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C.D.C. Employees Ask Agency to Address ‘Racism and Discrimination’

2020-07-14 16:10:46

More than 1,000 employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have signed a letter calling for the agency to address “a pervasive and toxic culture of racial aggressions, bullying and marginalization” against Black employees.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, was first reported by National Public Radio on Monday. It was sent to Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., on June 30.

“After decades of well-meaning, yet underfunded, diversity and inclusion efforts, we have seen scant progress in addressing the very real challenges Black employees experience at C.D.C.,” the letter said, pointing to a “lack of inclusion in the agency’s senior ranks” and “ongoing and recurring acts of racism and discrimination.”

The letter comes as the C.D.C. is confronting the most urgent public health emergency in its 74-year history. The federal response to the coronavirus pandemic has been characterized as slow and ineffectual, and some have criticized the C.D.C. for its failure to anticipate and explain the pandemic’s effect on Black and Latino people.

Dr. Jones worked at the C.D.C. for 14 years before she left in 2014. She was a medical director whose work involved measuring and addressing the impact of racism on national health. The letter rang true for her, she said, adding that toward the end of her tenure at the agency, she felt that her work had been stifled.

She has been in touch with some of the letter’s signatories and said that most of the more than 1,000 people who have signed it so far did so after a smaller group of employees drafted the letter and sent it to Dr. Redfield.

“You have amazing people who are being stifled and thwarted,” Dr. Jones said. “If I were the director, I would receive that letter with immense appreciation and immediately try to start working on it.”

Gregorio Millett, an epidemiologist who left the C.D.C. after 13 years to work for the Obama administration, said that he had good experiences with mentors at the agency. But he said it was common for African-American employees there to feel constrained or ignored.

“I think the C.D.C. should really take this issue far more seriously than it has in the past,” Mr. Millett said. “We need to go beyond listening sessions. It’s time for action. In fact, it’s long overdue.”

He added that Black leaders and scientists at the agency have done groundbreaking work in identifying and addressing the effects of social inequities and structural racism on health in the United States. “There needs to be more individuals of color involved in the leadership at C.D.C.,” he said. “I’ve seen firsthand how that makes a difference.”

As of Tuesday morning, more than 3.3 million people in the United States had been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 135,400 had died, according to a Times database, and the number of new cases has surged in recent weeks. The pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated racial inequities in the United States.


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