A Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Specialist at Vi, Mackey turns company data into cohesive narratives to serve DEI goals and uplifts the voices of women of color.
Headshot of Akerah Mackey
Akerah Mackey

“A lot of my work is driven by the struggles that Black women face,” said Akerah Mackey, MPP’21. “If I can make an impact on just one person, I know that my life has meaning and purpose.”

Mackey’s desire to help Black women started in undergrad. “I’ve always been an activist,” she said. “I started doing activist work at age 14, but I didn’t know until I was in college that I could do it as a job."

Mackey said she was angered when she learned about the disproportionate rates at which Black women die in childbirth compared with white women.  “When I was twelve, my mother almost died twice giving birth to my youngest brother. They actually almost paralyzed my mother for life due to medical malpractice, and the nurse said Black women have the hardest births and I asked her what she meant. When she broke it down for me, I was in shock,” said Mackey.

She subsequently became more interested in helping Black women strive for success and equitable outcomes, and in her current position as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Specialist at Vi, a Chicago retirement community group, she uplifts the voices of  underrepresented groups.

“Storytelling is at the core of what I do,” said Mackey. “I take company data and turn it into a cohesive narrative to serve DEI goals. My work creates more transparency around employee demographics and what can be fixed in a company to make it more inclusive of marginalized populations.”

Prior to Harris, Mackey earned her BA in religious studies and politics with a focus in ethics from Willamette University. While working on her BA, Mackey had the opportunity to work in Dublin to support the Irish Traveller Movement, an organization supporting the Irish population of travelers. “Dublin was my first peek into doing analyst work as it relates to advocacy,” said Mackey. In Dublin, she worked on a school intervention program collecting data and interviewing program participants. The program would involve intervention work with non-Traveller children to prevent them from perpetuating stereotypes against Traveller students.

"However," Mackey said, “I came into Harris thinking I was going to transition out of DEI and advocacy and focus on government and nonprofit work." But the onset of the pandemic and the aftermath of the George Floyd case led Mackey to begin looking at gun violence prevention and how healthcare affects Black communities. "The disparities in rates of Black deaths from Covid-19 inspired me to continue working in DEI for the rest of my life."

When asked why she chose to pursue her Master of Public Policy at Harris, Mackey said, “Because of the challenge it posed to me, I had to ask myself, 'can I take my non-analytical brain and do the math and do the science?' I found out not only can I, but I now use the statistical analysis skills I gained at Harris nearly every day,” she said. “I pull employee data from the system, turn it into a spreadsheet, and start to analyze it. Harris really taught me how to look at the numbers to understand what exactly is happening and then present that information in a compelling manner to an audience without the same analytical background."