BEDFORD, Texas — Jacquetta Chambers remembers marching against police brutality with a friend's parents in Fort Worth during the late '60s.
Lee Mulvey, left, Human Resources officer; Kamala Richmond, Women and Infants director; Fraser Hay, hospital president; and Jacquetta Chambers, manager of pastoral care at Texas Health HEB.
Forty years later, Chambers, an African American manager of pastoral care at Texas Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford, saw a summer's worth of racial injustice protests that exploded after the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd, a Black man, as a police officer knelt on his neck. The whole horrifying episode was captured on video, streamed, and broadcast again and again into living rooms around the world.
"The world has moved on, but for those of us who marched in the '60s, change did not become permanent," Chambers said. "If you move on without conversations, without understanding and willingness to attack and dismantle the racist systems we have, we all just keep coming back to it."
Texas Health HEB President Fraser Hay saw both a "national problem and a national opportunity for understanding" as the protests grew and eclipsed even the COVID-19 pandemic in the national spotlight.
He decided to focus his efforts on helping the hospital "be the change we want to see in our communities" and enlisted Chambers' help.
"What do I need to understand? What is it we can do here to create a more inclusive environment? How can we take some steps together to start a ripple effect that impacts our whole hospital and the communities we live in?" Hay asked.
Those questions were the foundation for discussions that began in August, first after a group of 14 hospital leaders — both African American and white — read "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People To Talk about Racism," a book written by Robin DiAngelo, a white woman.
While the idea of reading about racism through the eyes of a white person sounds counterintuitive, Chambers said she believes in the approach.
"Here are some ideas I have: The first one, and it's a passionate one, is that minorities, especially African Americans, are not the ones that need to teach other races about racism, equity and equality. A lot of people feel that if I was the one teaching, it would be just another Black person whining about their situation," she said.
But instead it came from a white woman "who herself had to experience and look at some of these things from inside her own life. She is someone who had to totally and completely educate herself as to what African Americans were talking about when discussing racism, racial insensitivity and white privilege," Chambers said.
Hay said the discussions were highly valuable.
"There were many aha moments, things we learned that we hadn't paused to consider before," he said. "Everyone enjoyed our first effort at building common understanding, but we wanted to go deeper, on a more personal level."
So the conversations continued, but between diverse pairs of leaders who meet bi-weekly in person.
"This really dovetails nicely into the direction we've gone as a system around creating an inclusive environment," Hay said.
Last fall, more than 650 Texas Health leaders participated in inclusion training, and the system as a whole is fostering the same kinds of conversations, with more education planned this year.
Hay, who is paired with Kamala Richmond, women's services director, said the discussions have been enlightening, enabling them to see things from another's perspective.
"Every woman of color I've had the privilege to talk to shared with me how they educate their children at an early age what to do should they get pulled over by the police," he said. "That is something my parents never talked to me about. I don't walk into stores and feel like I'm being watched. I don't feel like I'm disrespected because of the color of my skin."
Hazel Edwards, M.S.N., R.N., CCM, ACM, care transitions management director at the hospital, said her discussions with Brandon Goertz, vice president of support services, have been similar.
"We discussed experiences about my background as an African American woman and what I've been exposed to from a racial point of view through my childhood, college and young adulthood."
A positive step that resulted quickly, Edwards said, was that she was able to encourage Goertz, who has small children, to "be very good about providing them with education on inclusion, diversity and cultural awareness, so that as they grow up and interact and intervene with people who don't look like them they have awareness of cultural diversity."
Julie Balluck, M.S.N., R.N., NEA-BC, who is chief nursing officer at the hospital, said she is paired with Madeline Turner, food and nutrition director. They've explored the issues through books, podcasts, webinars and other sources.
The conversations are about intentional awareness, said Balluck, who grew up in Canada.
"I've always been pretty aware of the differences with how people of color are treated here (in the U.S.). It wasn't my experience where I came from," she said. "I don't think in our lifetime we'll ever see that it's gone. Hopefully, we can continue moving it in the right direction."
'Part of the solution'
The work has evolved and continued, even as the hospital battles COVID-19, with some tangible progress.
"If we sit down in a committee and there are not African Americans at the table, why not? Why are we not including that voice and perspective? We are starting to be very intentional," Chambers said.
"I have been amazed at the transformation I've personally felt as well as seen in our team," Hay said. "When we started this journey, none of us knew what we were doing and it was uncomfortable, but we all felt compelled to do something. As our discussions have progressed, we are more apt to move towards these difficult but necessary topics rather than shy away."
He said that while there is still a long road ahead, he is determined that the hospital and its leaders will "lean into furthering our culture of inclusion and commit to being part of the solution."
About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is a faith-based, nonprofit health system that cares for more patients in North Texas than any other provider. With a service area that consists of 16 counties and more than 7 million people, the system is committed to providing quality, coordinated care through its Texas Health Physicians Group and 29 hospital locations under the banners of Texas Health Presbyterian, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley. Texas Health access points and services, ranging from acute-care hospitals and trauma centers to outpatient facilities and home health and preventive services, provide the full continuum of care for all stages of life. The system has more than 4,100 licensed hospital beds, 6,400 physicians with active staff privileges and more than 26,000 employees. For more information about Texas Health, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.