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An interview with Elsy Gomez Campos on Black Leaders Awareness Day

The Black Pharmacist Association was founded in 2018 by Elsy Gomez Campos, a visionary black pharmacist with strong leadership experience. Their mission is to promote and support the interests of UK pharmacists, trainee pharmacists and pharmacy students (including students on the Overseas Pharmacists’ Assessment Programme) who identify as black. This Black Leaders Awareness Day, we caught up with Elsy to hear her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for black pharmacists in the sector.

Can you tell us what motivated you to found the Black Pharmacist Association?

The realisation that there is no real accountability for racial discrimination within the pharmacy profession was a wake-up call for me in 2017 when I faced the consequences of it. At the time, I didn’t know or understand the many different ways racial discrimination manifested in pharmacy. Trying to navigate it, almost cost me my life. Surviving such a negative and lonely occurrence, let me believe that I needed to Speak Up and turn my negative experience into something positive. After I Spoke Up, other pharmacists contacted me to say that my experience was not unique and that they would support the idea I had articulated at the time of having an organisation like the UKBPA.

In your experience, what challenges do black pharmacists and pharmacy students face?

Initially, we often got asked why an organisation for just black pharmacists, and the answer was and still is that our experience of racial discrimination is different from that experienced by other ethnic and minority groups. If you are a black pharmacist or black student, you are aware that there is a lack of representation of black faces in leadership positions. There is an overwhelming lack of recognition of the talent of many black pharmacists, some of whom the profession has lost because of it. The denial of development opportunities, the stereotyping, denial or belittering of their experiences and lack of support are some of the numerous challenges experienced by black faces in pharmacy.

The UKBPA is trying to put a spotlight on the issues that are driving the ethnicity gap in our profession and taking into consideration we have no financial support to do what we do, I believe we are doing a great job at changing the narrative and closing the gap.

With the recent uprise and support of Black Lives Matter it feels like people are finally starting to sit up and pay attention. What are your hopes for how we, as a pharmacy sector, can take this support and drive it forward to affect real change?

I hope that our profession will become more caring and mindful of the wellbeing of all our members. Racial discrimination denies opportunities, hinders growth and causes irreparable harm to individuals and society. Our leaders need to walk the talk with courage and determination. They need to be able to demonstrate that having an inclusive, non-racist culture in our profession matters. I hope members of our profession get empowered to hold enabling systems to account that historically have left ethnic and minority groups behind. 

How we recruit, develop and promote in our profession needs a total overhaul, so change can start to materialise. In my opinion, the way we are going about closing the ethnicity gap is very slow and timid, almost undetectable. We must scrutinise the way we do things and take a revolutionary and decisive approach that is impactful if we are ever going to bring change about.

What can individuals do to push for institutional change?

Institutional change is everyone’s responsibility. People need to understand the consequences of racial discrimination and how it manifests. For that to happen, individuals need to look around and be curious about other people’s experiences. Racial discrimination is a complex social phenomenon and usually, it is suffered in silence, because talking about it, has negative connotations and consequences. Institutional change is not going to happen if people with lived experience don’t articulate it, nor are involved in decisions making. We cannot continue doing what we have always done. Now that we have been made aware of some of the problems we face, we must take up the many solutions we know will make a difference.

The priority should be the implementation of clear systems that allows safe allyship and continuous reporting and monitoring of racial inequality. Above all, we must be prepared to call out systems and individuals that are not inclusive or supportive of equality and diversity. We are not currently doing that. The silence and tolerance surrounding racial discrimination need to stop.

With being the founder and President of the BPA and your impressive career in leadership, how do you take care of yourself and stay motivated to keep driving positive change?  

I have a supporting and caring circle of friends and family. My relationship with them is meaningful. I seek and find motivation in books and therefore, I relish spending time reading and meditating when I have time to do so. Exercising at the beats of “salsa”, “merengue” and “reggaeton” music is something that I have always enjoyed doing at the beginning of the day. The lyrics and contagious rhythm never fail to put a smile on my face, lift my spirit and boost my energy in preparation for the day ahead.

Because my upbringing was founded on solid values of self-respect, dignity, honesty and authenticity, I make a conscious effort to surround myself with people that demonstrate and display those values. I have a clear vision of what the future of pharmacy should look like and I believe that my activism is needed and will result in change. That belief keeps me motivated.

Black Leaders Awareness Day is an opportunity to introduce black leaders to the world. Do you have a personal favourite black leader, if so, who is it and why?

I look up to many black leaders that have broken barriers and with their courage have changed the course of history. I have taken the time to study the life and achievements of hundreds of black leaders from around the world, all of whom I admire. I believe Nelson Mandela is the pinnacle of leadership for all the sacrifices he made and the unique way he dealt with racism. But I would like to put the spotlight on Bessie Coleman.

She was the first black woman to obtain a pilot license. And when she was not able to learn how to fly in the United States where she was born, she saved money, learned French and travelled to France to attend a flight school. She was best known as “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bessie” for her skills and daring flying manoeuvring. I have a huge admiration for that type of courage and determination. She not only fought racism, but she repudiated it by refusing to participate in events where blacks were not allowed to attend.

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