RAND president and chief executive officer Michael D. Rich reflects on year one of the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy and the next steps for equity research at RAND.
Aug 30, 2021
Q&A with Pierrce Holmes
Pierrce Holmes discusses what he learned as a summer fellow at the center. Pierrce was funded through a Segal Fellowship from his home institution, Brandeis University.
How would you describe your current thinking about racial equity, and how has your thinking changed since your fellowship at the center?
I do not believe my core thinking about racial equity has changed; I have always believed that helping people thrive is more important than just helping people survive. So many people are struggling to gain access to opportunities and equitable quality of life that others take for granted. For me, racial equity facilitates access to opportunities and resources in a way that allows people the freedom of thinking beyond survival and towards thriving.
I would say the fellowship has opened my eyes to the various ways that people approach the issue. Being exposed to varied racial equity focused research has helped me see the tangible links across so many sectors of research, whereas before this experience, I felt that some areas were far removed from a racial equity lens.
What does it mean for you to have a commitment to equity? How have you demonstrated that commitment, and how did you demonstrate it here at RAND?
For me, a commitment to racial equity manifests itself in so many ways. In personal situations, we can apply this lens to better understand and unpack biases and structures that sustain white supremacy. We could also use this lens to enter discussions with people who aren’t in the same place as us to create respectful dialogue. I got some insight on that from my conversation with center director Rhianna Rogers! But equity is also a commitment to making things better, like donating money to causes/organizations with a clear commitment to true racial equity, actively pursuing equitable policies and actions in whatever line of work people pursue and being willing to center the experience and knowledge of people of color. This list isn’t exhaustive at all, but I believe these are some common and important steps to truly center a racial equity focus in life and work.
Personally, I have tried to do this in different ways throughout my life. I try to engage in those uncomfortable conversations that others might shy away from or simply not have the emotional bandwidth to take part in. I try to use whatever success, position, or power I have had to make the path easier for those coming up with and behind me. I also try to give back financially, when I can, as a way to contribute to my community.
I feel like I have demonstrated a great way to get involved just by being a part of this RAND fellowship. This opportunity wasn’t here a few years ago and I am excited to leave a blueprint for success for the next person.
I was attracted to this fellowship because I had the chance to work on reparations policy models. Being able to focus my work on policy that is inherently focused on racial equity and healing is special to me; it is the type of work I hope to always be a part of in my life and career.
In what ways can you imagine effecting change in racial equity policy moving forward?
Ideally, I would love to be involved at a lot of levels of racial equity policy moving forward. I want to be working with likeminded people and communities of color to create solutions to various social issues and to advocate for the people and policies. I don’t think it’s about my impact as an individual. For me, it has always been about being an active part of the collective “solution” and pushing forward a change-driven movement. Collaborating with communities and different people, centering their experiences to improve promote equitable policy would be a dream, and a testament to my racial equity journey.
When dealing with a non-diverse environment or individuals with little experience with diversity, how would you approach making racial equity relevant or valued?
Different people have different approaches and comfort levels when it comes to diversity topics. Personally, I would try to be open and vulnerable about my own experiences to create a space where others feel they can do the same; hopefully opening the door to a truly empathetic, equitable, and collaborative spaces will help create opportunities to exchange ideas. I don’t turn away from my Blackness or experiences as a Black man in any situation and I think creating a space to be vulnerable and uncomfortable can be a great starting point for creating an equitable culture in any given environment; though I also understand that not every person of color is comfortable with this approach (nor should they be expected to be).
How has your fellowship prepared you for working with diverse populations and promoting racial equity in policy and beyond?
I feel like my life experience prepared me for working with diverse populations because I grew up in a diverse population back home in Springfield, Mass. I cannot talk about what has prepared me for racial equity without talking about Springfield! I would say the the center fellowship gave me insight into how policy research can be used to promote racial equity. But beyond the process of conducting research, I value that RAND has an emphasis on getting digestible products into the hands of the communities researched and impacted, as well as those who need them to effect change. Speaking with Pardee RAND Graduate School’s Community-Partnered Policy and Action Academic Stream Lead Cynthia Gonzalez, hearing about her life and career experiences and how they translated into the community partnered stream at RAND’s graduate school was invaluable. It was something of a blueprint for the type of work I would love to be doing long term and her emphasis on truly cooperating with diverse populations stood out to me. Generally, I think interacting with researchers and analysts of color at RAND and hearing their thoughts on how things work in the field made a significant and lasting impact on me and how I will work in the future.
How did interviewing and working with different people in RAND enrich your experiences?
Getting to talk with so many people across RAND was a huge part of my experience. I got a sense of the wide range of work that is happening at RAND, including work that would not typically be in my wheelhouse. I think the most interesting thing for me was the diversity of career and degree paths that brought people to RAND. Speaking to doctors, policy folks, scientists, criminologists, and lawyers all working together on various projects gave me a sense of how RAND can have the interdisciplinary research impact and respect that have developed in the broader policy field. It also helped me understand all the opportunities available at RAND for somebody like myself who is just starting to really get into the professional policy world.
I have heard that you were involved with RAND’s Black Employees Leading in Inclusion, Equity, Vision, and Education (BELIEVE) Employee Resource Group and attended many of their events during your fellowship. What did you get out of that experience?
I was fortunate enough to have RAND's BELIEVE Employee Resource Group include me on their event chain and keep me in the loop. It was a blessing to have this space as a Black man navigating a very White field. Getting to interact with the other Black people at RAND was awesome for me not only because of representation, but it was great seeing people that look like me in positions of power that could share my experiences to some extent.
One BELIEVE event that really stuck out to me was focused on providing the Black employees a place to talk mental health and how everybody was feeling given the events of the last few years. It was great to be in a space that was for us where everybody felt they could be honest and vulnerable because we really don’t always get to do that in organizations like this or in professional life in general. It was great to feel a part of a collective in that way.