“These riots dishonor the memory of George Floyd.” This has become the common retort, the common chorus. “People have a right to protest but they are tearing up their own communities.” Yet again, the road to blame is found. Always blaming, never taking responsibility, never seeing collective fault, seemingly devoid of compassion or mercy. This common chorus threatens to drown out the legitimate anthem that is now ringing ‘from sea to shining sea.’ It is an anthem that underscores the great worth of young Black men and all Black people. The COVID-19 pandemic has left no state untouched. Similarly, the pain of racism has left no state untouched, nor has the impact of racism bypassed those of us working at MPHI. This is a dark time, and hopelessness threatens to win the day.

Last Thursday, the Staff of Color Affinity Group began a group chat. It began with a check-in comment seeing if everyone was okay, and it concluded with the statement, “It’s okay to not be okay.” And a legitimate anthem began to rise among many in the Affinity Group: “I’m not okay.” And I count myself among those. As the mother of three young-adult Black men, I’ve found myself maladaptively coping since the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. His murder hit especially hard because my family share his hometown of Brunswick, GA, and my sons and I have spent many summers there. Yet ‘stand strong, you must be a leader’ was my self-talk.

And just as it seemed my knees would buckle, late Friday afternoon I received an email from two White members of our MPHI family. They wrote to express their “strong support for communities suffering from intolerable injustice and show willingness to become more actively anti-racist.” Wow, the strength of solidarity; the power of authentic relationship.
Today, I write you to as a citizen of the world and a member of the MPHI family who holds this privileged leadership role of CEO. I echo the collective words of the Staff of Color, “it’s okay to not be okay.” Many of us are not okay. If you are a member of our staff who is White, it is important to know that many of your colleagues of color are not okay. If you are a person of color working at MPHI, know that many of your White colleagues see the injustice and the racism. I would posit to say that what we each share as members of the MPHI family is a deep desire to DO SOMETHING.

And do something we shall! I will stand strong, and I will be a leader – doing so in the collective strength of our relationships and support of each other. I invite you to stand strong with me, because each of you are leaders as well. I look forward to constructing with you, our response that is not a one time “check the box” but rather that shifts who we are and how we do what we do and how we advance the impact of our actions to deconstruct the consequences of racism in our society and our Institute, for we can’t help but be influenced by our environment. You will be hearing from your colleagues in the Staff of Color Affinity Group. You will also be hearing from those colleagues who reached out to me, suggesting that we establish an Affirmative Action Against Racism Affinity Group. And I look forward to receiving your suggestions and ideas for our collective response to racism and its damaging consequences. I am confident that solutions reside in us!

As MPHI employees, we are all public health professionals in each of the varying roles needed to assure that MPHI functions to fulfill our collective mission. My assumption is that if you are an MPHI employee, you personally resonate with our mission. You could be employed anywhere, but you are employed by an institute that has “health equity and social justice” as a core value, during a moment in history that begs for health equity and social justice. Our profession was founded to battle injustice, and battle together we will. Yes, it is a dark time, but Thomas Fuller stated in 1650, “it’s always darkest before the dawn,” and Francis Bacon said, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” I am grateful for the light that so many of you hold and I look forward to our collectively building a response that uses MPHI as a bright platform for change.

With peace & solidarity,
-renée