Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about power and privilege lately. Only that hasn’t taken the shape you might expect. You see, I don’t have as much interest in or energy for rehashing all the ways I’ve been passed up and pushed aside by others better positioned or perceived than me. I’ve actually had a starring role in that film: It’s called, “40 Years a Black Woman.” But what I’ve been grappling with is how to ensure I never become that person for someone else, someone who overlooks a fellow champion because – or even in spite – of her pedigree or network or title. Someone who fails to understand or even accept another woman’s vision as “realistic” simply because that’s grounded in a reality different from my own.

I don’t spend a lot of time telling my story, maybe because that’s always felt self-indulgent and centered on me in a way I’m rarely comfortable. It’s probably also a reflection of needing to constantly swallow and squash how it feels to think I’ve had to work twice as hard to get here, as a product of who I am. Even now it requires an exhausting amount of effort to claim or keep some real estate among my peers.

I’m not supposed to be here. I remember interviewing for executive positions several years ago and being told I wasn’t a “known entity” in global health, regardless of working alongside colleagues and serving in advisory roles for years. Would-be bosses assumed I didn’t know enough about the priorities, even though leaders had been hired at other organizations with little to no background in health or development. Decision-makers seemed unsure how I could handle the spotlight and responsibility, despite having worked for one of the most notorious figures at a historical time. How would I manage, they thought, and I suppose they were right. After all, how many of “me” were out there, anyway? How many of us survived all the structural barriers put in front of us, regardless of smarts or scholarships, to emerge with some semblance of real opportunity? No, I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to have made it out of the ‘hood and now lead an organization, run panels with members of Congress, or meet with the head of World Health Organization. There are many more of me that get left behind.

No doubt that’s why I feel so responsible, which is common for those of us who end up being the “only” anywhere. The expectation that I could somehow represent or “save” all my people﹘let alone a world of other marginalized folk who feel the pain of discrimination far beyond what I’ve known ﹘ is ridiculously unreasonable. I try because I know how it feels to be let down by a country or system that should have my back. But there are better, healthier ways to show up than constantly playing the superheroine.

Back to the concept of power. Different organizations are delving deeper into how they wield theirs for good. GHC has been doing this over the years, as well, diversifying the makeup of our fellows, staff, and board. We have been  intentional about who we put on stage at our events, not as token representatives but to amplify experts and leaders of color for whom broad recognition is long overdue.

But this goes beyond the institution to the individual. Each of us has more power than we realize to do something right now that changes the trajectory of our joint legacy. Do we want to be known for crowding out those still seeking that seat at a table? For unknowingly or otherwise perpetuating the age old practice of racism and bias? I hope that for the majority of our members, partners, and friends the answer is a resounding, “no.”

So, we’re going to keep having the conversation, and we’re going to look closely at not only what our government could do better but also the very personal role each of us plays in influencing it. America is experiencing a reckoning from which the field of global health is hardly immune. What is the story we’ll want to tell about ourselves when all is said and done and we’re on the other side of this pandemic, widespread protests, and another political election? Is it about dominance and the inability to let go of old ideas and systems? Or should it be about evolution, inclusion, and challenging the status quo in a way that truly meets the moment?

Let’s just take the journey together. We don’t know how it will feel, or the twists and turns it might take along the way. We also don’t know the exact destination or what we will find there in the end. But I know I want to be on that road and for you to be there, too, making room for all the well meaning warriors we pick up along the way.

15 Comments

  1. M L Houston on June 22, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Loyce. Thank you for your work! and yes, the representation. You so deserve to be where you are. Seeing you were you are has always been an inspiration for me…..it was about time! Stay strong. M L Houston

  2. Paurvi Bhatt on June 22, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    You’re in truth with so many along side you.!

    There is a tribe of us who relate :

    “No doubt that’s why I feel so responsible, which is common for those of us who end up being the “only” anywhere. “

    We are here….

  3. Katherine Burke on June 22, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    Loyce, your voice and leadership mean a lot. Global health needs to remake itself, and we have to keep that effort alive after the news cycle moves on. Let’s do it together.

  4. Bob Chapman on June 22, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    And now Loyce is paying it forward the world over. We are all better off because of global leaders like Loyce Pace. We need more of them.

  5. Mark Clack on June 22, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Mark Clack: This is an important and encouraging message Loyce Pace! You gracefully create the space for the global health community to look at the role of organizations and individuals in joining the conversation about racism, inclusion and moving toward a better America. Your courage to reveal your real life experience is something I greatly admire. Most importantly, this is a journey we must take together. Come what may! Your leadership is more relevant today than ever. I thank you for contributing your valuable insights.

  6. Emily Mendenhall on June 22, 2020 at 8:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Loyce. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation and following your leadership.

  7. Ann Keeling on June 23, 2020 at 1:19 am

    Brilliant piece Loyce! Thanks for putting this on paper for the rest of us to share. We don’t want brilliant women to be put on pedestals as super Heroines, ‘exceptions to the norm’. We want brilliant women like you to be the new normal as leaders in global health – and beyond.

  8. Olumide Elegbe on June 23, 2020 at 5:32 am

    Loyce, thank you for saying clearly and publicly, what a lot of us are unsure how to say. Your passion, commitment, hard work, and dedication to global health, and in fact whatever you put your brand behind is an inspiration to me and to many. You do not need me or anyone to tell you that you are beyond qualified and more than deserve to be where you are. You know. Also, there is no level you’d be that you wouldn’t do with outstanding class. We will continue to have the conversation, we will continue to self reflect and ensure that we do not, in a bid to manage our own struggles, put others down.

  9. JM Tuakli, MD, MPH on June 23, 2020 at 8:40 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and suggestions. Your personal history resonates so much but is so much better articulated. Thank you

  10. Rachel Deussom on June 23, 2020 at 9:11 am

    Thank you for sharing your story and voice, Loyce! You are an inspiration to a future global health generation that will be more diverse and do better. We have a lot of work to do, but I am behind you and with you.

  11. Lillian B Niwagaba on June 23, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Thank you for all you do everyday, Loyce. You such an inspiration to us all.

  12. Lillian B Niwagaba on June 23, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you for all you do everyday, Loyce. You are such an inspiration to us all.

  13. Lois Bailey on June 23, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    Loyce, we often say, “it goes without saying…”.well, I think not. I’m glad that you took the time to say it with the megaphone! Your bold commitment to a conversation for a better tomorrow is definitely needed for us to move forward! You have always been a champion for change locally and around the globe. Your letter confirms just how concerned you are about change and inclusiveness. Conversations about racism has never been easy but today signals hope for a new generation.

    You are amazing and you deserve to be where you are today, giving a voice to the voiceless! It has been said, ” it’s not how you start the race but how you end it.”‘ Of course, you know a little about racing so this will not be a sprint but a marathon! This world will continue to evolve because of champions like you! Thank you.

  14. Crystal Lander on June 25, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you for being a such a great leader. You speak up for those without a voice and it matters.

  15. Janna Patterson on June 29, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Honored to be your colleague, privileged to hear your voice.

Leave a Comment