Black History Month: “There is still more work to be done”
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. Click through the links 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.
Ché L. Abram, MBA
Chief of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
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.
Black Lives Matter 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.
MPH candidate ’22, Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Concentration; GRADS Coordinator for Berkeley Public Health’s DREAM Office; President of the student group Black Advocates for Equity in Health.
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 And it’s 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. 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. 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.
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 (health care and public health) systems today. The reality is that racial disparities have existed and continue to persist, disproportionately impacting Black people in the US and around the world. 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.
Center for Occupational and Environmental Health Business Operations Manager
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.
First year DrPH candidate
Black History Month is a time to focus on the roots, flowers, and seeds.
To me, the roots represent the past. I honor my roots by honoring my ancestors and remembering stories of resilience and community organizing. I do this while holding my hometown (St. Louis) close to my heart.
Flowers represent what’s blooming now. Flowers remind me to practice gratitude in the present. I thank my ancestors for creating opportunities where there was no clear path. I thank my community for embodying love through fearless compassion and the extension of grace. I practice gratitude for the intersection where my faith meets courage, moving me through my journey in the world.
Seeds represent what’s to come, the future. This focus requires intentionality. Creating a just future requires imagination skills, hope, steadfast faith, and an eagerness for change. I use Black History Month (and quite honestly, every month) to honor my past, appreciate the present, imagine a more just society, and act in a way that is aligned with personal and collective goals.
Leanna W. Lewis, MSW, LCSW
Associate Director UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Medical Program, teaches and trains students at the Joint Medical Program and at UCSF in the Program for Medical Education for Underserved
Black History Month has always been a time of appreciation and celebration for me. I grew up in San Francisco, in the Fillmore neighborhood at a time when it was a predominantly Black community. BHM was prominent throughout our community, in school, in church, and in the community centers. These places were epicenters of vibrant BHM celebrations that connected and reflected an appreciation for the diaspora of Blackness stretching from pre-enslavement through modern, everyday heroes and sheroes.
My BHM celebrated everyone from Asata Shakur to Gwendolyn Brooks; we honored the commonly known names in Black history but it never stopped there. Because I got to experience BHM from the gaze of my Black community it was nuanced and full of the joy and richness that is the essence of the Black diaspora. More recently, as BHM has become mainstream and commercialized, I miss the personal feel of Black History Month when it was still ours and I was assured the celebration was authentic. While I appreciate the intention of the mainstream BHM, I can’t be sure today of the authenticity and the Black joy of BHM I experienced in my childhood feels muted.