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A Conversation on BU’s Campus: Illuminating the Racial Pandemic Within the Viral One

It was a sunny autumn day on the Boston University campus when The Rockefeller Foundation’s Otis Rolley, Senior Vice President, U.S. Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative, met with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Founder of the Center for Antiracist Research.

In a socially distant conversation next to the campus’s Marsh Plaza, the two discussed the goals and urgency of the Foundation’s $1.5 million grant to the Center, which Dr. Kendi called “a massive shot in the arm.”

The grant supports the COVID Racial Data Tracker as well as the Center’s work with policy experts, advocates, journalists, artists and storytellers aimed at helping to identify and change the policies underlying systemic and structural racism.

The two men spoke about why the Center is critically needed at this moment as the country deals with “a racial pandemic within this viral pandemic.”

Neither the viral pandemic or the racial pandemic were inevitable, Dr. Kendi noted. “There are policies that we can change to ensure that another Breonna Taylor doesn’t become a hashtag,” he said. “That inspires me.”

Dr. Kendi also noted that the Center will be researching and tracking the economic impacts of racism, including how during this pandemic, Black and Brown communities have suffered the brunt of job losses, evictions, business closures and housing insecurity.

Rolley, responding to a question from Dr. Kendi, noted that as The Foundation responds to the urgency of this moment, “it has been an exciting and an exhausting time in the Foundation’s history.”

“Health has been a major part of our work for the last 107 years. A pursuit of equity and equal opportunity likewise has consistently been in our DNA in terms of the work that we do,” he said. “The pivot for us was the urgency around a global pandemic… Our mission is promoting the wellbeing of humanity. Devoid of an equity agenda, though, you can’t promote humanity’s well-being.”