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Leaders Emphasize Inspiring Change, Creating Community at DHA’s Black History Month Observance

Image of Dr. Zoe Spencer, the guest speaker for the Defense Health Agency’s Black History Month event Feb. 15, in her Emmy-winning spoken word piece “Say Her Name.”  (Credit: "Say Her Name - Zoe Spencer - School of Thought" on YouTube). Dr. Zoe Spencer, the guest speaker for the Defense Health Agency’s Black History Month event Feb. 15, in her Emmy-winning spoken word piece “Say Her Name.” (Credit: "Say Her Name - Zoe Spencer - School of Thought" on YouTube)

The Defense Health Agency held a Black History Month event, themed “Inspiring Change,” on Feb. 15.

“We have to get to the point as people, as human beings, where we recognize that our privilege is not predicated on another group’s oppression,” said guest speaker Dr. Zoe Spencer.

Spencer is a professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the Virginia State University, Emmy award winner for her spoken word piece “Say Her Name,” and the creator of the university’s Center for Policing Leadership and Social Justice, which builds collaborative relationships between local and national law enforcement and legal officials, and community leaders.

“When we get to that point,” Spencer said, “then we start to erase the lines, the social constructs, that divide us and begin to look at the human condition as a whole. And so, words like multiculturalism or diversity or justice don’t seem foreign to us, or it doesn’t seem like a threat to our existence.”

Only then, Spencer said, “we will be able to collectively work towards eradicating oppression in all its forms.”

Now is the time to speak up and act, Spencer said.

Referencing a quote from the Holocaust, she said, “Silence is not the right answer, complacency is not the right answer. It is about speaking up and using the voice that we are given and to recognize the fellow humanity around us lest it comes to us and there is no one left to speak up.”

How DHA Can Move Forward

Moderator Christianne Witten, DHA chief of internal communications, asked Spencer about cultural actualization and empathic modeling in clinical practice, and how the DHA can apply it “to increase levels of trust with those we serve in the African American community.”

That means working “to undo all of the things that we learn, and how we’re actualized and the ways in which our learning impacts our connection with other people who are not like us to be able to do the work of feeling safe in an environment with others, and not viewing others that don’t look like us as a threat,” Spencer answered.

This fosters “the ability to create a community of belonging, the ability to develop a sense of esteem and regard for other cultures,” Spencer said. She hopes this will allow medical professionals “to really develop a holistic, empathic model to use in navigating through those relationships.”

More Conversations Needed

DHA Senior Enlisted Leader U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg said, “Hopefully, this discussion will transition into conversations that are had throughout the agency about all the challenges that our agency has about fairness and equality and showing empathy and compassion to all.”

“It goes back to making us better as a whole, as a people, and as an agency,” Gragg said.

Spencer’s comments, he said: “should help guide these conversations in a positive manner and allow each other to see each other, not to just look at each other, but to see each other, and not to just hear each other, but to listen to each other, because oftentimes that is the greatest challenge: ‘I hear you, but I don’t hear you.’”

DHA Resources

DHA’s Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management Office is committed to providing equal opportunity for all employees, former employees, and applicants for employment on the basis of merit and without regard to race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation or pregnancy discrimination), religion, age, retaliation, genetic information, or physical or mental disability.

DHA’s Force Resilience Office sponsors the agency’s special observance series and is the agency’s program office for military equal opportunity, sexual assault prevention and response, diversity and inclusion, anti-extremism, and anti-harassment.

Employees can watch the playback of the entire conversation on Microsoft Teams InfoHub.

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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