When I walk into an exam room and my patient is black, do I treat him differently than if he were white? I may say “no”, but the data say “yes.”

When I walk into an exam room and I see a patient who has no health insurance, do I treat her differently from a patient who does have insurance? I may say “no,” but the data say “yes.”

Such interactions in the patient exam rooms are just a microcosm of what is well known in society. We live in a separate and unequal world. At the 2015 Gandhi-King Conference (gandhiking.org) this Friday and Saturday at LeMoyne-Owen College, two dozen speakers from across the nation will discuss topics including health care disparities, personal nonviolence and global peacemaking.

As a doctor, I’m interested in the data on health care disparities that Memphis cardiologist Dr. Arthur Sutherland will present. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report, black patients receive worse care than white patients for 40 percent of the measures, while poor people receive worse care than high-income people for about 80 percent of the core measures.

Health insurance comes into play as well. A 2004 Health Affairs study found that lack of insurance accounts for a 3 percent higher mortality rate in the 54-65 age group, who are not yet on Medicare. This translates to 13,000 lives lost annually, making lack of insurance the third leading cause of death for this age group, after heart disease and cancer.

We need not be helpless to such disparaging data. At a local level, County Commissioner Terry Roland wrote in a March 28 op-ed in The Commercial Appeal: “We pray that lawmakers will resurrect Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan and give it their approval.” The plan “would provide health coverage for 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans.”

Gandhi and King would say nonviolence and overcoming inequality require effort, not just from the oppressed, but also from the oppressor and the silent majority, which often watches from the sidelines.

I wonder if 50 years ago, had black and white Americans not taken nonviolent action to bring about a change, would we still have separate but equal bathrooms in the South? Would the data still show health disparities in glaring and oftentimes shameful candor?

The most interesting question about inequality and disparity for me: How did we got to this state of bias and prejudice in our society? At the conference, four keynote speakers will explore such questions, two men and two women, of whom two are black and two are white: Michael Honey, a historian on the American civil rights movement; Mary King, a professor and scholar in residence at American University in Washington D.C.; Rev. Osayefo Sekou, a theologian pastor from St. Louis, and Wendi Thomas, an award-winning journalist formerly with The Commercial Appeal.

Joining the 200 or so adults will be more than 100 youths from area schools. The lessons from the conference will impact these teenagers more than us adults. They will be leaders and voting citizens just a few years from now.

Each year, the conference refreshes and revitalizes my belief in nonviolence. While the world will still have violent extremists like ISIS and racially motivated riots, we will also have the teaching of Gandhi, King , Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama within our reach.

From Selma to Ferguson, it may seem we have not made much progress. But we have. From 1963 on the steps of the Capitol to 2008 on the steps of the White House, black Americans have made tremendous progress. But the journey does not end.

Source : Commercial Appeal