Black History Month:

Berkeley Public Health (BPH): What pronouns do you use?

Abena Asare: She/her/hers

BPH: What is your role here at Berkeley Public Health?

Asare: I’m a second year MPH student in the Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health concentration. I also serve as a GRADS Coordinator for the DREAM Office and as the President for Black Advocates for Equity in Health (BAEH), a student group within SPH.

BPH: How do you feel the history of the Black experience in health care and public health can be better disseminated?

Asare: First and foremost, I think it is important to acknowledge the history of the Black experience to get a better understanding of why and how Black folks interact with these systems today. The reality is that racial disparities have existed and continue to persist within health care/public health, disproportionately impacting Black people in the US and around the world. The inequitable systems that exist today didn’t happen overnight and I believe unpacking the history of how and why we got to this point is essential. From the origins of American gynecology to the Tuskegee syphilis study, we know that many of the advancements in health care and public health arose as a result of work done on and to Black bodies. The stories of those who were used as “experiments” for the greater good, deserve to be shared and honored. With this knowledge, it is important to own and recognize the harm that has been done and continue to actively take steps towards ensuring change for communities that have been negatively impacted by this work. We need to continue to listen to the voices that have continually been left out of the narrative.

BPH: What does Black History Month mean to you?

Asare: For me, Black History Month is a time of deep reflection. It is also a time of celebration; a time to recognize and show massive love to everything that is connected to Black culture. Yet, it is also a time to remember and show gratitude for all that my community—both past and present—has done to get us to this point. BHM also serves as a reminder that there is still more work to be done. Issues such as systemic racism still transpire in today’s world, and Black people still find themselves fighting against these injustices. Therefore, BHM to me is an indicator that the job is never finished: that there were people before me who fought for me to be where I am, and that I have a duty to continue to push for change for those who come after me.

BPH: How has Black Lives Matter changed how you see or feel about Black History Month?

Asare: Personally, it hasn’t really changed much. Being Black is part of my identity and I grew up in a household where we were taught to take pride in our Blackness and that pride became even more essential with the BLM movement. It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a decade since the BLM movement was started, but the last few years or so has taught me that we’re still fighting for our lives to be valued. Black Lives Matter brought to light the injustices I had seen and experienced my whole life, and I was grateful to have more allies in my corner who were now seeing and actively learning about what I and others experience daily. I’m hopeful that there is a brighter future ahead for all because of it. I will continue to celebrate Black History all 365 days of the year and I hope that those around me continue to amplify the voices of Black folks all year, not just during the month of February.

BPH: How do you think UC Berkeley can amplify the voices of our Black community members?

Asare: UC Berkeley can amplify the voices of our Black community members by being intentional in providing opportunities and spaces where Black folks feel comfortable being their whole selves. Many times, members of the Black community are the minority in comparison to our white counterparts and classmates. Therefore, space must be given to us to truly express and share how we feel and what we want to see from institutions such as UC Berkeley. Part of being an ally to me is being willing and able to take a step back, listen, and see how one can make room for those who they want to support. UC Berkeley simply has to step out of the driver’s seat in certain regards and allow for Black community members to transparently share their experiences, concerns, and hopes.

To honor Black History Month 2022, we asked Black members of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health community what the month means to them. The answers we received were thoughtful, nuanced, emotional, and joyful. Read the full article to see our participant’s full thoughts on Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, Black experience in health care, and what UC Berkeley and Berkeley Public Health can do to amplify Black voices.

Black History Month: “There is still more work to be done”

Photo illustration by Fernando Augusto

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