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Black Voices in Shaping Health Care Narratives

A black medical professional gives a presentation.

As the principal strategist for the Black Employment Portfolio in the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at the National Institutes of Health, I am honored to invite you on a journey of discovery and appreciation as we commence the celebration of Black History Month. February provides us the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the collective impact of the Black community in medicine and science while also acknowledging the experiences and lessons from the past.

Our DNA has always had more potential than being confined to test subjects. Black individuals possess unique genetic traits along with untold stories, which have the potential to unlock groundbreaking discoveries that benefit all of humanity. Take for instance Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, who unknowingly contributed to science and medicine through the immortalization of her cells, known as HeLa cells. These cells have been instrumental in numerous scientific advancements. Her unwitting contribution has sparked important conversations about informed consent and ethical considerations in medical research.

Considering these past unethical research practices, it is critical that future scientific endeavors ensure that all individuals, regardless of background, are treated with respect and dignity, which necessarily includes informed consent. Rebuilding trust and ensuring ethical research practices are essential steps toward fostering diversity in science. It is our collective responsibility to learn from history and to not repeat it. A best practice in clinical research involves providing toolkits with templates to assist with developing comprehensive informed consent.

The African American community’s contributions extend far beyond being mere subjects of study. We have a tapestry of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds that enrich the scientific landscape and help ensure that science continues to advance for the benefit of all.

As we celebrate Black History Month, let us honor the contributions and legacies of our Black leaders and visionaries in medicine and science at the NIH while also working to creating a future where diversity is celebrated and where all individuals are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness.

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