University of Minnesota Alumni Association


From the Ashes

Our North Minneapolis clinic was damaged after the murder of George Floyd. We aren’t mad at the protesters.

U of M physicians Renee Crichlow, M.D. and Andrea Westby (M.D. ’09), both practice in North Minneapolis, an area that was hit particularly hard by some who used the largely peaceful George Floyd protests as cover for acts of vandalism and destruction.

While their longtime clinic in the area was a target and damaged, both say they understand the profound anger of their community over systemic racism and the cost it has exacted on people of color.

The duo penned this article in the immediate aftermath of events. Today, their clinic has reopened, but the memory of their community burning and the rage that fed the protests lives on.

Renee Crichlow and Andrea Westby at a community garden across the street from their North Minneapolis clinic.
Photo Credit: Nancy Musinguzi

We are family physicians and educators who provide full-spectrum care in the Hawthorne neighborhood of North Minneapolis. Hawthorne is one of the seven North Minneapolis neighborhoods that has experienced systemic and structural racism and disinvestment by the city and those in power since the early 1900s. North Minneapolis has also experienced defunding of local social services and safety nets, over-policing, redlining, school neglect, excessive air and environmental pollution, predatory lending, slum leasing, and an attempted silencing of strong and vibrant community leadership. And yet, North still somehow is an amazing, resilient, thriving community of primarily Black, Hmong, and African immigrants, and its strength is unparalleled.

Our clinic has been in North Minneapolis in the strip mall near the U.S. Bank for 20 years and on Broadway for more than 40 years. The majority of our patients are local residents and Medicaid or Medicare recipients. We’re here for pregnant people and their babies, for teens in their athletic prime, for people with disabilities, mental illness, and multiple chronic health needs, for those who want office-based medication treatment for opioid and alcohol use disorders, for sexual and gender minorities looking for inclusive primary care, and for those nearing the end of their lives. Simply put, we are here for the people of the community in sickness and in health, wellness or injury. We care and we are here.

On the Monday evening of May 25, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes while Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, prone, and calling out for help.

“I can’t breathe.”

For three days after that, communities in Minneapolis and the surrounding metro experienced the burning of righteous fire and rage sparked by Mr. Floyd’s death, and in response to decades of oppression, racism, and violence. On Thursday night, May 28, the Broadway Avenue corridor surrounding our clinic experienced similar violence, and our clinic was damaged. On May 29, we were forced to close our doors temporarily to protect patients and staff while we regrouped and rebuilt the physical space, although we did continue uninterrupted virtual care for a week, and then reduced operations until roughly mid-July, when we were able to reopen fully.

We have a lot of emotions right now…

We are afraid for our patients and community because the pharmacies they depend on to provide medications and important supplies have been damaged and are indefinitely closed.

We are concerned about how people will get food, formula, and diapers when our grocery stores and convenience stores are closed. The lack of public transportation means many people are stranded without resources, a situation that is exacerbated by the pandemic.

We worry about the health of our patients who are unable to complete the telephone or video visits that we are offering instead of in-person visits, or those who need urgent medical care we cannot provide.

But we are not mad.

We are not mad at protesters, rioters, or those whose anger, fear, and pain boiled over and spilled into our physical clinic space.

We are enraged that our community has been ignored and dismissed for decades and that it required generations of toxic rage overflowing to get the attention of those in power.

We are outraged that people in power could have chosen to make this different, could have chosen to express values of justice, equity, and reparations, and didn’t.

We are incensed that health inequities experienced by people of color are attributed to individual choices and behaviors instead of the impact of historical trauma and chronic toxic stress.

We are frustrated that our own medical systems would rather focus on finding “genetic” or “biological” reasons for poorer outcomes than to address the racism and structural determinants at the core.

We are angry that the dignity and humanity of Black and brown people are repeatedly and systematically ignored and violated.

We are furious that Minnesota is touted as exceptional in so many ways, except if you aren’t white.

In the poetic words of local activist D.A. Bullock, we understand the anger and despair that has led to the “harnessing [of] revolutionary fire.” We aren’t mad at that.

Justice and accountability are more valuable than property.

And as for us, we aren’t leaving. We will continue to work in and with our community in the ways we can.

We have been here to care for a vibrant and thriving North Minneapolis, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Andrea Westby, M.D. and Renee Crichlow, M.D. are family physicians who practice in North Minneapolis

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