Hundreds gather for ‘White Coats for Black Lives’ march at ETSU

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The medical community banded together Monday afternoon at the East Tennessee State University campus for a “White Coats for Black Lives” march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Organizers of “White Coats for Black Lives” said they hope the event will encourage people to have conversations about racism as a public health concern and will push health care professionals and students to lead the way for social change.

“Conversations need to be happening in the healthcare field,” said event organizer and second-year medical student Stephanie Alu. “The conversation needs to start about what are these things and what can we do about them as healthcare professionals, what can students do about them while we’re still learning and in our education.”

The systemic oppression of black people in the United States is evident, Alu said, especially in medicine.

“Healthcare is a very big part of that particularly when a lot of people of color and black communities are disadvantaged when it comes to healthcare and there are certainly some things in healthcare that need to be dismantled and revamped in order to be more inclusive and more diverse,” she said.

The crowd of attendees were shepherded together by local leaders including Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock, ETSU President Brian Noland and Dean of Quillen College of Medicine Dr. Bill Block.

“I think it’s important because we still have a problem that exists in this country and in this region that I very much hoped would be gone by now,” Block said.

The entire march, organizers said, was organized as the result of initiative that students had taken.

“We’ve seen similar marches and demonstrations all over the country, especially the ‘White Coats for Black Lives’ within medical schools and hospital systems,” said student event organizer Ryan King. “I think the biggest thing that we hope to take away is a moment of solidarity, introspection, where we kind of look individually and collectively at maybe how we’ve contributed to some of these problems in the past and then what we can do about it moving forward.”

The crowd of protesters gathered at the parking lot on Stout Drive near the university’s parking services building, then walked down University Parkway before turning down State of Franklin Road and finally ending the march near the ETSU Welcome Center on Jack Vest Drive.

When the crowd reached Jack Vest Drive, the crowd gathered to take a moment of silence lasting 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of the memory of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for that same amount of time.

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