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NIH Director Message: Grieving For Loss and Confronting Social Injustice

NIH Director Message

Dear NIH Family,

I am writing on this troubling day to share with you my personal sense of heartbreak and devastation at the events surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And this tragic event has too many echoes of what has come before. As we witness repeated episodes of violence perpetrated against our African American brothers and sisters, it is impossible not to experience a deep sense of outrage, disbelief, and grief.

Though by birth and life course I am undeniably a privileged white male, I cannot let these horrific acts go by without denouncing the underlying and ongoing bias and prejudice that fuels them. Such actions are a crime against humanity. They are utterly antithetical to NIH’s commitment to find ways to reduce suffering and promote health – for everyone.

I am reaching out to you today to share the grief and anger that I know you also feel, but also to reaffirm our common resolve. It will not be helpful to sanitize the facts or underestimate the challenges before us as a society. Four hundred years after the introduction of the sin of slavery in this country, there is still a tremendous amount of difficult work to do. It is hard not to feel helpless in the face of circumstances like this. But both as private citizens and as members of this great institution, I call on myself and everyone at NIH to do what we can – to ensure that we foster a culture of inclusion, equity, and respect for one another, and that justice will endure.

As leaders in health research, it is our duty to continually uncover new ways to improve people’s lives and keep them free from harm and disease. One of our most important callings is to address the health disparities that prevent many from experiencing the full and complete life they hope for and deserve. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright and deeply distressing light on just how much health inequity persists in our society. We need to look at this unflinchingly, and embrace that challenge, enlisting the vision of the talent all around us. We are surrounded by deeply committed colleagues who have not only studied health disparities and racial violence, they have lived them. We’re reliable, capable, and resilient because of our many races, ethnicities, cultures, faiths, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Our diversification fuels our creativity and drives innovation. I embrace that – now, more than ever.

COVID-19 has regrettably kept us apart from one another. I long to be with all of you now. We could have an amazing face to face town meeting right now. I could learn a lot from you. We might even sing together. But despite physical distancing, we are still a community that cares about each other. I encourage you to reach out, lend an ear, and provide a virtual shoulder to those in need. Let’s show our collective strength by remaining allies and advocates for one another. Although the recent headlines make us want to look away in disgust and disappointment, let us look to each other for strength and hope, and recommit ourselves to our shared goals of making the world a better place -- for everyone.

Though I am heartbroken by the injustice of this dark moment, and deeply troubled about the increasing threat of violent responses, now is the time for us to come together as we serve together – across the NIH community. Our work has never been more critical. Our concern for each other has never been more important.

In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Dear friends, I wish you peace, health, vision, and safety,

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

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