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The Journey of Becoming Anti-Racist Leaders

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August Messenger Special Edition 2021, From Physicians | Posted August 31, 2021

By Dr. Nicole Johnson, MD, FRCPC and Dr. Khwezi Mbolekwa, PhD, CPHR, CHE

On behalf of the Black Physicians’ Association of Alberta

Read time: 3 minutes

Many organizations, including CPSA, are working towards achieving equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). EDI cannot be achieved without addressing the barriers of systemic racism, which Public Health recognizes as a determinant of health. As healthcare leaders, we need to re-frame how we view systemic racism to enable us to become anti-racist healthcare providers and leaders for the sake of our citizens to achieve their optimal health. Dismantling systemic racism is about you and me, and how we all choose to be with each other.

Systems, structures, policies and processes are inert—lifeless. How these entities come to life depends on the spirit and intent of the people who apply them, meaning overcoming systemic racism requires both organizational and personal transformational change.

Transformational change is about a fundamental, existential shift towards becoming more self-reflective, discerning, inclusive and integrative. To make this transformational shift, we must understand that our behaviours are a manifestation of our mindsets, values, beliefs and attitudes. As individuals, it can be challenging to be constructively objective about ourselves and acknowledge that we hold racist thoughts and beliefs. Thus, making the necessary behavioural shift is hard work that feels uncomfortable, painful and emotionally-charged. This shift will challenge the core of who we are, who we choose to be, and will potentially put us in conflict with our family, friends, colleagues, community, culture and organizations.

As humans, we have a built-in “immunity to change” that fights any cognitive, affective or behavioural force attempting to change the status quo, which resists any effort to acknowledge the racism in each of us. This transformation will come from reflection, increased self-awareness and understanding, while developing care and concern for others. It will challenge our personal and social actions. It requires a commitment to making intentional and conscious choices and actions about becoming anti-racist. It will be in the given moment of delivering our services, one-to-one, to our fellow Albertans that we give life to our perceived systems, policies, processes and practices of our organization.

Becoming is a journey, not a destination, for each of us and our organizations. The status quo did not occur overnight, nor will we make this transformation overnight.

The journey we travel will be volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and full of discomfort. Our end results will be the cumulative sum of innumerable experiences of incremental transformational changes along the way. This work is not inclusion, equity or diversity; it is anti-racism.

As such, this work requires all of us to be patient, kind and compassionate with each other, walking with grace as we journey onward, and naming racism for what it is.

Our anti-racism journey calls on all of us to have:

  • Boldness of character to demonstrate the commitment to stay the course, because this is hard work;
  • Courage, because talking about imperfections involves personal risk-taking;
  • Awareness of our biases, because they are our Achilles heel;
  • A curious, open mind to see different ideas and lived experiences;
  • Cultural intelligence because we all see the world from different cultural frames; and
  • A collaborative approach to embrace diverse thinking and perspectives that help us be greater than the sum of our parts.*

In closing, as we embark on an anti-racism future, this is a call to action for us personally and organizationally to focus on:

  • What do we need to do to get where we want to go?
  • How we approach the work in our interactions and interrelations?
  • Who do we need to be as individuals and organizations?
  • Essentially, we should ask ourselves who do we choose to be, for the sake of our patients?


*Informed by Deloitte & Touche


An overdue look at racism and bias in health care. Available: (accessed 2021 Aug 16)

Key Health Inequalities in Canada: A National Portrait – Executive Summary. Available: (accessed 2021 Aug 16)


Dr. Nicole Johnson is a clinical pediatric rheumatologist practising at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Calgary. Dr. Johnson has been a passionate advocate for community awareness for children with rheumatic diseases. In addition, she has a special interest in medical education. She has been actively engaged in anti-Black racism advocacy work. She holds the positions of Co-Curriculum Lead for Post Graduate Medical Education for Racial Equity in Healthcare at the Cumming School of Medicine, Chair for the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for the Canadian Rheumatology Association and Board Executive for the Black Physicians’ Association of Alberta.
Dr. Khwezi Mbolekwa PhD, MHSA, CPHR, CHE is a passionate catalyst for change who believes an inclusive, healthy, respectful and safe workplace environment is crucial to unleash the creativity and innovation to drive performance and results. Khwezi is currently the Organization Lead, Anti-Racism for the City of Calgary. Khwezi has previously held senior and executive roles in post-secondary and healthcare institutions. Khwezi’s PhD is focused on Engaging Physicians Leaders in a Health Authority, and his healthcare experience spans Alberta, BC and Ontario. Khwezi holds several degrees in management and organization systems and is a certified healthcare executive and human resources professional.

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