Making a Better World
As 2017 fast approaches, perhaps we should take a page from the observations of poet Rainer Maria Rilke who once said, “And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been”. This is the season for us to both reflect on our past and imagine our future, to strategize how we can take what we have learned in the previous year and project our dreams and visions into the upcoming year. In short, to fill the future with those “things that have never been” and perhaps should be. The turning of the year, with its infinite promise is the time to envision a better world, celebrate our common humanity and share our hope that as we move forward we can continue to do so with the utmost concern for dignity and the humanitarian values that drive us.
In this spirit, UMMA, in conjunction with ILM Foundation, hosted Humanitarian Day at Jesse Owens Park in South Los Angeles on December 17th. The event provided health screenings such as blood pressure and glucose level readings, flu shots, food and general supplies to over 100 families and community members in need. As an organization that is committed to physical, mental, and spiritual healing in the community, UMMA has been a proud supporter of Humanitarian Day since its inception 16 years ago. It is our belief that everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, regardless of ability to pay and Humanitarian Day is one more way for us to reach out to our fellow community members who are most at risk.
Perhaps the most important lesson of Humanitarian Day is the everyday need for compassion if we are to build strong and healthy communities, for as the Dalai Lama widely observed “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive”.
Humanitarian day is more than just healthcare, it is about breaking bread and finding common ground as different groups, with histories of past conflicts, come together in that one space. That is the UMMA I have come to love. It is beyond healthcare.
More than anything else, we must keep this essential truth in mind in the intemperate climate of national uncertainty that prevails in the wake of the contentious 2016 election. UMMA marked its 20th anniversary this year, rising from the ashes of the community trauma that surrounded the era of Rodney King, and this year was filled with milestones including the hiring of our Chief Medical Officer and four new, talented providers, the enhancement of our pre-natal and behavioral health services, and concrete steps towards continued expansion to serve ever more of the South Los Angeles community.
I came to UMMA a year ago to serve as CEO, a New Yorker who never even conceived of living in Los Angeles, but have found both the values of UMMA and the City of Los Angeles easy to embrace. UMMA is a family, for both our staff and our patients – we love, laugh, and cry together. We share the joy in the six children born to UMMA staff this year, and the pride and consternation of UMMA parents whose children have just left for college or graduated into the working world. Some UMMA staff voted for the first time in a Presidential election and some just got into college. Some fell ill themselves reminding us of how illness can impact us all heightening our determination even more to fight back against these diseases that take so many in our communities.
We can’t always predict with precision what the next year will hold and sometimes life can be full of surprises. If we maintain our core values and our compassion, we can always continue to fight for our patients, for our staff and our communities come what may in 2017.
I shall end with a small personal anecdote as I have been sharing my life with you all this past year. Like most mothers, I find endless inspiration in my eight year old son, who just recently went ice-skating for the first time this past weekend. Go figure that he went ice skating in LA versus NY. Life is indeed unpredictable and full of things that have never been. By his accounting he fell over thirty times, but the thrill was insurmountable, and his zest to do another lap around the rink was overwhelming. Falling is part of life and obstacles aren’t always avoidable, but the trick is to pick oneself up, scraped knees and all, and keep moving forward with dignity, and to lend a hand to others that have fallen, as its always easier to proceed with dignity together.
While there is uncertainty that exists in the winter air and many may be cautious regarding the new year and what it may bring leading many to a wait and see approach for the coming new year, I am eager to get it started. I am eager to provide more services to our patients. I am eager to be an extended family to our patients. I am determined to fight for our patients, for our staff and our communities come what may in 2017. We will stand tall.
And, if one of our brothers or sisters falls, we will be there. Just as you, our partners, colleagues and friends have been there for us. In ways large and small, each of you has made a positive difference for UMMA and its patients this year. If I haven’t had an occasion to express this to you in person, please know that I deeply value your efforts and your commitment. I thank you for this shared journey.
May the New Year be a joyous time for all of you and may it bring you love, warmth and opportunities to hold the hands of others as we strive for dignity for all. And may it be full of things that have never been and may those bring light into this world.