Symposium to honor student health advocate to focus on Flint

Flint’s water crisis will be the focus of an annual event held in memory of a late UMMS student and health equities advocate.

Next month’s Sujal Symposium for Health and Social Justice, along with a follow-up Soup Lunch fundraiser, will highlight the ongoing water contamination issues in Flint, where residents have been faced with unsafe lead levels in the municipal water supply for two years. The crisis in Flint, which will be the focus of a symposium panel discussion, touches on all of the issues that Sujal Parikh, the event’s namesake, so deeply cared about, said organizer Harika Rayala.

“In the classroom, a lot of these conversations tend to be broad and abstract, so we were looking for a way to make the conversation about social justice and health disparities very local: how do injustices really manifest themselves at the community level?” said Ms. Rayala, a second-year medical student heading the event. “There is no better case study than Flint to examine these issues. The crisis is a confluence of health, social injustices and social marginalization, issues that Sujal was very passionate about.”

Different Perspectives

RSVP for the Symposium
RSVP for the Soup Lunch

The Sujal Symposium is set for Friday, Nov. 18, with the fundraiser Soup Lunch taking place on Sunday, Nov. 20. This year’s symposium panel will feature:

  • Curt Guyette, a Michigan ACLU investigative journalist who has worked extensively to cover the Flint story;

  • Val Washington, JD, a Flint attorney who successfully sued the city to reduce water rates following the crisis, and who now represents Flint residents in a class-action lawsuit against the city and the state;

  • Rebecca Cunningham, MD, a U-M Emergency Medicine physician who has worked extensively with Flint’s youth population on social issues;

  • and Jennifer Carrera, MS, PhD, a Michigan State University sociologist who is part of that school’s Global Water Initiative.

“We have four very different perspectives from experts who’ve approached this topic in very different ways. The idea is to encourage people from many different fields – public health, law, medicine – to come together under one cause,” said Ms. Rayala.

An Annual Event In Memoriam

Sujal Parikh

This year marks the sixth annual Sujal Symposium for Health and Social Justice. Sujal Parikh was a 25-year-old fourth-year medical student when he died in 2010 following a traffic accident in Kampala, Uganda. He was there conducting AIDS research. A fund established in his memory supports the annual Sujal Symposium, which in turn raises money for health and social causes to which the young man was so dedicated.

All U-M medical students and faculty interested in global and national health disparities are encouraged to attend either event. The Nov. 18 symposium is free and will take place at Rackham Graduate School from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It includes a dinner, a poster session (abstracts are being accepted through Oct. 21), the panel, and a keynote address from Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Chief Medical Officer of the Boston-based Partners in Health, which works to improve healthcare systems in low-resource settings around the world. Registration is now open.

A fundraiser luncheon

Registration is also open for the Nov. 20 Soup Lunch event, which takes place from noon to 2:30 p.m. That event will be held at Rackham as well. While the symposium is free, Soup Lunch attendees make a minimum $5 donation. This year’s luncheon will benefit various community-based non-profit organizations working in Flint. Specifically, select organizations will present on their activities during the afternoon, with the money raised from the fundraiser being divided between them.

“It’s intended as a celebration to honor the work that they’ve done and the role they are playing in the Flint community,” Rayala said. “By highlighting their efforts, we can do our small part to recognize the important but often invisible work that these organizations do.”