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Events and Messages

Juneteenth, celebrating progress on Onward, Upward, Beyond: One year later


On June 19, 1865, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the enslaved people of Texas, their emotions must have been intense:

Jubilation to learn that freedom and justice were finally prevailing.
Sadness for all those lost to or damaged by the evil of slavery.
Equal parts hope and fear about what might happen next.

The following year, Black Americans rallied around June 19 as a time to celebrate freedom. The end of slavery did not heal the horrors of the past — far from it. But as a victory for humanity, the milestone is worthy of great celebration, both then and now.


Dear Colleagues,

Last year, Duke Health commemorated Juneteenth by committing to put our mission and values into action in the fight against the public health crisis of systemic racism. We pledged to truly care for one another, and to make Duke Health and our communities stronger, healthier and more just. We named this promise Moments to Movement and redoubled our efforts to address health inequities, eliminate disparities in care and make sure every member of the Duke Health team is able to give their very best.

This Juneteenth, one year into our work, we celebrate all that we have achieved by working together. Across Duke Health, we have held brave, searching and sometimes painful conversations. We have taken a hard look at our past, examined our data, owned our shortcomings and begun the work of addressing them. We have educated ourselves about the impact of inequity, inequality and health disparities. We have sought out your voices and provided places for you to share your truths. And we have made a public pledge to do better and be better —  for ourselves and our communities.

Over the last 12 months, we have begun to build the infrastructure we need to sustain momentum, and we have identified strong leaders who are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. With the right resources in place, the year ahead will be about delivering on our promises. Consider the groundwork that’s been laid at each of our major entities:

The School of Nursing’s Racial Justice Task Force created nine committees that are charged with ensuring that faculty, staff and students remain accountable, that recruitment and retention are without barriers, that student admissions are holistic, and more. To date, more than half of their 55 recommended strategies have been implemented.

The School of Medicine has completed an inclusive strategic planning process that elevated the voices of the school community through four constituent committees, numerous subcommittees, surveys and interviews. The renewed commitments put forward in this plan will anchor our efforts to dismantle racism and advance racial equity for our learners, faculty, staff and the diverse communities we serve. An overview of the plan will be shared during Dean Mary Klotman’s State of the School address on June 23, and highlights from the plan as well as the full report will be available on the School of Medicine website in July.

At the Duke University Health System and the Private Diagnostic Clinic (PDC), we’ve made health equity an essential condition for quality, and we have formed the Collaborative to Advance Clinical Health Equity (CACHE). CACHE works in partnership with the community to measure outcomes by age, race, gender, comorbidities, insurance status, access measures and neighborhood deprivation indices, with an initial goal of redesigning the patient experience across five key conditions. The ultimate goal of this endeavor is to eliminate racial disparities in patient experiences and clinical outcomes across Duke Health.

To ensure more equitable vaccine distribution, we're working with community organizations to offer pop-up mobile clinics closer to where people live, work and gather. To make vaccines more accessible, we are proactively reaching out to patients without MyChart and email accounts, translating vaccination materials and offering interpreting services at vaccine sites.

As we serve the community, we must also look at our internal practices. For an assessment of how we’re doing with diversity, equity and inclusion, we’ve partnered with an external expert partner, Korn Ferry. Via 80 focus groups, we collected the voices and stories of more than 2,000 team members. At the same time, we reviewed our policies, our investments and our structure to see how we are living up to our values. Results are being tabulated now, and we will share our findings in the late summer/early fall.

Finally, we are helping our leaders to be more aware and to make more equitable decisions. Nearly 800 leaders have taken anti-racism courses under the banner of Moments to Movement. They tell us they now feel more comfortable talking about race and are better equipped to help fight inequity and lead positive change.

So, while there is much more to achieve, we must also celebrate progress — and take pride in these first steps of our journey. Listen to the voices of your colleagues, who are all in for change. Learn what makes them proud about our first year and what they hope for next. This Juneteenth, let’s celebrate our collective commitment to the movement for impactful and lasting change.

With gratitude,

A. Eugene Washington, MD
Chancellor for Health Affairs, Duke University
President and CEO, Duke University Health System

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