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Covering race and racism: A view from the newsroom

October 24, 2023 @ 1:00 pm - 1:30 pm

Graphic of two, overlapping heads made out of newspaper collages against a dark red background.

Event Recording

Date and Time: Tuesday, October 24 at 1:00pm – 1:30pm ET

Location: Hybrid – please register for free in advance to submit questions.

Presented jointly by the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and the Center for Health Communication 

It isn’t enough to write about race and health separately: to tell the whole story, journalists must explore the many complex ways in which race, racism, and health intersect. In this fireside chat, renowned journalists Akilah Johnson of The Washington Post and Amber Payne of The Emancipator will be joined by FXB Director, health equity expert, and former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett. They will take questions about the opportunities and challenges of reporting on race and health equity and communicating with the public on these critical issues. How can journalists combat misinformation and misconceptions about health disparities? What can the public health community learn from journalists about communicating with the public? What stories about race and health are still going untold?

An on-demand video will be posted after the event. 


Akilah Johnson

Akilah Johnson, MA | National reporter focusing on health disparities, The Washington Post

Akilah Johnson joined The Washington Post in 2021 as a national reporter exploring the effect of racism and social inequality on health. In prior roles at ProPublica and the Boston Globe she covered the intersection of health, race, politics, and immigration. She shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and was Pulitzer finalist as a member of the Globe’s Spotlight Team investigation into racism in Boston. Her reporting has won a number of other national awards including NABJ Salute to Excellence Awards, ONA’s Knight Award for Public Service, and a National Headliner Award for Journalistic Innovation.
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Amber Payne

Amber Payne | Publisher and General Manager, The Emancipator

Amber Payne is an award-winning journalist, executive producer, editor and storyteller with a track record for creating bold content that drives conversation. After spending the pandemic year on the Nieman journalism fellowship at Harvard, Amber emerged even more passionate about being in a position where she could reframe the conversation on racial justice and equity by fusing journalism with context and solutions.

Amber joined The Emancipator as co-editor in chief and spent almost two years developing and launching a newsroom that is focused on explaining structural racism and pointing to solutions. Now as publisher and GM, she is determined to set it on a path of longevity.

Amber spent the first 15 years of her career working at major networks and media companies and learning a ton. As Executive Producer at Teen Vogue and Them., she oversaw editorial video programming for Conde Nast’s next-generation digital magazines. She cultivated the video strategy for both brands — creating scalable digital content, while maintaining brand integrity. Teen Vogue’s coverage extends across diverse interest points from fashion and celebrity to gender equality and social justice, while Them. chronicles and celebrates the stories, people and voices of today’s LGBTQ+ community.

Before joining CNE, she was the founding Managing Editor of NBCBLK, a section of NBCNews.com dedicated to telling stories for and about the Black community. The vertical launched in January of 2015 and quickly became an award-winning publication with a mission to elevate the conversation around Black identity, social issues, and culture. She was also an Emmy award-winning producer at NBC Nightly News, the network’s flagship evening broadcast, where she produced breaking news and feature stories.

Specialties: Inclusive storytelling, editing, product innovation, digital video and television production, and emerging platforms.


Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH

Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH | FXB Center Director

Mary T. Bassett, MD, MPH, is director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights in the department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. From December 1, 2021 to December 31, 2022 Dr. Bassett was on leave from Harvard and served as New York State’s Health Commissioner. With more than 30 years of experience devoted to promoting health equity and social justice, both in the United States and abroad, Dr. Bassett’s career has spanned academia, government, and not-for-profit work. From 2014 through summer 2018, she served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she made racial justice a priority and worked to address the structural racism at the root of the city’s persistent gaps in health between white New Yorkers and communities of color. Dr. Bassett also led the Department’s response to Ebola, Legionnaires’ disease and other disease outbreaks.
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October 24, 2023
1:00 pm - 1:30 pm


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Studio