Black History Month – A Letter from Dana-Farber’s Chief Clinical Access and Equity Officer

Recently, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Christopher S. Lathan, MD, MS, MPH, Chief Clinical Access and Equity Officer, penned a powerful letter to members of Dana-Farber’s employee resource group, Mosaic. Mosaic celebrates and contributes to the cultural and racial diversity of the Dana-Farber community. Lathan’s message reflects on Black History Month, acknowledging progress, as well as how much further we have to go.

A Letter from Leadership

From Christopher S. Lathan, MD, MS, MPH, Chief Clinical Access and Equity Officer

It is the heart of February, and while we deal with the vagaries of the New England winter, bouncing from arctic cold to unseasonable warmth seemingly day-to-day, we also take the time to recognize Black History Month. Conceptualized by the noted historian Carter G. Woodson in 1924 as a week to celebrate Black (then Negro) History and Literature, he chose the month of February because it was the month that both President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born. Dr. Woodson was only the second African American to graduate with a PhD from Harvard (after W. E. B. DuBois) and felt that if the history and accomplishments of the culture were not celebrated, there was a risk that it could be lost forever.

Dr. Woodson’s vision and persistence allowed Black History Week to grow until it became Black History Month in the 1970s, (thank you Kent State) eventually codified by President Ford during the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976 after a series of meetings with prominent civil rights leaders including Bayard Rustin, Vernon Jordan, Dorothy Height, and Jesse Jackson. These leaders started meeting with President Ford in 1974 after concerns about his response to violence seen from school desegregation. The goal of this esteemed group was to have the president re-state the country’s commitment to racial justice, and indeed he did.

As we fast forward to 2023, I ponder what this month means to me, a descendant of slaves in the US, son of machinist and nurses aid, who through a combination of mentorship and blessings, has had the privilege to be a physician who provides care for patients with cancer. In taking time to look at the rich history of the Black experience in the US, I am filled with pride, but the pain seen on the face of Tyre Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, demonstrates that although we have come a long way, we have further yet to go.

The way forward, as always, is through humility, understanding, and a belief in the universality of human dignity. I have been fortunate to work at Dana-Farber with allies of all different backgrounds and races, who have similar values. This is what brought me to treating cancer patients, and to dedicating my professional life to ensuring that we work tirelessly to give all the same access to world class cancer care to all, no matter the race, ethnicity, socio-economic position, or language proficiency. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is not only the home of the latest in treatment advances, but it is also the home of dedicated individuals focused on equity and access for all. Though February is a short month, it is full of history and accomplishment, and in my case, Black History Month has always served as both a reflection of where I came from, and a compass to guide the work toward the future.

Sincerely, Christopher S. Lathan, MD, MS, MPH
Chief Clinical Access and Equity Officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Christopher and Constance Hadley Family Chair at Dana-Farber
Associate Chief Medical Officer, Director, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Network
Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Learn more about Dana-Farber’s work in inclusion, diversity, and equity, including Dr. Lathan’s incredible contributions.