In April, Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed healthcare advocate Amber Hewitt to lead the city’s newly created Office of Racial Equity. We checked in with DC’s new chief equity officer to see how it’s going so far.
What do you see your job as being?
It’s important that we meet the moment we’re in—some people are calling it a racial reckoning. More people are opening their eyes to the inequities and disparities that have existed for years, and we’re still in a pandemic that has exacerbated inequity. [Early areas of focus will be] affordable housing, neighborhood planning, and how we can safely return to work and school.
As you figure out what your role will be, is there anyone you’re looking to for inspiration?
I’m a daughter of the Deep South and the daughter of parents who came of age during the civil-rights movement. It’s their stories of what they endured—stories of being educated in segregated schools and the discrimination they faced in their own jobs. My mother was a trailblazer. She founded a nursing department within LSU Medical Center. Growing up, I didn’t know that was such a big thing, a Black woman starting a department and leading a team of Black nurses in Louisiana. I know that for some people talking about race and racism is uncomfortable, but it’s something I grew up with. It was protective for me to have those conversations—they taught me not to internalize the negative images and stereotypes about me, and to channel that energy into something good.
Given everything going on in the country, what kind of pressure are you feeling to create change?
I feel the weight of the role pretty heavily. At the same time, Amber Hewitt is not the Office of Racial Equity. I see this as a collective effort. An image popped in my mind of a soldier who was carrying their equipment and journeying to an end goal. The weight is heavy, but it’s not just me carrying it. We’re carrying it towards something. There’s purpose behind it.
This article appears in the June 2021 issue.