Kenniebrew speaker: Learning to be an ally is liberating
Sunny Nakae, PhD, offered lessons in empowerment and building skills to “become an ally” at the 2022 Dr. Alonzo Kenniebrew Lecture on February 8. Nakae is senior associate dean for equity, inclusion, diversity and partnership at California University of Science and Medicine.
Her virtual talk focused on the importance of allies in combating and correcting injustice and mistreatment in the workplace, institutions and the public sphere. She drew inspiration from her family history. Nakae’s Asian-American grandparents ran a California orchard and were sent to the U.S. internment camps during World War II. While away, a neighbor maintained their property and business.
The mindset required to be an ally in uncomfortable situations can be learned, Nakae says, when we un-learn some of our standard emotional responses.
“We can step up in these moments and act in a positive way. We can do it in ways that safeguard ourselves and our colleagues from further harm,” she says.
“You are not just defending others; you are liberating yourself. Inclusive excellence is about unlocking our full potential.”
The day after the presentation, SIU School of Medicine hosted the Alonzo Homer Kenniebrew, MD Forum on Health Inequities and Disparities to expand upon Dr. Nakae’s ally building lessons. Kerri Michelle Lockhart, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center and Rush University Medical Group, and SIU medical school alumna (2010), moderated the online discussion. The forum encouraged community members to delve deeper into honest conversations about trust, race and health.
The events are named after the first African-American physician in the United States to build and operate a private surgical hospital. The New Home Sanitarium in Jacksonville, Illinois, was established in 1909. Dr. Kenniebrew founded the hospital because he was refused admitting privileges at area hospitals.
At the Kenniebrew lecture, a pair of awards were announced to honor an individual and group who continue the groundbreaking work that Dr. Kenniebrew modeled.
Robert Blackwell received the Kenniebrew Trailblazer Award, “an honor that illuminates the legacy of equity ambassadors like Mr. Blackwell,” said Wendi El-Amin, MD, assistant dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at SIU School of Medicine. “His daily efforts to foster inclusiveness and fairness in state and municipal programs have improved the lives of countless citizens here in Springfield and across the state of Illinois.”
Blackwell served with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for 25 years, retiring in 2021. He was appointed chief of the Office of Racial Equity Practice in 2012, where he led the department’s efforts to address and eliminate racial disparities and disproportionality in the Illinois Child Welfare System.
From 1977 to 1984 he worked as a counselor, job developer and program director for the Springfield Urban League. In 1984, he joined DCFS, where he served in a variety of executive-level management positions until 1992. From 1992 to 2004 Blackwell served a stint as executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority and then established the consulting firm of Ujima Management Consultants, Inc. He returned to DCFS in 2004.
The SIU School of Medicine chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) received the 2022 Kenniebrew Equity Award. The students of SNMA are self-described “social justice warriors” who dedicate their time to improving both the SIU community and minoritized communities in Springfield. Through numerous projects, its members have been instrumental in improving access to care in the region. “We are extremely proud of the SNMA and grateful for their innovative community outreach, especially during the pandemic,” said Dr. El-Amin.