As we begin this Black History Month at Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI), our leadership and staff acknowledge the importance of recognizing the contributions of Black Americans to the work that we do. Here at MRRI, we are dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with neurological disabilities through research. This work cannot be meaningfully conducted without attention to the racial healthcare disparities and history of injustice that impact the experience of the populations we study.
Beyond this month and throughout the year, it is crucial to respect and understand the historical context of this country’s relationship with the Black community. At MRRI, we find ourselves at a unique intersection of research and healthcare, shaped by the historical context of events such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and other historical injustices. Many of our research participants come from the same racially and economically diverse communities that have been exploited by medical research in the past. Rebuilding trust, promoting transparency, and prioritizing ethical conduct to address the historical injustices that have contributed to healthcare disparities is critical to the work we do at MRRI.
In reflecting on the composition of research and healthcare professions, it is evident that Black Americans are often underrepresented, and when present, they may occupy fewer positions of influence or comparable roles. The statistics from the Society for Neuroscience’s 2017 report shed light on the stark disparities in the field, revealing that Black PhD recipients constituted only 4% of those awarded a PhD in the 2015-2016 academic year, while White/Caucasian recipients accounted for a significant 72% of the total population. The underrepresentation extends to postdoctoral trainees and faculty, with Black individuals comprising 3% and 1%, respectively (Society for Neuroscience, 2017). Although efforts are being made to increase diversity in these fields, the numbers underscore the need for continued awareness and action.
While acknowledging the atrocities of the past, it is equally vital to recognize the significant contributions Black Americans continue to make in advancing research and healthcare. Actively recognizing our history and the achievements of the Black community, this month and throughout the year, is crucial in dismantling systemic racism and fostering a truly inclusive environment. The advancement of knowledge depends on diversity, and by embracing different perspectives, we strengthen our collective pursuit of scientific and medical breakthroughs.
As MRRI celebrates Black History Month, we honor the past and commit to creating a future where diversity thrives, acknowledging the invaluable contributions of Black individuals in shaping the landscape of research and healthcare.
Thank you to Brandon Knight for contributing to the ideas and data included in this post and inspiring the Black History Month blog series.
Society for Neuroscience. (2017). Diversity in Neuroscience.