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Health care workers and students gathered for the 2023 White Coats against Racism and Injustice Kneel

  • Health and Wellness
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • School of Medicine

On a sunny Friday in May, a crowd of hospital workers and students gathered on the lawn of UPMC Montefiore for the fourth annual White Coats Against Racism and Injustice Kneel.

What started as a small University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine gathering in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement has expanded, thanks in great part to Rickquel Tripp, vice chair of diversity, inclusion and health equity and a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine.

The inaugural event was part of the 2020 mass awakening to the extent and pervasiveness of modern systemic social injustices, which arguably began with the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota that spring.

As the years passed, Tripp and the team behind the event knew they needed to branch out and be more inclusive. To broaden its scope and address a wider range of issues, the event’s name was changed from White Coats for Black Lives to the White Coats Against Racism and Injustice Kneel. It has also expanded into a multi-institutional event across 20 UPMC hospital locations throughout Central and Western Pennsylvania.

“This is our stance against racism, against hatred. We all kneel for nine minutes and 29 seconds — for the amount of time that Officer [Derek] Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck,” said Tripp during a 2023 interview prior to the event.

As the crowd gathered on the sun-soaked lawn, Tripp reminisced about growing up in the ’80s and noted that the most common fear among her peers then was the possibility of experiencing a natural disaster.

“We are now a country that, when the alarm sounds, our children’s lives are up against an unnatural enemy — our fellow citizens, our neighbors.”

Tripp reads from a book through a microphone to a crowd holding signs

Tripp, pictured left, called on attendees to “continue to have at the forefront of our mind[s] the health and the safety of our children and all of our citizens. Let us agree on fair and equitable access to education, health services and opportunity. That when we speak about disparate health, we talk about disparate education, care, access, jobs and earnings.”

Among the speakers was community member and anti-racist organizer Felicia Savage Friedman (CGS ’01, EDUC ’07G), founder and CEO of YogaRoots On Location LLC. Just before the crowd took part in the physically and emotionally strenuous silent kneel, she encouraged everyone in attendance to turn to their neighbors and, with their consent, get in their physician-recommended eight hugs for the day.

Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine, said at the event, “I don’t want this day and this gesture and this meeting to be a protest. I want this not to be a gesture from a subset of society. I want this to be a day of celebration of our diversity ... where we all kneel and say we are a diverse nation that love, respect and protect each other. I have a dream. And that dream is that this day will be a celebration of our nation as a diverse nation — as a nation of mutual respect and harmony.”


— Nicole Matthews, photography by Tom Altany