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Message from the President

June 12, 2020

There have been so many positive responses to my slide of George Floyd at the annual meeting that I feel compelled to write to the group.

We are a special group of people – by inclination and training - who take care of some of the most vulnerable patients in healthcare: children with heart problems. By nature we are compassionate and find it hard to see people suffer. The sight of a grown man pleading for his life, unable to breathe and calling out for his mother is one of the most horrifying and heartbreaking images I have ever witnessed. And like all of you, I have been witness to many a heartbreaking scene in my life.

We ask ourselves, how in this day and age, can so much cruelty exist, in, what is, supposedly, one of the most advanced countries on earth. The country that exemplifies the rule of law and proclaims justice for all.

Life will always be imperfect. In the words of Walt Whitman: “There was never any more inception than there is now. Nor any more youth or age than there is now. And will never be any more perfection than there is now. Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

We have had wars, and pestilence and cruelty forever. And yet, we feel we are in a nightmare, where everything we held sacred has been called into question. We watch a government that seems incompetent and uncaring. Separation of children from parents. Children doing active shooter drills at school. Gun violence with no response in sight. Discrimination by religion. Open support for armed white supremacists. Denial of the climate crisis. The list goes on.

Then came Covid and the needless deaths of thousands. And just as we were reeling from that comes this current tragedy that has peeled off the Band-Aid covering up the systemic racism in our institutions. George Floyd is but one of many countless deaths and even more numerous injustices. And even George Floyd’s murder would have gone unremarked except for the cell phone that captured the deed on film.

It is so easy to despair. And yet, ordinary people have woken up. They are marching all over the country. They want change. They are demanding change. And we are certain that 2020 will be a landmark year. A year we will not soon forget. The year that America redefines itself. Will it be the country that gave the immortal words of freedom and the Bill of Rights? Or will it be the country of white men for white men and run by white men?

I watched the documentary about James Baldwin, “I am not your Negro” and these words stood out to me: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”. And I was reminded also of the words of Margaret Mead: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have”.

So, let me close with that. We are all leaders in our communities. It is time for us to lead and create a more compassionate world. Thank you.

Seshadri Balaji
President, PACES.
(balajis@ohsu.edu)