Black History Month:
Berkeley Public Health (BPH): What pronouns do you use?
Ché L. Abram: She/her/hers
BPH: What is your role here at Berkeley Public Health?
Abram: Chief of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
BPH: What does Black History Month mean to you?
Abram: Black History and Black Future Month has become such an important month to me because it gives me a chance to recognize the extraordinary resilience and joy of my community amid the continuous soul wrenching fight to be valued. It reminds me that I have something so inexplicably marvelous that it permeates every aspect of my life and is what makes me both uniquely me and binds me to my global community.
BPH: How has Black Lives Matter changed how you see or feel about Black History Month?
Abram: Black Lives Matter is a culmination of over 400 years of Black resistance through so many avenues from protests to parades. The movement has positively impacted my frame of Black History Month because so much beauty has erupted out of it, one of my favorites being: Oakland’s Black Joy Parade. It means self-care as a form of resistance (Audre Lorde), thriving Black communities and businesses, policy change, awareness, Black arts in their fullness and honesty, community connection, and feeling nurtured. As a person living Black Lives Matter every day, I have to come from a space of love otherwise it will eat me alive.
BPH: How do you feel the history of the Black experience in healthcare and public health can be better disseminated?
Abram: We can teach the history each and every day, yet, it is the lived experiences that often jolt us into action. Education about the “white gaze” and “savior syndrome” need to be discussed in addition to these histories, because the community has been thriving despite their environments. I believe, in public health and healthcare, like how the murder of Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin lit the fire for Black Lives Matter, people need physical exposure through personal story telling, to walk the streets, listen to understand and work side-by-side, not to assume or prescribe.
BPH: How do you think UC Berkeley can amplify the voices of our Black community members?
Abram: To amplify Black community members means to deconstruct the very essence of how the University structure and environment move and breathe; then rebuild something new. There is so much about academic institutions that was not designed for us and upholds practices that are harmful to us despite our willingness to bend to fit the crooked room (Melissa Harris Perry, Sister Citizens). Amplifying our voices is a bandaid on a structural issue.
Yet, to best address the question as a Black Woman:
- It’s having more than one or two Black members of the Chancellor’s Cabinet or in positions of leadership around campus.
- It’s having a policy, process, and practice that thoroughly examine racially based discrimination versus leaving it to the discretion of various parties to decide the outcomes.
- It’s stating the harms the University has done to the Black campus community and setting a timeline to mitigate and heal those harms.
- It’s recognizing that some equity policies are not designed to include the copious amounts of invisible labor that Black leadership, staff, faculty, and students do on a daily basis because there are so few of us in this space. Example, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the first California Surgeon General, just stepped down from her role after two years to practice self-care.
- It means funding and institutionalizing anti-racism and equity and inclusion at the same levels as funding and institutionalizing human resources, IT, or finance departments.
- It means when Black people come to you with an issue, it is a culmination of events that have occurred, not just one incident.
- It means when Black people give you feedback, it is a gift of growth because of the constant rumination and coaching we have had to experience in order to summon the courage to give you that feedback.
Photo illustration by Fernando Augusto