Alumnae: Alumnae Profiles

Alumnae Profiles: Acasia Olson, C'2008, sets out to promote racial healing and reconciliation in the U.S.

Spelman alumna and health equity/social justice advocate, Acasia Olson (née Barrett) recently embarked on a grand journey across the country, via the Millennial Trains Project. MTP organizes a transcontinental train journey for participants to explore emerging ideas and opportunities to advance a project that benefits, serves and inspires. 

Olson's campaign, EmbRace Healing, is an effort to encourage, promote and support racial healing while also working to encourage groups and individuals to reflect on trust building and reconciliation. 

Over the course of 10 days (March 16 – 26), she traveled to seven different cities (Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Kansas City, Louisville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Miami) to organize and spark conversations with groups and individuals who are addressing racism and promoting racial healing and reconciliation in their community.  Through transformative dialogues and cross-racial community building, this project aims to challenge the way we think about, respond to and discuss race and racism while increasing public awareness and support for racial healing and reconciliation.

The Importance of Racial Healing and Reconciliation

Spelman Alumna Acasia Olson “As a woman of color, racial healing and reconciliation is important for my personal development and journey. With each media story of racial injustice, I sense myself growing bitter, jaded and at times overwhelmed and I have to do something about it.  I didn’t grow up in the pre-Civil Rights South but I feel, see and experience the legacy of slavery, segregation and racism.  

Far too many news stories, data reports, documentaries and conversations present race as a ‘risk’ factor for death and disease. I and many experts assert that racial injustice and the legacy of racism are a risk factor and the root cause of many disparities. I see this in the young black men in my family who can’t walk down the street or drive a car without risk of being racially profiled.  I hear this in the stories of teachers who treat black and brown students like ‘problem’ children. Or in the accounts of healthcare providers who mismanage patient care because of a patient's race or culture.”

A former military brat and self-proclaimed Virginia native, Olson is passionate about education, health, and youth. She is currently a Public Health Prevention Service Fellow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is completing a two-year field placement with the Washington Dental Service Foundation in Seattle where she manages their oral health equity initiative.  When she’s not building a movement, you can find her advising colleagues and organizations on their health equity efforts. 

Olson co-chairs the Health Coalition for Children and Youth Equity Empowerment team, is a technical adviser to the Health Equity Committee of the Washington State’s Health Benefit Exchange (Washington’s ACA insurance marketplace), and volunteers as a strategic advisor to the Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority’s Board of Trustees. In these roles, she advises individuals and organizations that desire to end racial and ethnic health disparities and facilitates opportunities to examine the intersection of power, privilege, race and the social determinants of health.

Shortly after earning her master’s degree in public health, Olson started her fellowship with the CDC and before she knew it, she became heavily involved in health equity and social justice.

Eradicating Racial Injustice and Eliminating Health Disparities Is More Than a Job

“As far as I’m concerned, addressing racial injustice and eliminating health disparities isn’t just a 9-5 job.  This is a personal mission. This isn’t just a deliverable or an evaluation measure or a bunch of numbers in a data report.  This is a person’s life.  Racial injustice and racial equity have deleterious and empowering effects respectively.”

During her time at Spelman, Olson held numerous leadership roles.  She founded Virtue Week, an effort to educate and support individuals who chose to practice abstinence.  She also co-founded and co-directed Esther’s Circle campus ministry. She was a member of the Ethel Waddell Githii Honors Program, the Civic Engagement Fellowship Program and was a Women of Excellence and Leadership (WEL) Scholar.

Olson also volunteered abroad through the Lesotho Experience through Service where she traveled to Lesotho in sub-Saharan Africa to discuss HIV/AIDS prevention efforts with community members and leaders.  She also participated in Spelman’s first Alternative Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic where she worked with other Spelman sisters to teach children.  In her spare time she writes for Coolikan, a Christian blog community that examines contemporary topics.  Olson received her bachelor of arts in English from Spelman College, and a MPH in health promotion from The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, DC.

Olson credits her passion and success to her parents for instilling dignity and a positive self-mage, and the village that raised her which includes her family, mentors, and Spelman community, which taught her to be a ‘free thinking woman’ and an ‘agent of positive social change.’Her husband, Chris Olson, is her biggest supporter; and the pair enjoy learning and growing together in Seattle.

To learn more about the campaign, including how you can donate and support, please visit http://embracehealing.org/.