tree with hearts and birds

Giving Voice

The 2021 Voices Against Racism series looks back, featuring faculty accounts of racism—institutional and personal—and efforts in support of racial equity.

By Keshia M. Pollack Porter

The year 2021 began with a shocking attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, including the presence of gallows and a noose on the lawn, exactly two weeks before the first woman of color was sworn in as Vice President of the United States.

We saw a wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans. We continued to witness Black and Brown people, especially men, suffer disproportionately from deaths and injuries due to gun violence. Structural and institutional racism remain important contributors to the injustice and loss of life that continue to devastate communities.

Against the backdrop of these troubling instances of racism in the U.S., the Voices Against Racism column series, which ran throughout 2021, served as a forum for our faculty to express their views on racism and racial equity. The essays covered the importance of culturally grounded solutions to address the health threats facing Native communities; the roles for both leaders and agitators in dismantling structural racism; and how being “woke” is simply not enough.

Despite encouraging progress in 2021, I often asked myself if what we are seeing in terms of attention to racial justice is a moment or a movement. 

These powerful essays demonstrated the commitment of our faculty to dismantling structural and institutional racism through leadership, accountability, and community partnerships. I am grateful to the School magazine for providing this platform and to the faculty who shared personal stories about the pain they have experienced—sometimes at our own institution—the work that remains to be done, and hope for a better way forward.

My vision for the column was to continue directing attention to racism as a public health crisis, building on a special section in the Fall 2020 issue of Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health magazine; I don’t know about you, but I feel that my vision was realized.

I thank everyone who read the columns and encouraged the School to continue the fight toward racial justice and health equity. I'm grateful that the School’s Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Equity (IDARE) will take the lead on continuing this column with some regularity, and will expand it to include the voices of staff and students. 

As I reflect on 2021, it can be easy to feel trapped in a place of anger, pain, and sadness. While I acknowledge those feelings, I also celebrate the moments that helped me to see hope and possibility for the future.

The hope I felt when a white police officer in Minnesota was held accountable for the murder of George Floyd. The hope in seeing three white men in Georgia held accountable in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The hope I felt when the Dean’s Office funded two pilot projects in support of anti-racism research. And the hope in watching the IDARE Action Plan advance and take shape under Assistant Dean Joel Bolling’s leadership alongside the work of committed colleagues.

Despite encouraging progress in 2021, I often asked myself if what we are seeing in terms of attention to racial justice was a moment or a movement. At times the answer was unclear, especially when it seemed that society took two steps forward and five giant steps backward. However, as I write this, I am clear that I and others at the School are deeply invested in driving action to ensure that we are not merely in a moment of awakening but a lasting movement. A movement that involves being honest about our history with slavery and racism, naming their enduring impact on society, and preparing future leaders to imagine an anti-racist world.

So as the year comes to an end—what will you carry forward? I am carrying hope. Hope for a better world and a better way. Hope for a sustained movement, and hope for a shared belief that we will achieve a more just, equitable, and anti-racist, anti-oppressive society.

Thank you for allowing me to be one of the many Voices Against Racism.