Remembrance in Palatine invokes MLK's call for equity in health care
Northwest suburban residents and leaders gathered in Palatine Saturday for the 53rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance Dinner, which emphasized King's call for greater equity in access to affordable health care.
Dinner Co-Chair Chris Mier said many of the health care inequities that existed during King's life still exist a half-century later, as revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Let's be honest with ourselves: Not all communities have experienced the pandemic in the same way," added Co-Chair Wayne Giles, dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.
Giles said socioeconomic factors are key in how the impacts of health crises like the pandemic are felt. He added that the definition of health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, not just the absence of disease.
NBC 5 Chicago reporter Regina Waldroup, who served as emcee of the event at Cotillion Banquets, spoke of the personal struggle she faces in caring for her quadriplegic mother. Many today are choosing between a roof over their heads and the costly health care they need, she said.
"I can't tell you how important health care is," Waldroup added. "Given America's strength, it is a disconnect that so many of our citizens are sick and dying unnecessarily."
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Georges Benjamin, who serves as executive director of the American Public Health Association in Washington, D.C. Benjamin, a South Side native, recalled how the pride his parents felt at his medical school graduation was followed by confusion as he pursued a career first in emergency medicine and then public health.
Benjamin said his choice reflected a recognition that his influence in promoting health could be wider than just one-to-one relationships with patients. The best way he found to explain it to his mother was that a doctor can treat only so many patients for rat bites before the best course of action is to get rid of the rats.
He challenged the audience to believe that they, too, have a responsibility to help him get rid of the rats.
"You are your neighbor's keeper," he said.
He said a better future with a wider definition of health care that includes safe water, safe air and safe neighborhoods must be planned and created deliberately.
"I've always said the purpose of life, for all of us, is to live as long as we can, as well as we can, and have a short but glorious ending," Benjamin said.
The Arlington Heights-based Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations, which organizes the dinner, also honored Cook County Department of Public Health CEO LaMar Hasbrouck and Harper College President Avis Proctor with its Drum Major Honor. The award's name is a nod to King's call for people to lead society's parade for justice with a spirit of humble servitude.
The Rev. Clyde Brooks, who received a standing ovation for organizing the event for 53 years as chairman and CEO of the commission, said he believes King, with whom we worked in the '60s, would be proud of the evening's honorees.