February is Black History Month, and we sat down with three women who are empowering and supporting the Black community both here at Scarborough Health Network and within the Scarborough community. We talk about what Black History Month means to them and how they're advancing diversity and inclusion.
Michele James, Vice President, People and Transformation at SHN discusses how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the Black community both in Scarborough and worldwide.
Florence Edibiri, Manager, Volunteer Services and the Chair of Blacks United for Inclusion, Leadership and Development (BUILD) community of inclusion at SHN discusses the importance of this group to our hospitals and staff.
Andrea Hazell, Chair of our Caribbean Philanthropic Council and President of the Scarborough Business Association discusses the vital role that inclusion and education play in Scarborough.
Read below the stories of these women and how they celebrate Black History month, and honour the contributions Blacks have made to Scarborough and Canada.
Michele James, Vice President, People and Transformation at SHN
Tell us a little bit about Blacks United for Inclusion, Leadership and Diversity (BUILD) and how it came to be at SHN.
I became familiar with communities of inclusion at my previous organizations. I wanted to introduce them to SHN to give employees who have something in common a way to have a voice and bring their lived experience to the organization. In 2019, SHN created its’ first community of inclusion – SHN Pride – to help create a more inclusive work environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community. One year later, when our staff expressed interest in a community of inclusion for Black employees, we took an evidence-based approach to examine literature and data that looked specifically at Blacks' challenges in the workplace.
We know that there’s systemic racism in every large institution, and we had a large amount of data to support this group's value. We welcome anyone interested in learning and advancing the group to be part of BUILD, even if they’re not part of the Black community. The name “BUILD” was chosen by our staff and stands for Blacks United for Inclusion, Leadership and Development.
The group has pulled together a lot of people and put together a magnificent structure. Establishing ourselves in January of 2020, we were well-positioned to respond to the surge of anti-Black racism and violence in the summer of 2020 due to George Floyd's death. After his death, we had sessions to acknowledge and talk about the vicarious trauma people were experiencing from seeing stories and images in the news and offered spiritual care for those looking for extra support.
Our BUILD program has been so successful that it has been recognized as a best practice to follow by Ontario Health in their report on building a framework and plan to address equity, inclusion, diversity and racism in Ontario. We also have other hospitals calling to find out more about BUILD and wondering how they can implement this community of inclusion in the workplace.
COVID-19 disproportionately impacted Ontario and Scarborough’s Black communities. What does this tell us about health disparities in our own backyard?
COVID-19 has certainly highlighted the health inequities already existing worldwide, and SHN has been very proactive in our approach. We got our finger on the pulse early when it comes to health disparities, especially since Scarborough is one of the most diverse and multicultural communities in the world.
When we created our strategic plan in 2018, one of our strategic directions is to improve population health, health equity, and system integration. We’ve been proactively focused on health equity for a while. It’s a shift in mindset from thinking only about those in front of us using our health care services to also thinking about those who don’t access health care in Scarborough due to a myriad of factors. These factors include socio-economic factors, mistrust of the health care system due to past experiences or the micro-aggressions and systemic racism that has long been present in medicine.
Unfortunately, we know that postal code is often a better predictor of your health status than your genetic code.
What does Black History Month mean to you? Does it feel different this year due to the Black Lives Matter protests and heightened awareness around racism?
This year it’s great that people are paying more attention because it’s needed. More money is going toward anti-Black racism initiatives such as the BlackNorth Initiative, and it’s essential to fund initiatives that aren’t just for education for the non-oppressed, but the oppressed themselves.
For me, Black History Month is an important time to reflect and try to do extra things to recognize the achievements and contributions of the Black community. I like to read books, buy my Black History Month bookmarks, posters and other materials, and take extra time to support community celebrations.
What do you think makes SHN and the community we serve so special?
I’ve been with SHN for 13 years, and our community has so much resilience and a sense of hustle. We get stuff done. Despite the challenges we face and some of our communities don’t have a lot of money, we still help each other out because that’s what our community does. SHN has so much support all the way up to the Board when it comes to diversity and inclusion, which makes us perfectly positioned to become the hospital leader in diversity, inclusion and health equity.
Florence Edebiri, Manager, Volunteer Services at SHN & Chair of the BUILD Community of Inclusion
Tell us a little bit about the Blacks United for Inclusion, Leadership and Development (BUILD) community of inclusion at SHN.
BUILD is a community of inclusion at Scarborough Health Network and is one of two – the other being our LGBTQ+ community of inclusion. Our communities of inclusion are consistent with the SHN’s value of Inclusion and the strategic direction to build a culture to empower and inspire people.
The results of a voluntary poll conducted by the diversity and inclusion specialist at SHN suggested that Black employees were overwhelmingly interested in a community of inclusion related to leadership and development for the Black community at SHN.
We presented a briefing note to the Senior Leadership Team and launched BUILD in January of 2020. Michele James, Vice President, People and Transformation, is the executive sponsor of BUILD, and I am proud to be the Chair of this group. The purpose of BUILD is to support our employees, professional staff, students and volunteers by providing education, personal growth, mentorship, information sharing and an opportunity to share lived experiences. BUILD also serves as a resource in building bridges across cultural issues and heightening cultural competence across SHN.
What does Black History Month mean to you? Does it feel different from past years due to the Black Lives Matter protests and heightened awareness around anti-black racism?
Black History Month means having an opportunity to reflect on the Black community's impact in Canada and around the world. It’s a time to openly discuss, embrace and be proud of our cultural and ethnic background. We recognize and reflect on how they paved the way for us in the community and encourages others to acknowledge what Black people offer. It’s a perfect time to highlight the contributions the Black community has made to our country and recognize the struggles we have faced in the past and continue to face today.
How would you encourage our community members to learn about and honour Black Canadians' legacy in the past, present and future?
Black history is not well known by the community, and sometimes even the Black community themselves aren’t aware of our history. It’s not often taught in school, and we’re not fully aware of the fantastic contributions that Black people have made to Canada and our communities. I would love to see more information available in the community, more recognition of Blacks and their work in Scarborough and Canada and more education of Black history and achievements in schools and universities.
What do you think makes SHN and the community we serve so special?
I’m so proud of SHN and how much progress we’ve made towards inclusion and diversity. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but BUILD is a great start to where we want to be. We have the unwavering support of our Senior Leadership Team, and they have endorsed the Black community and BUILD as a community of inclusion. One of our core values is inclusion, and it’s clear that SHN is committed to seeing our employees represented and valued in the workplace and the community.
Andrea Hazell, Chair of SHN's Caribbean Philanthropic Council and President of the Scarborough Business Association
What does Black History Month mean to you?
To me, Black History Month in Canada means our people get an opportunity to share and learn about our experiences, contributions and the achievements of Black people. It's very important for the community to know where we came from, understand our history and know how deeply we contribute to the country and the economy.
A lot of learning still needs to be done, and February is about spreading awareness. This is the only way we can decrease a lot of blind spots when it comes to diversity and inclusion, especially in big corporations. This month provides a renewed focus to increase education, opportunities and processes - and it's important that we're given the opportunity to contribute.
What do you think makes our Scarborough community so special?
I'm fortunate enough to be part of three sectors in Scarborough - as a resident, as the President of the Scarborough Business Association and as part of health care as the Chair of the Foundation's Caribbean Philanthropic Council.
For the business community, Scarborough is so special because of our multiculturalism, which is very apparent in our restaurants and food. It breaks my heart how badly they've been impacted by COVID-19 because the small businesses and restaurants are a large part of Scarborough's identity and what makes it special. We recently had the launch of the February Festival of Food, where we welcomed speakers from all over to support the food industry and highlight our incredible restaurants here in Scarborough. Some of the speakers included:
- Suman Roy, Executive Chef
- Imran Ali, Owner of Northern Smokes
- Karahi Boys
- Howard Tam, Founder of ThinkFresh and Eat More Scarborough Food Tours
- Reagan Sampson, Owner of Tropical Nights
Scarborough will always stand together and collaborate to win. We're a community of strong and diverse individuals who are warm-hearted, always ready to support, and most importantly, we don't let our Scarborough community down.
What resources or programs would you like to see in Scarborough to move toward better diversity, inclusion and anti-racism?
In the health care sector, I think SHN and SHN Foundation have done a fantastic job when it comes to inclusion and diversity. They pushed for our Caribbean Philanthropic Council, and since 2015 we have been raising money and supporting the Foundation. I know that SHN is a leader when it comes to inclusion, and I am very proud to represent the organization.
In the community, we still have a lot of work to do. I would love to see more employment centres, colleges, business owners and stakeholders to acknowledge that we have severely underrepresented groups in our community - and step up to do something about this. We need stronger policies that can help us get better, and bring those underrepresented groups to the table.
For me, I believe in creating solutions for my generation. After 30 years of extensive experience working in the financial industry, I saw how underrepresented my people were in the corporate world and wanted to do something about it. By starting my own financial company using the wealth of knowledge and experience gained in the industry, I can better serve my community and bring underrepresented groups to the table. I'm fortunate to now be in a position to give back and make room at the table for these groups.
To create a culture of diversity and inclusion here in Canada, I invite more business owners, stakeholders, community leaders, institution leaders and all levels of government to acknowledge that we have severely underrepresented groups in our workplace and to step up to impact positive change. We need stronger diversity, equity and inclusion policies in the workplace. You can learn more at the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion's website.
How do you feel the SHN Foundation's Caribbean Philanthropic Council contributes to a community of inclusion at SHN and SHN Foundation?
We are a unique and passionate group. We strive to include everyone in our events because Scarborough is full of every different culture and we want to celebrate that. We specifically raise money for dialysis at SHN, because Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) disproportionately affects the Black community in Scarborough and we want to help SHN serve this community like we know they can.
Our council and events foster inclusion because we focus on education, and have connected diversity education at the grassroots level. We have found that everyone want to be educated about us, our group and the hospitals, because health care disparity affects a lot of people in our Scarborough community. That's why it's so important to support SHN and the incredible care they provide.
To learn more about Black History Month or attend virtual events, visit the websites below: