Every semester, Berkeley Haas Lecturer Alex Budak kicks off his class on Becoming a Changemaker with examples of changemakers who inspire him. For the past two years, he’s led with childhood trauma expert Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first Surgeon General.
On Nov. 9, his students got to hear directly from Burke Harris, who answered their questions virtually as a guest during class.
“She charts her own path in everything she does,” Budak said. “From being the first-ever Surgeon General for the State of California to championing a crucial-but-overlooked aspect of childhood health, she doesn’t have a playbook to follow. She invents it herself, every day—and she does so in a way which is empathetic, humble and tenacious.”
Burke Harris, who has established early childhood, health equity, and toxic stress as her key priorities, is the author of The Deepest Well, which addresses how deeply bodies can be imprinted by or Adverse Childhood Experiences—or ACEs—like abuse and neglect. The ACEs Aware initiative is a first-in-the-nation effort to screen patients for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to help improve and save lives.
The pandemic has worsened mental health for many, and Burke Harris pointed to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which just announced a national mental health emergency for children.
“We recognize that (the pandemic is) also this massive, massive stressor and there’s never been a more important time for us to implement trauma-informed systems and trauma-informed care at scale,” Burke Harris said. “A lot of my focus, in addition to helping with vaccines and thinking about our rollout, is our strategy for equity, which is another huge thing right now because when you have a public health emergency, it doesn’t effect everyone equally.”
Being a changemaker is about more than working hard and being intense, she said. “I work hard, that’s no joke,” she said. “But it’s really that ability to replenish ourselves, that ability to nourish ourselves and take breaks and be joyful and really integrate the work we do and our purpose, also with our lives, I think allows us to sustain the work we’re doing and it also cultivates creativity and innovation and all of things that help us be more successful and change-making.”
Asked about a changemaker she admires, Burke Harris described a Google-organized dinner she attended, where she met lawyer Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson worked on Supreme Court decisions to prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole. “That was a total changemaker moment,” she said. “It was so joyful to talk to someone who was similarly passionate about caring for our vulnerable community members.”
This video is also listed as a Dean’s Speaker Series talk.