Opening Remarks

Summer 2023

A quarterly e-newsletter in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Health Equity (OHE) shares news, perspectives and progress in the science and practice of health equity.

Leandris Liburd

Timing: the ability to select the precise moment for doing something for optimum effect. For almost a decade now, I’ve had this sense of urgency about making time to spend with friends who don’t live close by, but with whom I’ve stayed in touch. This is especially true for the friends I made in college. In May of this year, I spent 4 days with 2 college friends that I met during my first week on campus. We lived in the same dorm – a co-ed dorm of about 1500 students. Our arrival there set in motion a trajectory that we can look back on now and know how the story ends.

Three people in our original friend group have died. One died at the way too young age of 33 years. When we encountered each other that first week in the dorm, we were full of promise, ambition and the determination to succeed. We were told that 60% of Black freshmen didn’t return after the first semester. We were told to sit with the Black students in the cafeteria, and always wave to any Black student you saw walking across campus. It didn’t matter if you knew them or not. After the Black Action Movement of 1970, the university agreed to increase enrollment of Black students and establish academic supports to enhance the ability of these students to effectively navigate the demands of the university. Implementation was slow, but by the time I enrolled, I was able to experience some of what so many students before me had fought for.

Dr. Liburd posing outside of a dorm at University of Michigan

I studied hard and did not fall victim to the aforementioned attrition rate. I met students from all over the country and different parts of the world who came from diverse social backgrounds with their own stories of what it means to be in America. One of my professors described the university at that time as “a hotbed of radicalism.” For me, it was a rare opportunity to encounter, understand, appreciate, and respect difference. Most students were willing, if not eager, to share their worldview and inquire of mine. I did have some less enlightened moments including what happened in my first biology class. Whenever the Graduate Teaching Assistant would ask if there were any questions, if no one had a question, he would then look at me and ask “LeeAnn, do you have any questions?”  [My name is Leandris.] The entire class would turn around and stare at me. I was the only Black student in the class.

Now decades after our first meeting, my college friends and I reflect on those years with a profound sense of gratitude for the relationships formed and life’s lessons learned. We laughed. We told stories. We wondered what happened to different people. By the way, we were students with the current mayor of Detroit. He lived in the same dorm. We did the work required to pass our classes and graduate. We left the university with greater resilience, skills, and perspective to make a meaningful contribution to whatever sector we chose.

Timing: being in the right place at the right time. This month, the Office of Health Equity will welcome to Atlanta and CDC the John R. Lewis Undergraduate Public Health Scholars and the James A. Ferguson Emerging Infectious Diseases Graduate Fellows. These students represent a selective cohort of >300 future public health leaders. This year marks the 12th year of the now John R. Lewis Program and more than 30 years of the Ferguson Fellowship providing graduate students with a mentor and public health research experience in infectious diseases. They conclude their 10–12-week summer program at CDC where they meet students from all of the participating academic institutions, get acquainted with CDC scientists, and share posters of their summer public health experience. We can hardly wait to greet the students! They bring an energy and promise that the future of public health will be in good hands!

Timing: the time when something happens or is done especially when it is thought of as having a good or bad effect on the result. There are lots of changes on the horizon. New challenges, and old struggles. I have lived to see the genius of more than one generation and the power of access on the possibilities of students’ lives. Let’s carry on…

In this issue of Health Equity Matters, we raise awareness about disability inclusion, health justice, vaccine equity, and Healthy People updates to the social determinants of health, among other essential health equity topics. July marks the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, “including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.” The Office of Health Equity is working closely with colleagues and partners to advance health equity for people with disabilities.

We honor Dr. Habib Naqvi in this issue as a global Health Equity Champion. Dr. Naqvi leads the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS), Race and Health Observatory and is mobilizing nations to create global solutions to health inequalities in addition to his transformative efforts to ensure equity in the NHS. We are pleased to partner with the Race and Health Observatory and congratulate Dr. Naqvi for his bold and cutting-edge leadership!

It’s time to dive into the summer issue of Health Equity Matters! Grab a cold glass of iced tea, settle in, and enjoy! We would love to hear from you! If you are experiencing record levels of heat, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Be safe. Stay well.