Rheumatologist and social justice advocate John Meyerhoff and his wife Lenel Srochi-Meyerhoff have been regulars at OSI-Baltimore’s “Talking About Race” events for years, finding something revelatory and informative in every topic and each speaker. Believing that race is the crucial issue in America, the couple helped bring renowned attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of “Just Mercy”, to headline one of the lectures.
The couple has also supported the Community Fellowships program and sponsored OSI’s Solutions Summit in 2016. They believe OSI performs an important function by bringing people together for thoughtful discussion, enabling community members to be change agents. Recently Meyerhoff agreed to join the Advisory Board and share with our organization his time, talents, and experience in Baltimore.
Meyerhoff, a Baltimore native and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute graduate, has been on the full-time faculty at Sinai Hospital for 31 years. He also served on the full-time faculty at the University of Maryland School of Medicine for five years and on the part-time faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (where he did his fellowship in rheumatology) for 30 years. In addition to caring for his patients, some of his greatest satisfaction comes from working to better the lives of those most marginalized in our community. “I’ve been very involved for over 30 years with The Family Tree, the largest non-profit in Maryland working to end child abuse,” he says. My experience on the board of The Family Tree has given me an education in the ways that adverse childhood experiences affect our citizens the rest of their lives. This will help inform my work with OSI-Baltimore.” He adds, “I am fortunate to have had parents who served as great role models by demonstrating that getting involved in social activism is requisite for a meaningful life.”
What aspects of Open Society Institute’s work speaks to you?
The opioid epidemic is a nation wide crisis. Speaking from a professional perspective, about 10 or 15 years ago, there was a big change in the treatment of pain and now we have an explosion in the number of people who are overdosing, and not just because doctors are over-prescribing these drugs. Open Society is in the forefront of addressing the epidemic, working to reduce the frequency of fatal overdoses through various means, including supporting the work of our visionary Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. Equally important in the battle are OSI’s efforts to promote social and economic justice.
What is Baltimore’s biggest challenge?
Structural racism and inequality are clearly the most significant issues in Baltimore because they affect people’s lives on a day-to-day basis, including their interactions with the criminal justice system, health equity, quality education, and access to affordable housing.
What do you hope to bring to the OSI-Baltimore board?
Like other Board members, I bring a life-long interest in social justice. The Board has not had a physician who is interacting daily with patients using opioids and the policies that directly affect patients and physicians dealing with pain.
I also serve on the Board of the Baltimore Museum of Art; the BMA is exploring how to use its resources to address the issues of race in Baltimore. There may be ways for the BMA and OSI to work together that I can facilitate.
As a new board member I hope there will be occasions where I add a new perspective that might lead to a better understanding of issues.
What do you want to see happen as a result of your service to the organization? What is your vision for an improved Baltimore?
I want to help bring about systemic change that will bring about social and economic justice. We need to reform the bail system. It is not being used to keep dangerous people off the street; it is ruining the lives of people who get caught up in the criminal justice system who are often innocent or not dangerous. OSI has been leading the fight for this reform.
People who have addiction issues should be able to get treatment when they are ready and not a month later. We need a living wage so people who work 40 hours a week can earn enough to take care of their families.
OSI has been in the forefront of bringing restorative justice to schools as a better way to deal with conflicts that occur in schools. Children should know that when they are in school they are in a safe place. We need to end the school-to-prison pipeline. I am heartened to see the hard work the OSI program directors are investing in these issues and the progress being made with the experience and insight they bring to these efforts. I hope the staff realizes how grateful we are for the changes they are facilitating.
While we often talk about the need to “speak truth to power,” OSI-Baltimore has a long history of using grants and the Fellows program to develop solutions to the problems facing Baltimore. These solutions need to be taken to scale to benefit even more Marylanders. Perhaps we should start “speaking evidence to power” based on these results.
What else do you do in your free time?
I love spending time with my children and grandchildren. I like to read both fiction and non-fiction. My wife and I also enjoy traveling, looking at art and architecture and collecting art. I like working in my wife’s garden—she told me to say that.