Group photograph of the original Members at the UCSF Black Caucus Gala in February 2005. From left to right are Elba Clemente-Lambert, Charles Clarey, Claudette Coleman, Freeman Bradley, Anitra (Koehler) Patterson, Paul Porter, Leon Johnson, and Walter "Pop" Nelson (sitting).
Founding members at the UCSF Black Caucus Gala in February 2005. From the left to right: Elba Clemente-Lambert, Charles Clarey, Claudette Coleman, Freeman Bradley, Anitra (Koehler) Patterson, Paul Porter, Leon Johnson, and Walter “Pop” Nelson (sitting).

We are thrilled to announce that the UCSF Black Caucus Records digital collection has added and updated descriptions for over 400 items. The collection documents the history of the UCSF Black Caucus, which began in 1968 to address the social inequalities and inequities at the University of California. It contains photographs, videos, correspondence, publications, and meeting materials about the formation and activities of the Black Caucus. Some of the major events held by the UCSF Black Caucus include the protest to end of racism and discrimination at the University of California, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Week and Black History Month programs, in conjunction with other campus organizations including the Women’s Resource Center, and annual Gala fundraisers.

Group photograph of the founding members of the UCSF Black Caucus in December 2013 taken at the Millberry Union following Dr. Daniel Lowenstein’s “Last Lecture Series” at Cole Hall. Standing, left to right, are Bill Stevens, Joseph Lambert, Elba Clemente-Lambert, Michael Adams, Norma Faris Taylor, Dr. John Watson, and Charles Clarey. Sitting, left to right, are Joanne Lewis, Carol Yates, Ethel Adams, Crystal Morris, Karen Newhouse.
Founding members of the UCSF Black Caucus in December 2013 at the Millberry Union following Dr. Daniel Lowenstein’s “Last Lecture Series” at Cole Hall. . Standing, left to right, are Bill Stevens, Joseph Lambert, Elba Clemente-Lambert, Michael Adams, Norma Faris Taylor, Dr. John Watson, and Charles Clarey. Sitting, left to right, are Joanne Lewis, Carol Yates, Ethel Adams, Crystal Morris, Karen Newhouse.

A substantial portion of this incredible collection was complied, preserved, and donated to the archives by Elba Clemente-Lambert. Throughout the recent metadata enrichment project, she has painstakingly researched and provided more detailed descriptions of events and identification of individuals in photographs. Mrs. Clemente-Lambert collaborated with her UCSF colleagues and former Black Caucus members (now retirees) on what became a true crowdsourcing project that couldn’t have been successfully accomplished without her guidance and community support. (We will list the names of all people who supported this project in future blog posts). These additions will enable users to learn about the organization’s history, membership, leadership, and accomplishments.

Elba Clemente-Lambert sitting
Elba Clemente-Lambert

Elba Clemente-Lambert was born and raised in Spanish Harlem in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York. Mrs. Clemente-Lambert received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Psychology from the City University of New York. She began her career in 1968 at UCSF as a Secretary II in the Department of Neurology. Then, she obtained an on-the-job training position (initiated by the efforts of the UCSF Black Caucus) in the Personnel Department (now Human Resources). Soon after joining the University of California, Elba became one of the founding members of the UCSF Black Caucus. She was elected to various positions in the Black Caucus’ Steering Committee, including Corresponding Secretary and Chair of the Publications Committee, as well as Member-at-Large. However, one of her most important positions was as “the unofficial, but official” photographer. Her passion for photography began in her high school journalism class, which stirred her belief that “we need to document what is occurring in our environment and beyond”. This dedication unintentionally led her to become a historian for the UCSF Black Caucus. Elba worked at UCSF until 1997 when she retired as a Senior Human Resource Specialist. In retirement, Elba continued to work occasionally with the UCSF Black Caucus while involved in the management of Creative Music Emporium (records store), established in April 1985 together with her late husband, first Black Officer hired at UCSF, Joseph G. Lambert, who decided to change his career after serving 18 years to become an entrepreneur in the music industry.   

We would like to express our gratitude to all those who helped make this project possible: Mrs. Clemente-Lambert, Marisa McFarlane, and Charles Macquarie.

To learn more about the current activities of the UCSF Black Caucus, check out this link: https://blackcaucus.ucsf.edu/

To explore more materials from the UCSF Black Caucus Records, check out the collection on digital portal, Calisphere and the Online Archive of California (OAC).