Addressing Systemic Racism in Healthcare with Marcus Whitney

Entrepreneur Marcus Whitney explains why he decided to speak out about the role systemic racism has played in Nashville’s healthcare system and shares his vision for a more equitable future.

Marcus Whitney spent years avoiding conversations about racism in Nashville’s healthcare industry, but when he noticed that healthcare leaders were largely silent about the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, he decided to speak out.

“I’m about being effective and being successful, not about saying things for the sake of saying things. And I just never felt that the timing or the space was right, where if I said something, it would be perceived as anything but me pulling the race card,” he explained. “But I think that actually made it that much more impactful when I did say something about it.”

In this episode of Disrupt the Continuum, recorded at 3686 Festival 2020, Whitney — an entrepreneur, author and member of Launch Tennessee’s Board of Directors — shares his vision for the future of Nashville’s healthcare industry, and he explains how he’s working to address the current disparities by investing in Black founders.

Understanding Healthcare’s History

With his essay “Calling Up to Nashville’s Healthcare Leaders,” Whitney wanted to help people understand the roots of systemic inequity and racism in the industry, in hopes that leaders would begin to make anti-racism work a priority.

“Nashville is a very, very powerful city when it comes to healthcare,” Whitney explained. “And that touches a variety of things. It touches care delivery, it touches employment, it touches wealth creation. And in all of those areas, there are significant disparities, especially for Black people. And what I wanted to do was just frame up that these things were likely systemic from 50+ years ago, when Nashville’s health industry was started.”

To this day, Black people are a significant minority in positions of power across the healthcare industry. This is even more striking because Nashville’s Meharry Medical College is one of the top 5 African-American medical institutions in the country, so there’s no lack of talent.

Although Whitney’s piece was a timely message in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, he also sees it as “the beginning of a conversation.”

“I think that over the next months and years, I am going to be dedicating myself to this particular issue in a way that I didn’t expect to,” he shared. “I’m a college dropout. I don’t know healthcare administration, I don’t know the business, so there were a lot of things that I pointed out that I literally cannot do anything about… There’s nothing I can really do except ask them to take a good look in the mirror and say whether or not they’re doing enough there.”

Investing in Black Founders

Whitney also recognizes that he has a unique opportunity to influence the future of healthcare by investing in Black founders. As a founding partner of Jumpstart Health Investors, he’s realized that the healthcare VC space contains just as much disparity as the major executive suites.

“That is a space that I can absolutely do something about,” he said. “I’ve started the process of establishing what I believe is the first Black healthcare venture fund in America. And that means that it will have Black general partners managing the fund, and it will exclusively invest in companies in the healthcare space that have Black founders and Black leadership.”

By investing in Black founders, Whitney believes he can not only help individuals succeed, but he can play a role in transforming the entire industry.

“The success of a couple of really, really great companies with Black leadership can do incredible things,” he explained. “And so it has the potential to be transformational, it has the potential to develop into a true institution that continues beyond the first fund.”

Please subscribe, rate, and review Disrupt the Continuum wherever you listen to podcasts. This season of Disrupt the Continuum is powered by Pinnacle Financial Partners. We’d love for you to join us next year at Launch Tennessee’s 3686 Festival to hear more stories about innovation and entrepreneurship. Watch this space for more information about 2021’s Festival, returning this summer.

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Empowering Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and working to make TN the most startup-friendly state in the nation. Host of 36|86 Festival | launchtn.org

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Empowering Tennessee’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and working to make TN the most startup-friendly state in the nation. Host of 36|86 Festival | launchtn.org

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