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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Connects King’s Dream and the Affordable Care Act at Howard University School of Divinity Convocation

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius provided the keynote address at Howard University School of Divinity’s Spring Semester Convocation. Sebelius connected King’s dream where everyone can reach their full potential to the issue of health inequalities and that there is a long way to go, particularly in the African-American community.

In celebration of the life and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius provided the keynote address for Howard University School of Divinity’s Spring Semester Convocation. Speaking from the pulpit of historic Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel where King once preached, Sebelius talked about King’s dream—creating a community where all children can reach their true potential, regardless of race, ethnicity, or level of income.

Acknowledging that much progress has been made making that dream a reality, Sebelius spoke to the issue of health inequities, particularly in African-American communities, to illustrate that there is still a long way to go.

“Health disparities carry a big cost for our communities and our nation,” she said. “It’s hard to concentrate on school when you’re sick.  When it’s not safe for children to play or there are no facilities for them to play on, it’s hard to get exercise.  When you have to walk two miles to get fresh produce but a bag of chips is right around the corner at the local store, it’s hard to eat healthy.”

Secretary Sebelius Delivers Keynote at Howard University School of Divinity

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius provides the keynote address for Howard University School of Divinity’s Spring Convocation in celebration of MLK Day.

Sebelius described the passage of the Affordable Care Act as “the most important legislation to reduce health disparities since Medicare.”  The legislation will ensure that all Americans have affordable and accessible health care, will make it easier for people to get preventive screenings for diseases, and will protect people from being denied coverage because of a chronic disease or disability.

In addition, investments from the Recovery Act will help to train and support 16,000 new primary care providers by 2015, with a special focus on doctors and nurses in underserved communities. 

Listening intently to the Secretary’s remarks were not only Howard School of Divinity students, but also students from the schools of health sciences and medicine. For me, seeing those young women and men in their white coats in Rankin Chapel illustrated the important connection that faith and health leaders have within their communities. The Secretary’s speech highlighted how those linkages present tremendous opportunities for underserved communities to receive more holistic and comprehensive health care.

Closing her remarks with a quote from Dr. King, “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle,” Sebelius charged the Howard University students, staff, and faculty to keep moving forward for an equitable community.

Acacia Bamberg Salatti is the Deputy Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (The Partnership Center) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.