Byron Brooks, University of Michigan dual degree graduate student, joined the season premiere of the Conversations for Change podcast to discuss the upcoming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021 Summit: Parallel Pandemics: Addressing Structural Racism in the Age of COVID-19. The Summit will be held on Monday, October 11, 2021 at 10am. 


Brooks, who is working toward a Master’s in Social Work with a Community Change pathway and a Master’s of Higher Education with a Diversity and Social Justice and Higher Education focus, is a member of the planning advisory board for the DEI Summit. In this podcast, he describes how they came to the decision for the theme and what it means to him. 




“We decided our topic was parallel pandemics because honestly, me personally, as a Black man in America, I feel like I’ve been living in a pandemic all my life. Thinking about systemic racism and other obstacles within my path, but I feel the coronavirus and racial tensions boiling with the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd created a correlating domino effect, really putting attention on both issues. And that’s our journey: to really pinpoint these parallel pandemics, and address them,” he says.


Brooks talks about how he became interested in activism and advocacy work, and how important it is to connect with others in the campus community to understand how students feel. In his newly-elected role as the Deputy Policy Advisor on the Central Student Government Anti-Racism Committee, he has been conducting listening tours to learn first-hand how students are doing. He also delves into how the parallel pandemics are bigger than the campus, and shares some thoughts on how society can tackle these issues.


“As a nation, we’re going to have that accountability piece and understanding how so many systems were built under the scope of power, privilege and oppression, and then being willing to really dismantle this system and rebuild something newm” he says. 


Brooks shares that he will be kicking off the DEI Summit by performing one of his personal pieces, Stay Woke.


Stay Woke talks about some of the things that have happened between 2015 and now, and also touching on W. E. B. Du Bois’ the Double Consciousness. So please, please tune in to that. We [also have] some awesome speakers. It’s virtual, but it’s worth it.”


The featured keynote speaker for the 2021 DEI Summit is noted journalist, entrepreneur, and television host Soledad O’Brien. Following the keynote address, there will be a roundtable conversation featuring:


  • Sydney Carr, joint public policy and political science Ph.D. student and president of Students of Color Rackham
  • Valerie Kaur, activist, lawyer and author
  • Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, assistant professor of family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and urology at Michigan Medicine, and director of Services for Students with Disabilities and of Adaptive Sports and Fitness
  • Jeff Witt, organizational development lead and DEI lead at the University Library.


The Summit will include brief remarks from campus leadership as well, including President Mark Schlissel, Provost Susan Collins, and Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers. 


There will also be a Community Recognition Festival at Trotter Multicultural Center on Monday, October 11 from 3:30-7pm. This event will be set up as an open-house that will include student performances, speakers, refreshments, and engaging activities for students, staff, and faculty.