We can be and should be better…
I am Florencia Greer Polite. I’m a 2002 graduate of the Perelman School of Medicine. And I currently serve as the Chief of the Division of General Obstetrics and Gynecology here in OB GYN.
The week of June 5th was a pretty stressful week. After the murder of George Floyd, I was in a number of meetings and realized that I felt like I was going to cry. And I said that to one of my colleagues, and he said, “You should just cry.” And I said, “I did that already, and I don't actually feel any better.”
I took time to write an email to our division about what it felt like to be a Black person coming to work every day after George Floyd. And how as a leader specifically, we had to pull ourselves together. That immense stress and pressure was, for me, almost insurmountable.
One of my colleagues was in the midst of organizing a protest type event and she asked me, “would I lead it?” And I said, "absolutely." We thought it was going to be fairly small and it ended up being thousands of students, staff, faculty, doctors, cafeteria workers, the custodians at Penn... It was at Penn's Franklin field, and it was massive.
And it was 10 times more emotional than I thought it would be. Just to look out at the faces of everybody. People were very focused and crying and I could see what I was saying was resonating. I talked about how we, at Penn Medicine, are in a very privileged position, and that our responsibility as caretakers and physicians goes beyond just the practice of clinical medicine. We needed to acknowledge systemic racism in our country. This particular moment was not just about ending police brutality. It’s a movement about dismantling every aspect of structural racism.
When we knelt for the eight minutes and 46 seconds, I acknowledged that it was going to be painful and that we owed it to ourselves because we have been comfortable for too long. And I asked that during that time people reflected on two to three actionable items that they would actually do in their own lives to address structural racism.
And the hope of kneeling was that George Floyd didn't die in vain, that Ahmaud Arbery didn't die in vain, that Breonna Taylor didn't die in vain, and all the names that we didn't have time to recite and the ones that were not even recorded.
One of the first people to come up to me was the custodian for labor and delivery, who I speak to all the time, I ask about her family, and she literally came and gave me this huge hug. And just told me that she was proud of me.
Patients both white and Black, have engaged me in a different way after that event. I had one older white female patient, when she saw the media coverage, who said to her daughter, “That's going to be my doctor.” And she was so excited to come into the office in a few months to see me. She was really proud to have a doctor who she viewed as being sort of socially conscious.
It’s hard to be a member of many communities. To be a member of the Black community, to be a member of the Philadelphia community, to be a member of the Penn Medicine leadership team.
As doctors, we are literally helping people every day, patients who don't have the educational wherewithal to engage in their care. But I felt very much in that moment that what needed to be said was that that's not the only way that we can make a contribution to our patients and to Penn Medicine and to Philadelphia.
I love Philadelphia. And I think that we can be and should be better. I love Penn. I think the Penn can be and should be better. And so, I am interested in making both of those places better.
Penn wants to be a leader in research and clinical medicine. Why would we not want to be a leader in the work to end systemic racism? I'm optimistic about that.
This is the journey. We are working towards an outcome that I don't know that any of us in our lifetimes will ever see. What I want at the end of my time here is to know that I have contributed to moving this journey forward. To moving us to a place that's better for my children, and that creates a better environment for the patients, who are the reason why I came into medicine in the first place.
The Penn Medicine Listening Lab is a storytelling initiative that embraces the power of listening as a form of care. While the stories featured here aspire to uplift and empower, they may also describe experiences of trauma and suffering. We recognize that listening can be a vulnerable experience and offer resources at Penn Medicine and beyond through our website for those in need of support.