Four Questions with Douglas Brooks: Leading Efforts in Advancing Black Equity

Stories@Gilead - February 10, 2021

Douglas Brooks, a social worker, has spent most of his career focused on addressing inequities that Black people experience – working as a mental health clinician for Black youth in Boston, leading one of the nation’s first full-service health centers for LGBTQ+ youth of color and running housing services for people living with HIV, the majority of whom were Black. Immediately prior to joining Gilead, Douglas served as the White House Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy under President Obama where he led the updating of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and placed a focus on the inequities experienced by Black women, including transgender women, Black gay men and Black people living in the Southern United States. 

This month, Douglas begins a new expanded role at Gilead as Vice President, Advancing Black Equity and Community Engagement, where he will maintain responsibility for our community engagement and patient advocacy initiatives, while assuming critical additional responsibility for creating and executing programs that seek to address inequities experienced by Black communities.

I'm driven by the united voice of my parents that continues to reside in my head long after their deaths, reminding me that I have a responsibility to focus my efforts on making the world a better place and uplifting others,” says Douglas. “I’m also motivated to help set up an even playing field for other Black people.”

We connected with Douglas about his new role at Gilead and how he plans to help the organization strategically make a difference in advancing Black equity in health and other areas as well.

Q: You’ve worked for most of your career in community engagement and patient advocacy. Can you talk about the importance of collaboration between private companies and community organizations?
Community organizations play a critical role in helping us understand and connect with the needs of the people we're trying to reach, and finding where barriers exist, so that we might be able to help eliminate them.

As a large organization, we can use our resources and platform to help bring about needed changes and uplift people in these communities. Collaboration is incredibly important, whether that's through a partnership like the one we have with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, or collaborations such as the Compass Initiative® and HIV decriminalization work.

Q: How can Gilead work to eliminate marked inequities for Black individuals?
There are opportunities for us to increase our external efforts and join, or create and lead, transformative partnerships – to help combat health disparities and improve people’s lives overall. Internally, I’m excited to join forces with colleagues to continue the good work they’re already leading at Gilead around Black inclusion and diversity with hiring, retention and advancement opportunities. There are plenty of data that show when a company focuses on diversity and inclusion, learning from those different backgrounds and perspectives helps the company benefit.

Gilead alone can’t undo 400 years of systemic anti-Black racism and oppression, but we can make a difference, just as we have for nearly 40 years. It’s not easy to discuss race, especially anti-Black racism. It’s uncomfortable and it can be scary. That’s why I'm tremendously proud to be an employee in an organization where the executive team has made it clear that it’s important for us to step up and out on this issue and make a difference, both internally and externally.

Q: Tell us about your new role. What will your initial focus be?
I am starting out by listening to others to understand the breadth and depth of our work around Black inclusion and diversity, hearing others’ thoughts and ideas, and working to co-create a vision for what we want to achieve together. In a recent conversation with my colleague, Curran Brugger, who leads the Talent, Development and Inclusion team at Gilead, she raised the very important point that we need to become clear about what our aspirations are around Black equity, diversity and inclusion.

The attention of the world has been turned toward systemic issues of structural anti-Black racism and inequities, including health-based inequities, driven in part by the murders last summer, the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black communities. I think there’s a groundswell that has taken place in the last year that’s unlike anything we've seen in this country's recent history, certainly not since the civil rights movement. 

Q: What are some of the aspirations and how do you remain optimistic that we’ll be able to achieve them one day?
We must co-create our vision for this work, but I would say that at a minimum we want to mitigate and ultimately eliminate barriers to good health and quality healthcare in the therapeutic areas in which we work. We have possibilities to ensure that we're including diverse populations in all aspects of our work. We also want to look more broadly and beyond health to areas such as education, income and workplace policies at-large. We are called to be bold here. The ultimate hope is to eliminate all barriers and inequities.

We’ll work as hard as we can to achieve these ambitions. Very rarely, if ever, do things happen in one fell swoop. Most change is incremental and requires tenacity, commitment and focus. Achieving our internal and external aims is a mammoth undertaking. But we at Gilead have a significant role to play in undoing some of the harmful effects of racial injustice. It’s an unimaginable honor to have the chance to work alongside brilliant people at Gilead to do what Gilead does best – make transformative change.