The Real Talk on Racism: The deadliest disease in America  

In this June 12, 2020, photo provided by Oakley Fugate, demonstrators attend a Black Lives Matter rally in Whitesburg, Ky., June 12, 2020. Following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Dayja Hogg helped organize a protest in her home town of Whitesburg where she grew up experiencing racism. (Oakley Fugate via AP)

Dr. Crystal Emery has one message for everyone this Black History Month: Racism is the deadliest disease in America. The filmmaker and University of Connecticut SFA ’85 graduate was a guest speaker in the UConn African American Alumni Council’s mini-series Real Talk. During her talk titled “The Deadliest Disease in America,” Emery discussed the ways in which racism permeates and violates the lives of Americans of all colors, and what she believes needs to be done to stop this centuries-long endemic.  

“We’re talking about something that’s been happening for hundreds of years,” Emery explained during Tuesday night’s Zoom session. “Please listen to me: we need to consider how racism really hurts and deprives Black and Brown lives in this country. We’re talking about an issue that is a part of the fabric of our nation.” 

Like a disease spread by a cough or sneeze, Emery argues that racism moves in a similar, somewhat invisible way. She wants people to consider how racism negatively affects the lives of people of color in ways that are not as easily seen. She pointed to evidence such as wage disparities and racial inequality within the health care system to support her claim.  

“I don’t want to call you out. I don’t want to call anyone out really,” Emery said at the conclusion of her talk. “I want to call you in — I want to call you in to be a part of creating the solution.”  

To Emery, a big part of this solution is a little selflessness. Evoking JFK’s famous question of what one can do for their country, Emery asks what each individual ally can do to stand against the plague of racism in America.  

“What did you do today? What can you do today,” questioned Emery “What can you do as an individual to help cure the disease that is racism?”  

Emery is a prolific author, social activist and filmmaker. Her most recent documentary “The Deadliest Disease in America” covers racial disparities in the U.S. health care system revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Emery, a quadriplegic, has faced many forms of discrimination as a disabled, African American woman. Her research from her documentary and personal experiences both served as a basis for her talk.  

Real Talk is a mini-series presented by UConn’s African American Alumni Council which features stimulating discussions by alumni with thought-provoking ideas. This is their final event during Black History Month, but you can catch future conversations by checking the UConn Foundations website.  

African American Alumni councilmember Theresa Hopkins-Staten explained that the reason why this series is called “Real Talk,” is because such conversations are often unfiltered and not always comfortable. However, these candid conversations are immensely important to have in order to finally move into a place of comfort. 

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