Health lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s life reminds us of the  tragic effects of interpersonal violence; his mother, Alberta Williams King, also died violently.


updated January 15, 2022

The Reverend Dr. King led the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968.

His famous “I have a dream” speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is  remembered, read, and recited by people all over the country if not the world on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day every year.

The  United States observes the third Monday of January as a federal holiday in honor and memory of the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929)

quote from Martin Luther King about hate

Dr. King’s life reminds us of the  tragic effects of interpersonal violence. His life ended suddenly and prematurely when, on April 4, 1968, an assailant shot him as he stood on a hotel balcony. He had delivered his last speech just the day before. The shooter was apprehended, and after confessing to the murder, sentenced to life in prison where he died.

Most people know of Dr. King’s assassination, but don’t know his mother, Alberta Williams King, also died violently. At age 69, sitting at the organ of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Mrs. King was shot and killed on June 30, 1974. Her  23-year-old assailant received a life sentence and died in prison.

Violence, a major health risk

Violence between persons creates social, economic and political problems, and serious medical consequences. It is a leading cause of death, especially in children, adolescents and young adults.

Non-fatal injuries often cause severe and permanent disability that changes lives, burdens families and increases medical costs astronomically. These include

  • TBI, traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries leading to paraplegia, quadriplegia, ventilator dependence
  • Amputations of limbs
  • PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder; other forms of anxiety; depression
  • Chronic pain, often leading to opiate dependence

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.
Dr. King

The risk of health disparities

This observance also reminds us of the problem of health disparity. Health disparities are

preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health

that are experienced by populations that have been disadvantaged by their social or economic status, geographic location, and environment.

These populations can be defined by factors such as

  • race or ethnicity,
  • gender,
  • education or income,
  • disability,
  • geographic location (e.g., rural or urban),
  • sexual orientation.

Health disparities are directly related to the past and present  unequal distribution of social, political, economic, and environmental resources

This was especially true with the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC listed several reasons why this occurred.

  • There is evidence that people in racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to live in areas with high rates of new COVID-19 infections (incidence).
  • Crowded living conditions and unstable housing contribute to transmission of infectious diseases and can hinder COVID-19 prevention strategies like hygiene measures, self-isolation, or self-quarantine.
  • Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented in essential work settings such as healthcare facilities, farms, factories, warehouses, food processing, accommodation and food services, retail services, grocery stores, and public transportation.19,20,21,22 
  • Some people who work in these settings have more chances to be exposed to COVID-19 because -close contact with the public or other workers, not being able to work from home, and needing to work when sick because they do not have paid sick days.
  • Social determinants of health may also influence access to testing.
  • Underlying medical conditions that increase risk for severe illness from COVID-19 may be more common among people from racial and ethnic minority groups.19 Common underlying conditions among those who require mechanical ventilation or died included diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, chronic kidney disease on dialysis, and congestive heart failure. 20 
  • Together, the evidence from the provisional death data from NCHS and recent studies clearly illustrate the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 deaths among racial and ethnic minority groups, particularly Hispanic or Latino, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native people.

Long before COVID, doctors knew our Black patients fared worse with many common serious diseases

Learn Why 7 Deadly Diseases Strike Blacks Most  from WebMD

I have a dream over the image of Martin Luther King Jr.
photo by Ruel Calitis,

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies,

education and culture for their minds,

and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

Dr. King

You can learn more about Dr. King and listen to part of his famous speech at

"I have a dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Plaque honoring “I have a dream” speech by Dr. King , in Washington D.C. looking toward the Washington Monument

The following book suggestions lead to affiliate links which may pay a commission to this blog at no extra cost to you. These commissions help me fund this blog.

a biography about Dr. King written for children

I Am Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am Martin Luther King book

exploring the HEART of health equality

Thank you for joining me to remember the late Dr. King. Please enter your email address to be notified of new posts as soon as they are available, you won’t receive anything else.

Let’s use our differences to connect, not divide

We may not always recognize our or others’ biases but that makes them no less real. Whether unconscious- implicit or conscious-explicit, biases harm all of us by blocking communication and preventing relationships that could benefit everyone.

updated February 18, 2022

I have a “friend” I’ve never met in person. I connected on Facebook with Dr.T.M., an emergency room physician, due to our shared love of ballroom dancing. Usually her posts are lighthearted, full of news about her family, travel, and dancing. But recently she wrote a public post that tugged at my heart.

I am a proud Asian American. I am feeling hurt and saddened right now. I have dedicated my life to serving ALL people and it’s never been for money or fame. It’s been about the opportunity to give back to the America that took me in as a refugee. To pay it forward.

The recent hate crimes are the antithesis to my very existence, the opposite of every goal in my book. I do not see any good from hate and only unintended consequences. If I can only have one wish come true it would be that we find a way to use our differences to connect with one another. That we can speak and act from a place of love, not hate.

Forever and For always, love not hate.

Mural in the Chinatown neighborhood of Chicago, IL

She of course is referring to recent acts of violence directed at Asian Americans, which isn’t new but aggravated by attitudes that blame the pandemic on them . Bigotry and bias directed toward any ethnicity isn’t new, but has become more blatant due to multiple recent events that highlight the inequities we allow to persist.

  • The pandemic has disproportionately effected persons of color.
  • Vaccination efforts have lagged in neighborhoods of color.
  • People of color “profiled” by law enforcement and other public authorities.
  • Laws and public policy which may restrict access to voting
  • Women underrepresented in the STEM fields and upper management of business.
  • The use of symbols and slogans that stigmatize and demean certain groups of people
  • Using offensive, demeaning names to characterize certain groups, and excusing it as “freedom of speech”

People who referred to the SAR-CoV-2 virus as “Chinese” perpetuated discriminatory stereotypes. But viruses don’t discriminate, neither do they recognize or respect international boundaries. They don’t carry passports or needs visas to roam the world.

Explicit bias at the Winter Olympics

Even elite athletes are not immune to discrimination, hate, and even physical attack. A recent AP story highlights bias, both explicit and implicit, Asian American women athletes face on a regular basis.

“It’s like Asian American women can’t win,” says Jeff Yang, an author and cultural critic. “Asian American female athletes, like most Asian American women in many other spaces, are seen as worthy when they can deliver … and then disposed of otherwise.”

Chloe Kim, who won the halfpipe at the Beijing and Pyeongchang Olympics, has revealed she was tormented online daily. She says she was consumed by fear that her parents could be killed whenever she heard news about another brutal assault on an Asian person.

a brick building decorated with Chinese art
art décor on a building in Chinatown Chicago

The dichotomy of the Asian American woman’s existence is not limited to Winter Olympians, though. In October, Hmong American gymnast Sunisa Lee said she was pepper sprayed by someone shouting racist slurs while driving by in a car. At the time, she was standing outside with a group of Asian American friends in Los Angeles while filming the “Dancing with the Stars” TV show.

Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
children standing outside a school in Bangladesh
a school in Bangladesh, where my husband volunteered to teach computing

Implicit bias

But color or ethnicity aren’t the only factors that play into prejudice-one’s gender, age, religion, occupation, physical appearance and ability, education, income- are often used to judge a person’s worth.

Unconscious (implicit) biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Healthcare is not exempt from implicit bias, and it works both ways. Doctors and other healthcare workers may behave differently toward patients based on gender, skin color, and ethnicity in ways that can negatively impact their care.

And patients may make assumptions about their providers, assuming status based on the same characteristics; for example, assuming that females are nurses, rather than physicians; or assuming a black male is an orderly rather than a surgeon.

Vietnamese children with an American woman, blowing bubbles
a VWAM volunteer team entertaining children in Vietnam

We may not always recognize our or others’ biases but that makes them no less real. Whether unconscious- implicit or conscious-explicit, biases harm all of us by blocking communication and preventing relationships that could benefit to everyone.

And ironically enough, we can even unconsciously violate our own conscious values!
two women in Thai dress
Two of the staff at a resort in Thailand where we stayed
How can we alter our perceptions and biases?
  • Focus within
  • Learn about others
  • Engage in dialogue
  • Expand the options
a group of American and Thai healthcare workers
working with Thai healthcare professionals on a volunteer trip to Thailand (I am second from left, middle row.)

exploring the HEART of “love, not hate”

I hope you enjoyed the photos from some of my travels. And I hope this post caused you to recognize and examine your own biases-implicit and otherwise; I know I have. Perhaps you recognized ways you unintentionally perpetuate or tolerate undeserved and destructive bias.

If you enjoyed this post, please share with your social media friends, just use the sharing buttons below.

an ornate shrine in Thailand
My husband and I visited Thailand with a medical teaching team.

This post was featured April 2, 2021.

My granddaughter and I enjoyed afternoon tea and cake at a lovely Korean cafe in our town.

Dr Aletha

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