President & CEO Wright Lassiter III shares message with employees and community amid current events
As we watch the tragic and traumatic series of recent events playing out across the country, it is quite challenging to adequately capture in words the anguish, grief, anger and exasperation experienced by so many – including myself. I’ve been reflecting on how we arrived at this moment and all that we have been through as a nation and a local community. As a relative newcomer to Detroit and the State of Michigan, I didn’t experience Detroit in 1967 but, it is times like these where I harken back to growing up in the segregated South, in the small, yet infamous town of Tuskegee, Alabama. From the early-mid 1960s through the mid 1970s, I was raised in the hotbed of the Civil Rights movement. Yet, I was too young to fully comprehend the events swirling around me – the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, my parents’ participation in the 1965 Selma March, civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams sitting in our living room chatting about the 1963 assassinations of both her husband, Medgar, and John F. Kennedy, or the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
So how have we arrived at this moment? In my humble opinion, the etiology of our fractured state stems from two pervasive phenomenon – intolerance and indifference. As the world’s most diverse melting pot, our country simply cannot shake our humble and somewhat troubled beginnings. The inescapable gravitational force that our history of slavery imparts upon our nation continues to sow seeds that are hurtful, insidious, and at times, right in our faces. With prejudice and injustice – intolerance – in full view once again this past month with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now George Floyd, I am hopeful that appropriate justice will be served, and that our nation will wrap the communities where these events occurred in our support and prayers. The nonviolent protests we are seeing after each death are a critical part of our democracy and First Amendment right, and more importantly critical to peoples’ ability to bring voice to issues paramount to allow healing. The violent rioting, looting and attacks on law enforcement erupting in the aftermath are destructive and counterproductive, and the organized groups leveraging this moment to do harm have no place at all, but they remind me of a quote from Martin Luther King sharing, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” In other words, these events are sadly reflective of a nation that’s not listening.
Talking with our leadership team and some of you, let’s also not pretend that these are isolated events. Acts of inequality and racial bias play out inside our organization and the community at-large every day and that demands increased attention. While leading southeast Michigan’s response to COVID-19, we know our communities of color have been more severely impacted – at times feeling like the healthcare and public health system let them down – on top of feeling left behind with Detroit’s resurgence. For decades, clinicians of color have faced racially motivated behaviors, and it has been recently reported that more than 30% of African American, Asian American and Hispanic clinicians and frontline teams have experienced intolerable conduct and remarks while courageously doing their jobs. All too familiar inequities, disparities and acts of racism that we must address.
At times like these we all must decide if we will stand silent, turning away from the fray, choosing comfort over progress – in other words, indifference. Or, will we summon the courage that exists within us all when confronted with acts that violate our sense of decency and humanity. At this moment, I reflect on all we should be proud of at Henry Ford Health System. I acknowledge all that we have done and are doing to lift disadvantaged communities and communities of color to live their best lives. However, I must continue to ask myself and our leaders, “are we doing enough?” I am committed to ensuring that our organization creates an environment where critical conversations about race, disparities, and bias can occur; where all individuals, irrespective of their points of view, have an opportunity to share their opinion. What’s most important here is NOT that we are all of one mind, but that areas of difference can be shared and explored and that our organization can evolve as a result of these conversations. And, that our 33,000+ team members can grow in understanding, and that we can continue to find opportunities to galvanize our efforts to make the communities that we serve better because of Henry Ford’s presence. This desire reminds me of why I joined the CEO Action for Diversity (D) and Inclusion (I) national effort in 2017 and the critical work 900+ organizations across the country have engaged in regarding: 1) making our workplaces trusted environments to discuss diversity and inclusion, 2) expanding unconscious bias education, 3) sharing best and unsuccessful practices, and 4) reviewing plans around D & I with our Boards of Directors. Henry Ford will continue these efforts and I look forward to joining many of you virtually and in-person to accelerate this work.
One of Henry Ford’s greatest strengths is our diversity – of perspectives, expertise, and yes, culture, race and ethnicity – and our dedication to treating all men and women as equals. Generational prejudice and injustices won’t be solved easily or alone, yet by embracing our ability to better understand one another, we naturally better understand the communities we serve. And that’s when our values of compassion, innovation, respect and results can truly take hold.
Perhaps it is serendipitous that we launched a new brand campaign last weekend that further unfolds the meaning of All For You, and our connection and commitment to every member of the community we are privileged to serve. Recognizing that many of you feel hurt and exhausted as a result of these recent events, I invite everyone to join me in celebrating and embracing our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as a System. I have a renewed sense of urgency to reduce the gap between today and what’s possible and I’m certain that we are stronger together.
I leave you with this quote by Myrlie Evers-Williams, “I have reached a point in my life where I understand the pain and the challenges: And my attitude is one of standing up with open arms to meet them all.” Stand with me as we embrace the challenges of the communities we serve. And, never lose hope that we can achieve the best of our intentions!
We are for all,