Tag Archives: diversity

Silence Still Equals Death

We tend to become emotionally involved when something is personal. The loss of friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS over the course of thirty years produced a perpetual cycle of loss, pain and goodbyes.  It was the start of my emotional involvement and decision to speak up and do something.

I can’t address the scientific similarities between HIV and COVID-19, but I do know that both had and continue to have a devastating impact on the Black community in this country.

Black people represent 12% of the U.S. population, but account for a much larger share of HIV diagnoses (43%), people estimated to be living with HIV disease (42%), and deaths among people with HIV (44%) than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S.  Similarly, Black people in the U.S. are infected with COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of White Americans.

Poverty, the lack of access to health care, the lack of awareness and stigma all contribute to the devastation brought on by both diseases.

The bigger culprits are ignorance, indifference, and silence.  Far too many of us are guilty.  The production of COVID-19 vaccines provides optimism and hope. But in this moment, we need more than hope.  We can no longer be silent.  We have to speak up, friends. We have to do something to help each other combat the devastation.  We have an opportunity to increase COVID-19 and HIV education, testing, community involvement and treatment in communities of color – simply put, Silence = Death.

 

He Left a Playbook to Deal With This

While the context was specific to achieving racial equality and not pandemic preparation, another high-profile individual left a detailed document on how to respond to a  crisis.

 

The individual was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the document is a book published in 1967, called “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.”

 

Fifty plus years later, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” presents some hard truths and stark realities that remain relevant and demand our collective attention, perhaps even more so today. Its resonance, while centered on race relations and equality, has justice at its core.

As those of us in the fields of health sciences and healthcare seek to improve health equality and inclusivity, we only need look to Dr. King’s wisdom for insight and direction.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the answers exist in what Dr. Leon McDougle, (National Medical Association (NMA) President and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and the Chief Diversity Officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center), refers to as the  “already structured forces in the (Black) community that can serve as the basis for building a powerful united front.” Specifically, Dr. McDougle was referencing: The (Black) church, The (Black) media, The (Black) Fraternities & Sororities and (Black) Professional Organizations.

Dr. King’s message is particularly instructive:

“We need organizations that are permeated with mutual trust, incorruptibility and militancy. Without this spirit we may have numbers but they will add up to zero. We need organizations that are responsible, efficient and alert. We lack experience because ours is a history of disorganization. But we will prevail because our need for progress is stronger than the ignorance forced upon us. If we realize how indispensable is responsible militant organization to our struggle, we will create it as we managed to create underground railroads, protest groups, self-help societies and the churches that have always been our refuge, our source of hope and our source of action.” –  (King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, pp 169 – 170)

The “source of hope and our source of action” that Dr. King referenced is precisely my guiding north star.  We must build and foster relationships with organizations, institutions and individuals who are prominent and trusted in the community.

The objective is simple – to illustrate and demonstrate how science can save lives…specifically Black and Brown lives. In order to accomplish this, we must be active and visible participants in remedies and clinical trials that will produce cures and solutions. We are resilient and strong and realize that, while it is a part of the solution, science alone will not save us.  It is important that we rely on ourselves.

Research has proven that people who are able to exert some control over their lives fare better and experience a better quality of life. The challenge is to strengthen our self-reliance and channel it in ways that help us better cope and survive.

COVID-19 is the latest and most prominent disease disproportionately devastating people of color and under-served communities; but that is only one disease in a longer list including HIV, Heart Disease, Diabetes and a host of other maladies.

So, when your pastor, sorority sister, fraternity brother or that individual you respect talks to you about science, clinical trials and how we have to organize the power in our community to save lives, Listen. Ask questions. Become engaged. Get informed. Most importantly, do not ignore Dr. King’s playbook.  Our lives depend upon it.

 

IT ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE – Creating a Big Tent for Clinical Trials

I just celebrated three years working in the pharmaceutical space. The simplest explanation of what I do is to market strategy and communications that drive product awareness and, ultimately, customer purchase of a suite of clinical trial solutions.

 

In layman’s terms, I advertise solutions that help get medicine to the market faster.  In my role, I have no contact with patients or involvement with the implementation and/or execution of clinical trials.  However, this access that I am granted does give me a special perspective.

 

I had a conversation with an individual whose job is to lead clinical trial diversity for a large pharmaceutical organization.  This individual was sympathetic and resolute in how they face the challenges associated with achieving the application of diversity in the trials that their company implements.  However, they pointed out that the necessary allocation of resources and commitment was the greatest and most daunting challenge they face on an ongoing basis.

“I am able to make compelling arguments (to my superiors) in favor of diversity in clinical trials. But without a model that shows an immediate return on investment, the need is nothing more than a conversation without a resolution.”

 

In another example of industry complacency, I reflect on the global and domestic industry conferences, seminars and meetings I have attended.  As part of their programming, they offer what is billed as the “patient perspective.”  This is typically a panel or round-table discussion that includes patients who are trial participants. Without exception, the patient representation did not include people of color.  When I questioned this lack of diversity, the responses were a mix of bewilderment as to “why” I would ask the question and an often-repeated refrain of we could not find any minority patients.

 

How do we understand the impact of drugs on race when the minority participation in trials is underrepresented?

 

According to the U.S. Census, Black or African-Americans represent 13.4% of the U.S. population.  The FDA has reported only 5% participation in clinical trials by the same population.  This under-representation suggests not only a systemic industry problem, but (it) begs a larger and more important question — Are new medications effective and viable for all populations?  The racial composition and make-up of individuals enrolled in trials that lead to approval of drugs must be comparable to the overall population.  This is especially true if the medication is going to be effective once approved.

 

New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow was the first to raise the issue of racial disparity in his April 1st column, The Racial Time Bomb in the COVID 19 Crisis.  My conclusion was that, under normal circumstances, it was vitally important to address the challenge of finding ways to increase minority participation in clinical trials.  Given the onset of the pandemic and its affects on African-Americans, it is absolutely critical.  Diversity and inclusion is not a nice thing to do. It is a bridge to building trust with what has historically been, with good reason, a skeptical and resistant audience.

 

Change starts at the top.  I experienced this first-hand while working on the McDonald’s brand.  While the company is best known for selling hamburgers and soft drinks, it has also been the benefactor of unprecedented powerful consumer connections.  McDonald’s understood that there is never one simple solution to building a trusting relationship.  But by demonstrating community commitment, engagement and investment, McDonald’s was able to effectively tap into what its brand stands for in the hearts and minds of African-American consumers.

 

Dr. Althea Maybank, the American Medical Association’s Chief Equity Officer and Group Vice-President sums it perfectly in the NBC News article, “A COVID-19 Vaccine Will Work Only If Trials Include Black Participants.”

 

“With any relationship, you build it,” she said. “Folks doing work from leading institutions have asked, ‘How do we build trust?’ Well, it’s not rocket science. It’s about building relationships. Are you getting to know me beforehand? Are you speaking in a language I understand? Are the concepts broken down so that they are digestible? Are you present? Are you giving resources to our neighborhoods beforehand? That’s not rocket science. It’s building a relationship. That’s how you build trust. And trust is a fundamental value in humans. There’s no rocket science behind it.”

 

Tough Love and Truth about the Ad Industry

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Pepsico President — Global Beverages Group, Brad Jakeman  

and

Harley-Davidson, Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richter “truth tell”  about the ad industry.

“The Lack of Diversity”

“I am sick and tired as a client of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that are bought 85% by women,” he said. “Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people.”

“Fake Fight: Millennials vs. Boomers” — Why limit (your) growth to marketing directed to young adults?

“Youth does not own cool. Youth does not own growth. Youth does not own innovation or disruption.” he said. “Old people are a growth market, too.”

The article, Pepsico Exec Has Tough Words For Agencies, underscores issues that have long been prevalent in the ad industry.

Chief among these is diversity or more appropriately, the lack of diversity within the industry.

Whether the target audience is African- American, Latino, Asian, Women, LGBT or combinations including one or more, your agency has to have knowledgeable staff in order to effectively connect.