Reflections from Mark Edwards, CEO of Upstream USA

This has been an incredibly painful time. As a Black man, it has personally hit me very hard. For people of color everywhere, the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, among the thousands of others have exposed again (and again and again) the racism and police violence that is endemic in our country. The incident in Central Park, though less violent, also caused pain, including for me and my family: my brother is an ornithologist, and together, he and I have watched birds in that section of Central Park where Amy Cooper made the call to NYPD. The through line connecting her actions, and George Floyd’s death, is unmistakable.

I spent Sunday night at the protest march in Boston walking with thousands demanding justice and unequivocally stating that Black Lives Matter. There was what felt like real power in being a part of a great, surging river of people flowing through the South End of Boston on the way to the Massachusetts State House.

The racially and economically imbalanced death toll of the more than 100,000 individuals we’ve lost to COVID-19 has laid bare the structural nature of pain and prejudice. These are not isolated incidents. Systemic injustices and inequalities permeate all aspects of our society, including healthcare. Reproductive healthcare was founded on a legacy of racist beliefs and practices that continue to this day. Black women in America face maternal mortality rates more than three times higher than white women. At Upstream, we have an obligation to work with our partners to not only improve contraceptive care and access for all, but to bring awareness to the bias, coercion and violence that people of color too often face when accessing healthcare. This is an essential and mandatory part of the work we do with our health center partners.

The issues of white supremacism, racism, and police brutality are all public health crises. Our work is part of that long road to justice. There are no words that can ease the pain, frustration and anger. As a nation, we must strive towards antiracism, and on behalf of Upstream’s leadership, we pledge to do our part.

Image credit: Joseph Prezioso / AFP / Getty

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