Khadija Jahfiya is the Operations Director for KHA. In this KHA Q&A, she reflects on how working with her mom (Keecha Harris) shaped her academic career and how she is making the work her own.
KHA: What was your path to KHA?
KJ: I was kind of volun-told that I would work for KHA. It was a job that I took on because I had finished college and needed something to do but hadn’t really thought about it being a great supplement for my career, considering that my mom and I had similar interests. I never saw her interests as similar until I got on the road with her and saw some of the work she was doing on the ground rather than from a bird’s-eye view.
I had always been interested in public health because of my exposure through her studies. In college, I studied economics, looking at trends having to do in particular with the health of black women, how social determinants of health determine people’s health status.
Like many people growing up wanting to impact the health of others, I thought I wanted to be a physician. I learned very quickly about the barriers providers face — insurance, location, who they can and cannot serve, barriers to training and what they can address through their practice. These barriers felt like pursuing this type of career solely would not be fulfilling to me.
I sought out a way to make a more broad impact, thinking about public health policy, which is why I did my master’s degree. My experience with KHA has always supplemented those ideas I had and allowed me to be able to articulate some ideas I’d had but had never been able to get hands-on experience.
KHA: What’s been the most rewarding part of your work here?
KJ: Bringing people together at the different convenings, particularly speaking to the work we did a couple of summers ago with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO). These gatherings allow people from different sectors to have conversations that aren’t really happening otherwise (because they’re too taboo or could impact money and work).
That type of work, bringing people together to have difficult conversations and feel through the thoughts they’re having, to share with others and have others share with them — being able to facilitate that has been very rewarding.
KHA: Why should organizations care about racial equity?
KJ: They have to if they want to make an impact. You can always make a case because there are so many inequities that are solely due to race, and whether people want to address that, they exist.
As a society, we don’t talk about it enough. Ignoring it and focusing on other issues is not going to get to the root cause. I’m sure there’s a slew of things we aren’t talking about, and race is definitely one of them. If organizations want to have an impact, they have to begin to look at those areas that are a little more difficult to address than others.
KHA: Why do you care about racial equity?
KJ: My experience has always been, as a black woman, I’ve always been concerned about race. I look at the people around me, and I am very attuned to people who look like me and the various experiences we have, so kind of understanding how our experiences differ based on race and why that is.
I find it fascinating, and I think this country has a really, really deep history with race, being one of the few countries that kind of acknowledges race kind of puts us at an advantage, but some others might say it puts us at a disadvantage. I think it’s fascinating the conversation between, ‘Oh, is it genetics, or it it the personal experience that affects health?’
I am a black woman, and black people have a lot of health problems I think can be traced solely to their experiences because of their race. Some may not think it’s direct, but I think how you argue it, it can be direct. There’s a lot of discrimination, a lot of bias, whether that has an impact immediately or a little further down the line.
KHA: If you could recommend one book, related to your work, what would it be and why?
KJ: I think a book that was really fascinating to help understand structural racism and how it works as a system and not just on an individual level was The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It’s very eye-opening for people who might be totally removed from the experiences others are having in this country.
KHA: What’s something about you people might be surprised to know?
KJ: This is my go-to: I used to do radio commercials when I was younger. Stuff like back-to-school radio commercials, enticing people to come to local malls and buy their back-to-school outfits and supplies.