By Richard Morgan, Vice, July 18, 2019.
It was an early summer morning at the San Ysidro Health Center, situated on the Mexican border. A flu outbreak gripped a nearby ICE detention center, where a larger humanitarian crisis continued to unfold, threatening the future of hundreds of children.
In a small conference room, brimming with 20 or so of the San Diego area’s most diverse academic and activist minds, Nadine Burke Harrissat at the head of the table. The 43-year-old pediatrician from San Francisco was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to become California’s first-ever state surgeon general in February. The role is part policymaker, part spokesperson, and full-time advocate for the state’s public health. All of which were needed to protect children at the border, as Burke Harris later opined in the Washington Post.
In a country where Black people, immigrants, and women all report being unseen by medicine—in research, in practice, and in policy—Burke Harris is all three. And she is poised to become one of the most powerful women in U.S. state-level government. Ever.
With that new leverage, Burke Harris has heaved her political and medical capital not toward the expected battle cries—curing cancer, ending HIV infection, or undoing the opioid crisis—but on an affliction which most people don't even know they experience: toxic stress. "I am not a surgeon general who is going to just tell people to eat right and exercise," she said.