On Monday evening, I joined Susan Gooden, Dean of the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, for the 2022 Wilder School Symposium: Racism, Health & Accountability. We thank everyone for attending in person and virtually.
The event highlighted the unfortunate case of Bruce Tucker, a Black man, who had his heart transplanted — without his family’s consent — into a white businessman’s body in 1968. As a recognized trial lawyer, I felt compelled to represent the Tucker family when they came to me and shared this gross violation of rights.
Beyond a doubt, Tucker’s treatment was the direct result of systemic racism by the Medical College of Virginia, which is today a part of Virginia Commonwealth University. On Friday, just prior to the symposium, the Board of Visitors issued a formal acknowledgment of this organized racism. This also included decades of harvesting organs from bodies, as well as grave robbing of the deceased, for medical research and study. It fell far short of a substantial apology and made no mention of how VCU will tangibly promote equal justice for people of color.
No time is quite so ripe as the present to demand institutional accountability for this historical wrong. It represents nothing short of the continuing inequity and inaccessibility of affordable healthcare for patients of color.
As a collective — “We the People” — deserve equal and unfettered access to all essential medical services regardless of skin color. Making right the wrongs against the Tucker family is an important step to demanding what is right and criticizing what is wrong. It should also help illuminate a path forward as to how institutions like VCU can exemplify actions over words.
There is no clear path on how VCU will make right the racist systems of the past — and our present. What steps will the leadership of VCU take to address the 150% turnover in Black faculty discovered in 2018 by the former VCU provost to combat high levels of attrition? How will VCU work to increase the recruitment of black students which is decreasing on an annual basis?
Why are those responsible for this administration allowing tuition increases, despite the pleas of the students, instead of questioning other unnecessary expenditures? At a recent Board of Visitors meeting, a student testified that she struggles to afford a single meal each day.
VCU has a motto “Make it Real”. Our community has always experienced what is real and it has not been right. The motto should be “Make it Right”. Until this becomes the new reality, we must continue to demand direct action. We must further ask what it takes to have these questions resolved. What prevents acknowledgment and solutions?