Black History Month 2022: Continuing to Celebrate Cultural Heritage at VCU School of Dentistry
Contributed by Carlos Smith, D.D.S., M.Div., director of diversity, equity and inclusion and the ethics curriculum and associate professor at VCU School of Dentistry
…at the beginning of the twentieth century, America’s subordinated race was called colored. Later, we came to think of it as Negro, first with a lowercase and then with a capital N. It was replaced by black, a term that has had a seemingly permanent currency. Today African American strikes us as most appropriate. In these pages, it’s the term I’ll use most frequently, but I will sometimes use black as well. Occasionally, in describing historical events, I will refer to Negroes, intending the same respect that it enjoyed in those earlier periods.Excerpt taken from “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017),” a New York Times Bestseller by Richard Rothstein.
This shifting terminology should not distract us from this underlying truth: We have created a caste system in this country, with African Americans kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies. Although most of these policies are now off the books, they have never been remedied and their effects endure.
As VCU School of Dentistry continues to make clear our deep commitments to belonging and inclusion, we pause to highlight the significance of various cultural heritage months paying tribute to the rich diversity of our School of Dentistry community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, patients and friends.
Black History Month has been celebrated widely since 1970, with its origins as early as 1926. As it relates to healthcare, African Americans have made countless contributions to the betterment of all humanity yet continue to endure challenges relating to both racial and health equity.
The VCU School of Dentistry’s first African American female graduate, Dr. Erma L. Freeman, celebrates the 45th anniversary of her historic feat as a member of the graduating Class of 1977. In celebration of that fact, this month, Black History Month, we continue our virtual conversation series: Diversity Dialogues – Honoring our past, celebrating our present and ensuring an equitable and inclusive future.
Dr. Freeman, a Chase City, Virginia, native, had a private dental practice in Ettrick for 20 years, was appointed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to the Virginia Board of Dentistry in 1993, worked for 13 years as a dentist with the state Department of Corrections before retiring and has spent hours in volunteer service, including providing dental exams from the Colgate Van in towns throughout rural and urban Virginia. Dr. Freeman is a graduate of some of Virginia’s most storied historically Black institutions, Saint Paul’s College and Virginia State University, began her lifelong commitment to service as a high school teacher, prior to enrolling at then Medical College of Virginia School of Dentistry. The School of Dentistry awarded Dr. Freeman with its Trailblazer Award in 2019.
Please join us on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 5 p.m. for a rich conversation with Dr. Freeman honoring her life and legacy. You may register for the Zoom webinar here.