A year later—
After the mid-March shutdown, the month of May began with me working diligently, going from zoom to zoom and managing virtual school for my son. Above all, I was focused on keeping my son and myself safe from contracting COVID-19 and helping family, friends and colleagues through the sicknesses and loss of loved ones due to the virus, with a sense of growing anger at the devastation that the virus was wreaking globally and nationally, but specifically at the impact it was having in communities of color and in people that look like me.
Slowly, but with equally angering impact, the video emerged of the events of May 25, 2020. Perhaps because we were, as a nation, a captive audience to what was seen in the video, what it illustrated was glaringly stark, and when combined with the events of the pandemic, fueled disbelief and outrage at what had happened.
As the video of Mr. Floyd’s death circulated, people I knew—family members, other Black colleagues—all weighed in. The group chats were ablaze with a mix of frustration, anger, and fear over what happened to George Floyd within the space of 8 minutes and 46 seconds with questions that underscored the emotion of the moment: “Is my son, father, husband, brother, uncle, nephew, or other beloved family member next? How do I keep them safe—from COVID or the police? How does this keep happening?” All of us were trying to process varying emotions and feeling as the venerated civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer once said: “Sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The event became one that galvanized communities, sending folks searching for solutions that they could apply in their everyday lives and in their professional lives, and rethinking what diversity, equity and inclusion really means. At PhRMA, we doubled down on ongoing work in this area, coalescing the industry around racial justice principles that are our terra firma going forward:
- Committing to open, honest, real conversations about racial equity and what it means to have a culture of inclusion.
- Investing in Black and Brown America and creating pathways to our industry for people from all backgrounds.
- Dedicating efforts to health equity by actively advancing policy solutions and research that address the social determinants of health, so that we can start to fix the health disparities that have existed throughout history and been laid bare by COVID-19.
- Addressing the systemic challenges and skepticism that keep Black and Brown communities from participating in clinical trials because of historic wrongs. We are dedicated to earning the trust, and addressing the systemic issues, that prevent Black and Brown communities from enrolling in clinical trials so that people who want to participate, can.
Over the past year, we have committed ourselves to this work, anew, through our Equity Initiative. We have advanced a proactive policy agenda that integrates equity as a foundational core to all of the work that we do. We have released, and our member companies have voluntarily agreed to, the first-ever industry wide clinical trial principles that put a finer focus on clinical trial diversity to better ensure representation from communities of color. Our CAREs grant awards (Collaborative Actions to Reach Equity) focus on scalable, community-based interventions to close the gap on racial/ethnic health disparities, and we have published white papers highlighting challenges in health data collection to inform disparities research and solutions. We’ve been much more intentional and focused on increasing diverse representation at all levels and communicating the importance of our industry reflecting the communities we serve. That includes the growth of important Employee Resource Groups, strategic partnerships, and collaborations to ensure the recruitment, retainment, and promotion of diverse talent across our industry. We are also planning a graduate summit for the fall to help connect students to industry, with hopes to inspire the next generation of dreamers and doers to join in the creation of industry innovation.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, and certainly all the societal issues we saw play out in video on May 25, 2020 will not be solved in the year that has passed or within any short time period—especially not given our historical record. But, with time and in partnership and continued conversation, rolling up our sleeves together—we can keep moving together in forward movement for the sake of generations to come.
I invite you to follow our progress at phrma.org/equity.
Courtney Christian is a Senior Director of Policy and Research at PhRMA focusing on state-based reforms impacting health insurance, prescription drug coverage in public health programs and on health equity. Prior to joining PhRMA, she worked at the Black Women’s Health Imperative as Director of Policy and Advocacy, and on Capitol Hill for a number of years in a series of roles, including as Legislative Director. Courtney is a Florida State football fan (and alum), aspiring chef, and mom to an energetic preschooler.