The ABC's of what's in our name

Cardiology Review® Online, November 2006, Volume 23, Issue 11

It was 32 years ago this month that the Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc, was founded during the 47th Annual Scientific Sessions of The American Heart Association (AHA) meeting. Countering the then-prevailing medical consensus, the founding members recognized the existence of a disproportionate burden of cardiovascular disease and inequities in cardiovascular care among African Americans, and they set about creating an organization dedicated to eliminating these disparities in all people of color. Membership in the group was to be open to all caregivers, including physicians, nurses, and other health professionals of all nationalities and ethnicities.

Naming such a broad-based organization was also an item of considerable importance and discussion. Since the consensus was that the group would have a cardiology core and physician leadership, the founders thought the name should reflect this. Names including the terms “urban” or “national” were rejected, and it was only when founder Richard A. Williams suggested the “easy as A-B-C” title of Association of Black Cardiologists did the scope, mission, and issues of the group come into focus.

Since these early days, the ABC has achieved much (ie, establishing community health programs, Scientific Sessions, cardiology fellows programs) and grown more (to more than 600 members). Along with the achievements, however, questions have arisen and persisted regarding the organization’s name. Why is there still a need for the ABC when the AHA and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) welcome the participation of minorities? Must someone be Black or a cardiologist to obtain membership in the ABC? How would you feel about the existence of the Association of White Cardiologists?

Several recent encounters have brought this issue to the fore once again.

• While attending the recent World Heart Federation/European College of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona, Spain, we learned that “The Association of Black Cardiologists” could not exist in most of Europe, most notably in France. According to the head of the French delegation, organizing an ethnically based organization would just not be allowed in that country.

• Also in Barcelona, a Black cardiologist from Ghana now practicing in London sought us out to make sure we knew that he was personally embarrassed about our existence and that we “must” change our name.

• Another Barcelona dinner conversation with a group of traveling musicians from the Netherlands led to a discussion about the rationale for a Black organization in 2006. After explaining our organization’s advocacy and educational roles, they remained unconvinced of the need for the ABC.

• During a visit to Bahia, Brazil (which is 80% Black) last year, we posted a banner outside the restaurant where our group was supposed to meet. It seemed innocent enough, but several people, including blacks, became emotional about it and demanded that we take down our sign.

The Board of Directors recognizes the divergence of thought regarding the organization’s name, and has had numerous conversations over the years about changing it. There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to doing so, but this is a tougher decision than one might think, especially at this point in our organization’s life cycle.

For example, I recently received a call from a lady representing a family whose matriarch died from heart disease. They were trying to find a worthy cause to support, and she told me that upon learning about the ABC, she looked no further and determined to make us the beneficiary of their generosity. In addition, during Black History Month, a feature on the nationally syndicated radio program the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” led to calls thanking us for just being because they wanted to hear these messages from Black experts.

This organization’s raison d'être has been—and remains—as follows: to create camaraderie; a platform for the exchange of ideas and information; a focus upon the special medical problems that exist in the Black community; increased inclusion/participation in the AHA and ACC at all levels; advocacy for pursuit of excellence in research, teaching, and patient care; increased research on cardiovascular disease in Blacks; and an expanded workforce.

So I pose the question to you, our consistently insightful members and readers. Do you think we should change the organization’s name? Please send your comments to either Darin Gilstrap (Director of Public Relations,

or 404-201-6643) or B. Waine Kong, PhD, JD (CEO,

or 404-201-6610).