“Write to Change the World.” While no short order, on Saturday, April 21st, twenty-five women and one man gathered at ACLU San Francisco with the expressed intention of doing just that. Agreed, we may have had different visions of “change,” yet we spoke a similar language: “justice,” “social responsibility,” “equity” and “human rights” were among the words that we invoked.
This was the networking opportunity of the decade– had only the powerhouse of lawyers, community organizers, social scientists, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists known the power in our pockets. But, the daunting challenge of the day was finding our voice and “standing in our power.” Our facilitator, Courtney E. Martin, invited us to “do the white dude test:” Would a white, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual, Protestant male even question his authority, whether legitimate or not?
With the encouragement of newfound friends, I tried on my expertise for the first time and not only stood in my power but bathed in it. Or, at least I added the “power spa” to my list of things to do before I die. The OpEd Project reinforced the notion that power, whatever it’s magnitude, can be used to realize a more equitable, just society in the same way that it can be used to decimate and destroy. Following the workshop, I practiced standing in my power. Bay Areans from San Francisco to Fremont now know that I’m the go-to person to reframe the “health disparities” debate from a person- centered, racialized one to a systems-and structures- oriented one.
What proved most powerful about the OpEd Project was not the compendium of tools for writing an OpEd or publishing widely. I suspect Courtney’s unspoken agenda was to make soldiers of us; to train us as “thought leaders” in a climate where treating one’s “ideological opponent” with empathy and respect is rare. In all honesty, that was exactly what I’d signed up for. Two days following the workshop, I’m well practiced at standing in my power, or at least trying it on for size. I had been hiding behind my institutions for the past decade, allowing powerful names like Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and UCSF to eclipse my light.
“Hello. My name is Ulluminair Salim. I am an expert in the social determinants of health. I am an expert because I have witnessed firsthand the detrimental effects of poverty on health and have served marginalized communities for over fifteen years. I have reinforced my personal experience and professional expertise with a Master of Public health and doctoral education in the sociology of health, illness, and medicine.” I stand in my power because millions of people around the world have protested and died so that I could wield the power my pen and “write to change the world.”
Ulluminair Salim (pictured below-right) produces diverse scholarship on the confluence of health and institutions, ranging from the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth to environmental racism/classism and disparate health outcomes. She earned her Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is a doctoral student in sociology at UCSF.