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UCSF Black Caucus: Equity, community and connection

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Photo: 2019 UCSF Black Heritage Month Ball. From left to right: Judy Young, Executive Director, Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; Malia Cohen, Chair, California State Board of Equalization; Sam Hawgood, M.B.B.S., UCSF Chancellor and Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Distinguished Professor; Ericka Huggins, Educator and Activist, Former Leading Member of the Black Panther Party; Renée Navarro, M.D., Pharm.D., Vice-Chancellor, Office of Diversity & Outreach, Myleka Johnson, Vice-Chair, UCSF Black Caucus; Talmadge King, MD, Dean, UCSF School of Medicine; LaMisha Hill, Ph.D., Chair, UCSF Black Caucus.

Building community

For 30 years, the UCSF Black Caucus has held its signature event — the Black Heritage Month Gala. On Feb. 22, 2020, it will welcome more than 550 guests, the most ever, to the elegant Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco’s bustling Union Square. (View an event flyer.) While annual events hosted by the Black Caucus also include monthly membership meetings, a fall welcome event and spring social, a day at the races and summer picnic, the gala is the social highlight of the year. It is renowned on campus and throughout the Bay Area community. Attending is an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of the Black Caucus.

Project Analyst Myleka Johnson joined the Black Caucus after hearing about the gala by chance when she met a previous organizer on a bus ride. “I had to know what party she was talking about,” Myleka says. Attending the Gala was her first introduction to the Black Caucus and she felt an instant connection. Today, she is vice-chairperson of the Black Caucus and one of the event organizers.

MESA Program Deputy Director Anthony Amaro attended the Black Caucus Gala as a guest before working at UCSF. Thanks to his experience, he wanted to join the Black Caucus as soon as he was hired. Today he serves as communications officer. “It’s very important to be a part of something like this, no matter what is going on within your work life,” he says. “The legacy of it is something that only the current generation can continue.”

Propelling forward growth

Director of Multicultural Affairs Dr. LaMisha Hill was a member of UC Berkeley’s Black Staff and Faculty Organization (BSFO) before working at UCSF. Her interest in that organization was piqued when she was encouraged by a mentor to at least check out one meeting. “From that meeting, I found a best friend at Cal, I built relationships and I gained the kind of mentors that I’d never had in my entire professional life,” she says. “If it hadn’t been for the BSFO at UC Berkeley, I wouldn’t have been able to get to UCSF. So, when I arrived at UCSF, the first thing I did was seek out a parallel organization.”

Although she was struck by the Black Caucus’ legacy, LaMisha found that the organization was in need of more vibrancy, particularly in regards to strengthening staff connection between UCSF’s multiple campuses. But she arrived at the right time — the current Black Caucus leader was about to retire and was seeking someone with new energy to take the helm. LaMisha was uniquely positioned to be this person; she is a leader in the Office of Diversity and Outreach, and oversees the Multicultural Resource Center. In addition to being deeply connected to the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, she has existing relationships with leadership. “When there are critical issues or things that our community needs, I’m a natural advocate for those things because of my role and relationships,” she says.  

As chair of the Black Caucus, she built out the Steering Committee, working to identify people who were passionate about the cause and available to devote time towards helping it succeed, despite the dispersed nature of the campus. She also worked to build the visibility of the Black Caucus. Rather than limiting Steering Committee meetings to leadership, she opened them to all members, creating opportunities for more people to share perspectives and volunteer for opportunities. Meetings take place via Zoom conferencing. Some members meet in person at the Parnassus campus, Mission Bay campus and Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, while others join individually.

Goals for an impactful future

The UCSF Black Caucus is open to everyone who is black-identified at UCSF, as well as elders (founding members and retirees who are still engaged in the Black Caucus) and allies. This includes a reach of about 500 members, with around 100 active ones. 

“It doesn’t matter what your position is — if you identify as African-American and work at UCSF, this is a space for you,” explains Anthony. “The research is there about racial affinity spaces, especially in professional settings. It’s not about segregation; it’s about creating safe spaces where people can express their challenges, hopes and successes. The idea is that when they reenter the general space of UCSF, it will be with greater self-awareness, less self-judgment and more confidence that they can carry forward in their general careers.”

While today’s Black Caucus’ mission had shifted towards community-building, the organization continues to have a broad impact on staff of color throughout campus.

Current priorities include:

  • Advocacy and advising: Members participate on several leadership-level campus councils, including the Chancellor’s 4CI Council and Chancellor’s Round Table. They are a respected voice and source of consultation for employee engagement, particularly around matters of diversity and equity. For example, when the university was developing its new diversity training, the Black Caucus advised leadership on what was of value, what could be improved and potential pain points.
  • Professional development: To create a meaningful space within the distributed campus, Director of Education and Strategic Initiatives Inez Bailey has developed a monthly professional development forum at the Mission Bay campus. Leadership from throughout campus share advice regarding themes and their areas of expertise. UCSF Learning and Development Director and Chief Learning Officer Nancy Duranteau was a recent presenter. 
  • Internal communication: A robust internal communication effort helps make sure the Black Caucus is continually visible within the campus, through events, Steering Committee Meetings and interlocation communications. Members continue to publish “The Black Bulletin” newsletter, which was initiated by the organization’s founders — though it is now produced digitally rather than by mimeograph.
  • Recruitment of African-American males: Although many women are active within the Black Caucus, the group hopes to include more active men by creating programming that resonates with their unique experiences.

Get involved

Join the email list

All interested UC employees are welcome to join the UCSF Black Caucus email listserv to receive the monthly newsletter and other announcements. To sign up, email BlackCaucus@ucsf.edu and request to be added to the listserv. You can also contact this address for general inquiries.

UCSF Employee Group Portal

To officially join the Black Caucus as a UCSF employee, register via the “Group Portal.” Log in to MyAccess, then search for “Group Portal.” Within the Group Portal search for “Black Caucus” and join.

Ways to contribute and participate

If you are a UCSF employee who’s interested in being an active member, consider supporting the Black Caucus through one of these categories:

  • Membership: Spreading the word about the Black Caucus, recruiting new members, engaging existing members
  • Communications: Support with the newsletter, social media, website design
  • Events: Organizing and planning events, including the annual Black Heritage Month Gala, networking mixers, etc.
  • Professional Development: Planning and organizing professional development and mentorship events

Please email LaMisha.Hill@ucsf.edu to discuss more.

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