Five employees shared their perspectives on being Black public health professionals during a virtual panel on February 18 hosted by The Task Force during Black History Month. The panel – the first in a series called The Faces of Global Health – was moderated by Dr. Yves-Rose Porcena, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion at Agnes Scott College, and organized by The Task Force’s Council for Opportunity, Diversity & Equity (CODE).
CODE Co-Chair Rachelle Jones opened the event, noting that the global health sector has historically consisted of white American and European men and that “lack of representation can send the message that there aren’t opportunities for others.”
“So today, we are making a difference by starting to have these discussions so that attendees will leave with confidence that there is a place for everyone in global health,” said Jones, MPH, Senior Business Analyst at The Task Force’s Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII).
The five Task Force panelists included Adam Johnson, MPH, Interim Project Manager, Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET); Sam McKeever, MSPH, Project Manager, TEPHINET; Juneka Rembert, MPH, Senior Business Analyst, PHII; Leah Wyatt, MSc, Senior Associate Coalition Director, Health Campaign Effectiveness Coalition; and Moumine Yaro, MBA, Supply Chain Specialist, International Trachoma Initiative.
The panelists shared their perspectives on topics such as how global health has changed in the last 10 years with regards to diversity, whether their supervisors were representative of themselves and others in the global health sector, and challenges with being a Black person working in public health.
“As a global health informatics analyst, our goal is to get the right info to the right people at the right time for evidence-based decision making,” said Rembert. “I work with public health practitioners domestically and globally, so I see the stats, patterns, trends, and understand the direct correlation of social determinants of health and how that’s in direct relation to health disparities among minorities in the healthcare system. For me as a Black woman, I understand the cultural and religious differences. Some of the generational roots of being Black lead to these disparities.”
“With the internet, people, especially Millennials, are seeing the mistakes of the past, and what that looks like in terms of racism,” said Johnson. “That is a huge reason why we’re seeing inclusivity and diversity at all levels in global health now, including seeing women in leadership roles. These diverse people have a different perspective in global health and many other areas.”
Task Force staff established CODE after a June 2020 staff forum on racial injustice related to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. CODE’s aim is for The Task Force to become a role model in our local and global communities by being actively engaged in equity efforts, and to help achieve equity in our organization and community through education, action and public health. CODE works both internally and externally to improve diversity and inclusion.
Wyatt concluded her thoughts by asking “How can we talk about failure?”
“This question always comes up. Let’s ask ourselves, ‘is your knee on someone’s neck?’ I ask that because, entering this field there’s a constant conversation about failure. Why is this program not performing? That’s usually tied to some incentive structure. We have to depersonalize the failure conversation. And allow it to be the source of our learning and be the center of our growth. I encourage us to hold a posture of a student, a listening posture.”
This initial panel will be followed by others in a series called The Faces of Global Health which will feature the diversity of professionals who contribute to the success of The Task Force and the global health sector. Future panels will include Being a Woman in Global Health in March and Being LGBTQ in Global Health. Follow us on our social media channels to see invites for these types of events.