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Eyewitness Account: A Pivotal Conversation on Systemic Racism at the NIH

Black and white profile side view of face as symbol of equality.

Recently, I was privileged to attend a senior leadership meeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where systemic racism and its direct impact on NIH employees were discussed. What I witnessed that day moved me deeply, and I was inspired to write about my experience to share with others.

As I listened to the thoughtful discussion of leadership’s acknowledgement about pervasive manifestations and outcomes of structural inequality in science and health, I felt my perspective changing. My usual expectation of federal institutional responses in workplace settings to highly sensitive and emotional issues began to evolve as I realized this conversation was different. It was pivotal and game changing.

I was witnessing authentic, highly personal expressions of leaders wanting to make a positive difference. Leaders were speaking from the heart. I felt it.

I saw them visibly striving within NIH’s sphere of influence as the nation’s public health research agency to take tangible steps towards addressing structural race-based impediments that have been baked into societal norms for generations.

Openly and with profound sensitivity, leaders were sharing creative ideas, approaches, and strategies for the explicit purpose of committing to taking action towards ending inequality and the denial of opportunities due to race bias.

Recalling this extraordinary discussion, I have always known NIH leaders cared, but I was more comforted knowing how deeply NIH leaders care about what profoundly matters to me and many of my colleagues.

I am grateful that leadership is focusing on meaningful actions to address systemic racism and its deleterious effects on health in a swift, thoughtful and sincere manner.

I am hopeful in my belief that NIH leadership’s sincere and heartfelt commitment so visibly apparent during that pivotal conversation will indeed ensure for all to know and take to heart that racism doesn’t and will not work at NIH.

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