At our medical school we talk a lot about justice, equity, human rights, and patient-centeredness.

We care about patients because we care about people, families, neighborhoods, and those whose need is greatest. Our hearts go out to anyone in pain, anyone in need of an advocate, anyone who might be vulnerable, afraid or suffering. As we acquire medical and scientific knowledge and skills, and as we support the growth and development of America’s health care workforce, we can actually do something to make a difference.

In our role as healers and human beings we can all relate to this excerpt from Emma Lazarus’ famous poem:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

And yet the language strikes a chilling chord this week as we struggle to make sense of the often violent world around us. The events in Ferguson and in our own city force us to question our tenets of equality, freedom and justice.

Are we making progress as a society, or are we simply destined to repeat history’s horrible mistakes?

These and other questions defy easy answers, and each of us copes with them in our own way.