Talking About Race: Conversation with Adeola Oduwole, MSc

August 24, 2020

This summer, conversations about systemic racism have come to the forefront, sparked by the killing of George Floyd and others by the police and the widespread protests that followed. In this interview, Adeola Oduwole, MSc. Vice President & Chief of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Lurie Children’s, discusses how we can work on becoming anti-racist, individually and as an organization.

What is your vision for equity, diversity and inclusion at Lurie Children’s?

AO: “We want to become the nationally recognized leader in delivering equitable care and achieving equitable outcomes for our patients and that is directly connected to creating an inclusive culture in which everyone – our patients, families and staff – feels safe, respected, valued and have what they need to thrive and be well regardless of their race, ethnicity, social identity or cultural background.”

How will we achieve it?

AO: “First, we have to be transparent about where the inequities exist and then as an organization, we must apply an equity and anti-racist lens to all our practices, polices, decisions and behaviors to ensure that all our actions actually reinforce inclusion, diversity and racial equity. As one of our strategic goals for fiscal year 2021, we will implement a comprehensive equity, diversity and inclusion plan, which involves training on implicit bias. We also hope to facilitate conversation circles about race to encourage safe, candid discussions and reflection, as well as build our capacity to drive action. The President’s Council on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will oversee and guide these initiatives. You will hear more details soon. As an institution, we need to elevate and normalize anti-racism, make it integral to everything we do and who we are. It is a shared responsibility, just like our approach to safety.”

Can you explain what “implicit bias” means?

AO: “Implicit bias refers to automatic responses, preferences and inclinations we all have that are based on our unconscious associations and projections. They are largely unintentional choices made by everyone that perpetuate inequity in our systems, practices and behaviors. To reduce the impact of implicit bias we must become aware of it and implement mitigation strategies to resist acting upon it. It is impossible to fix errors if we are not aware of them. This might make us uncomfortable. It is important to approach these issues with humility.”

Can you talk about the difference between being "not racist" and "anti-racist”? 

AO: “It is the difference between passivity and action. We all intend to be good people, but it is our actions and behaviors that are important to drive change. To be anti-racist is to acknowledge the historical context behind systemic racism, to educate yourself about issues related to systemic oppression, and own that we live in a white supremacy culture. It’s not enough to just not do a racist thing. We should intentionally center policy, practice and behavior on members of our community that have been marginalized, underserved and under-resourced, share power, create new seats at the table and intentionally look to drive outcomes that are inclusive, and measure it and report on it transparently. This requires tangible and consistent commitment to be proactive, to identify your own biased behaviors and change them to promote racial justice. It’s about acknowledgment, action and accountability. All else are empty words.”

Can you recommend any resources for people who want to learn more about these issues?

AO: “A book that just came out called “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabelle Wilkerson is a powerful book about the context for what is happening right now. “How To Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi is also a recommended read. Films like Just Mercy, based on civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s work on death row in Alabama, When They See Us, a Netflix miniseries from Ava DuVernay about the Central Park Five, 13th, a Netflix documentary exposing racial inequality within the criminal justice system and Selma, a film that chronicles the marches of the Civil Rights Movement are great educational resources as well.”