The Hands of Sujal


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sujal M. Parikh was an M4 student participating in a one-year Fogarty International Fellowship in Uganda when he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on October 10, 2010. A beloved son, friend, and fearless advocate for social justice, Sujal received his medical school diploma posthumously in May 2011.  His life work continues through those that knew him and those that didn’t – all of whom have been moved by his indefatigable passion and tireless commitment championing social equity.

“Sujal was an absolutely inspirational and transformational leader for all of us,” began Dr. Joseph Kolars, Senior Associate Dean for Education and Global Initiatives.  He was welcoming attendees to the two-day Sujal Parikh Memorial Symposium for Health and Social Justice earlier this spring, and went immediately to the heart of the event. “It has been seventy-five weeks since his death,” he reminded everyone, “and there is not a week that goes by for me, and for many of us, that Sujal’s work, his memory, and his purpose aren’t called to mind. It is a real testimonial to him to see so many that have picked up his work.”

The Sujal Parikh Memorial Symposium on Health and Social Justice began as a collaborative tribute from friends, colleagues, and representatives of the numerous global health organizations to which Sujal contributed. Full of charisma and compassion, Sujal forged communities of friends and colleagues around the world. A stalwart activist at such a young age, he held local, national, and international leadership positions and was a passionate believer in the collective power of committed individuals to advance health and social justice.  The 2011 symposium, The Social (Justice) Network, brought together students and professionals to learn from one another, create lasting connections, and generate new ideas for the advancement of health and social justice.  The 2012 symposium was a joint endeavor with the Physicians for Human Rights National Conference to sustain the collective movement.

“Last year, following Sujal’s death, the planning committee put together a great first symposium very quickly by students and faculty who knew Sujal well,” said M3 Lesley Everett, one of the organizers for the 2012 symposium. “Building on that momentum, and having more time to plan, this year we were able to put together a larger program with more diverse panel speakers and were really able to grow the event. It’s been an amazing process, watching it organically come together,” she added, “and we have been so surprised and thrilled by the registration response.  Our only regret was that we didn’t have a larger space to hold the symposium this year and that we had to turn people away. We had to cap the registration at 200 very early on and had more than 200 folks on the wait list.”

One of those early registrants and poster presenter, Farraz Siddiqui, a student at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, was enticed by the program content and the tribute to someone he had only heard about.  “The dual purpose of this year’s symposium was a big draw for me.”  He explains, “The first day memorialized a student who, much like me and my friends, was very focused on increasing awareness and mobilizing important issues of human rights.  The meetings of the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) during the second day formalized the context even more and allowed further opportunity to connect with students and professionals."  

As Dean Kolars shared with the diverse audience, “Often issues of health equity get focused on the medicalization of our society.  It is gratifying that so many disciplines are represented here, as we need the distribution, engagement and involvement of all who are working to promote health and thinking holistically about health inequities beyond just the focus on the disease. It is extremely important that our voices and our causes are nurtured and cherished in settings like this.” He added that generous donations to the Sujal Parikh endowment fund have allowed small initiatives to continue his work on promoting health equity and social justice, so that “change agents, like yourselves, will go out into the field to move his causes forward.”

Among the participants who came from across the US were Sujal’s parents, who were clearly moved and touched by the outpouring of love and respect their only child continues to evoke. As his mother told grieving friends shortly after he was removed from life support and right before his body was donated to science in the Ugandan hospital where he died, in order to continue his work, they now had to be the ‘hands of Sujal.’  If the past 18 months are any indication, his work is in very good hands.