Black History Month:

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

Gina Grayson: She/her/hers

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

Grayson: My main position requires me to manage all business aspects of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) by overseeing our grants, finances, and all aspects of our NIOSH training grant for graduate trainees in Occupational Health. I also sit on the Staff Advisory Council (SAC) and SAC Events committees.

BPH: What does Black History Month mean to you?

Grayson: This month means so many things to me. I look forward to this month every year because we have a wider audience to share our stories—both past and present—with those who may not otherwise take notice of our cultural richness. We are often provided opportunities to have hard conversations during this month that may never take place without the inadvertent hyper awareness that comes with Black History Month. I find myself analyzing race relations in the US regarding the state of Black lives as a whole. Not one year goes by that I do not count myself extremely grateful for the sacrifices from my ancestors, and all those before us who put their lives on the line to ensure we have a more equitable future. This year in particular, I am reminded of how far we have to go to achieve equity and all that we accomplished thus far.

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

Grayson: Black lives have always mattered, but a slogan/tagline/corporation had to be created to break it down to its most simplistic base—to remind others in this country and this world—that Black lives always have, and always will, matter. The unity of parts of the Black community through “Black Lives Matter” comforted me and gave me hope. Alternatively, I was devastated when we were countered with “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” Now, this phrase carries many emotions, but I will always celebrate the fact that Black lives matter—that my life matters. Black History Month remains a beautiful and reflective time of year for me, regardless of personal interpretation or politicization of BLM, because it’s a part of who I am, and it reminds people that I exist.

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

Grayson: My answer depends on who we are disseminating this information to. The system needs to acknowledge the horrific historical atrocities that happened to/were experienced by African Americans. We have a responsibility to make sure all community members are educated about health care and public health, but it has to be done at all levels. When there are more people that look like our community and advocates of our community wearing white coats, there will be a greater opportunity to discuss the importance of health care, especially preventative care that might not take place otherwise. The health care system needs to reorganize their approach in a way that every person, regardless of color, gender, etc., gets the respect and treatment they need and deserve. We need to remind people of the “care” in health care. Changing a system is hard, but empowering patients to speak up for their health and meaningfully question decisions can help our community gain greater control over choices made on behalf of their health.

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

Grayson: The process has already started with the invitation to staff to join racial justice/antiracism training, which enables us to share our truth and personal experience with others. Another opportunity to raise our community up is by hiring more of us into the school, and into UC Berkeley as a whole, to better reflect the community we serve, and those we hope to serve. When we create a community that truly includes people from all backgrounds, we all have a voice. One hundred voices united together will always be heard over one or two voices yelling at the top of their lungs. We need to encourage faculty and those in power to welcome those we are trying to serve at the table, ask about their needs and how they can be supported to make sure Black voices are fully included in meetings and conversations that directly impact all of us.

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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