Reflections on a visit from Dr. Camara Jones

On Tuesday, January 28th, Dr. Camara Jones visited HRiA for a presentation and discussion on racism with staff and board members. The session was held in the conference room named in her honor. Dr. Jones enthralled us with her most well-known allegories, followed by an engaging discussion on the levels of racism, identifying how racism operates within institutions and broader systems, operationalizing health equity and the barriers to achieving health equity, and defining action steps to anti-racism work.

We at HRiA have made a commitment to health and racial equity, and we are truly grateful for the opportunity to continue our internal conversations with the guidance and wisdom of a leader in this space such as Dr. Jones. In light of her visit, we asked some of our staff members to reflect on her talk and their own personal experiences.

There is something about seeing a woman of color share her expertise with such warmth and confidence that made me sit up in my seat a little straighter.

Gina Rodriguez, project manager, Community Health Training Institute

Dr. Camara Jones addresses staff and board members of HRiA

“There is something about seeing a woman of color share her expertise with such warmth and confidence that made me sit up in my seat a little straighter, almost as if I could perhaps gain a little bit of that energy simply by being in the same room as her. And although we lived very different lives, and don’t quite identify the same way – there were pieces of Dr. Camara Jones’ story that felt like my own. I could see my own relatives in the lines on her face and the texture of her hair, calling to mind the utter importance of representation – seeing women of color across all levels and stages within our work, to inspire us, to motivate us and to bring our voices to the table.

“One of the things that struck me most about her talk was not something that she had prepared on a slide or one of her famous allegories. It was a story she shared of her experience of racism in the professional world. To watch her open-up so honestly and unapologetically seemed almost out of place in a room where we have our staff meetings and discuss expense reports. Dr. Jones (a public health superhero in my eyes) suddenly looked very human, and in the most heartening way. She told us how she left that position and how much more supported she is in her current one. She’s able to joke and laugh about it now as she shares with us, and in the sharing of that particular story, she showed her humanness, her vulnerability – that even public health superheroes experience the impact of the white supremacist culture that permeates our country. It begged me to reach back to my own stories and experiences, to re-examine my own vulnerabilities so that perhaps even my own stories can be used to empower others.” – Gina Rodriguez, project manager, Community Health Training Institute

“I am energized by her courageous leadership.”

Nineequa Blanding, vice president of Grantmaking

former HRiA VP Nineequa Blanding and Dr. Camara Jones

“I remain moved by Dr. Camara Jones’ recent visit with us at HRiA. Within two precious hours, she led us through a powerful and thought-provoking session centered on the importance of explicitly naming and addressing racism in our collective efforts towards health equity – the assurance of optimal health for everyone.

“How do we achieve health equity? In order to answer this question, I will share two of her messages that deeply resonated with me: 1) At an institutional level, we must ask ourselves, “How is Racism Operating Here?” and take a critical look at the ways in which racism manifests through our organizational culture, policies and practices. 2) We can use our position of influence to transform systems and create “bubbles bursting with opportunity,” particularly in areas where there is need.

“The way in which Dr. Jones delivered her presentation filled the room with hope and inspiration. For me personally, I am energized by her courageous leadership which has led to spearheading a national dialogue around an issue that is undeniably the biggest barrier in assuring optimal health for everyone. I am also inspired by her unwavering commitment to share her knowledge with others matched with a genuine desire to learn from others along the way. As I thanked her for her leadership contributions, she referenced an important lesson from nature: Geese typically fly in a V formation. When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the lead position. In the context of health equity, for me, this example is a reminder of the importance of shared leadership and collaboration in order to progress forward. There is greater likelihood of success in advancing health equity through our collective efforts toward change.” – Nineequa Blanding, vice president of Grantmaking

“Be bold. Name Racism…the whole word. Don’t just stop at race.”

Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones

Please enjoy some images from our visit with Dr. Camara Jones

Dr. Camara Jones headshot

Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD is a family physician, epidemiologist, and Past President of the American Public Health Association whose work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the United States and the world. She is currently a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. She is a renowned as a public health leader that is valued for her creativity and intellectual agility.