June 22, 2020
To the people and communities of WNC,
On behalf of Dogwood Health Trust, we want to acknowledge the hurt, anguish and anger from the unjust death of George Floyd and many others, and the systemic and endemic racism and disparities that their deaths represent. While we are early on in our development as an organization, we remain absolutely committed to our purpose to dramatically improve the health and wellness of ALL people in WNC. Our guiding values include an explicit commitment to equity – which includes racial equity.
As we continue to shape the way we’ll demonstrate this commitment through our work, we are intentionally considering key questions: “How will Dogwood Health Trust address the impacts of systemic racism and inequity? How do we engage each other as board and staff? How do we engage with the community? How does Dogwood meaningfully partner with communities to transform systemic racial disparities into health equity for all?”
Our board and staff have had numerous conversations to think through how do we best tap into the wisdom of our partners and those in our communities in answering these key questions.
Our board and staff have held space together, multiple times over the past few weeks, to thoughtfully engage in what can often be uncomfortable conversations. Our board and staff of color shared with vulnerability how this has deeply impacted them and their families, and the many lived experiences in which they are “made to feel ‘the other’ and devalued.” Stories like these are hard to share and hard to hear, and we deeply appreciate the willingness of our team members to offer them as fuel for ongoing conversations. We also know that conversation is only one part of the work that we need to do.
Jackie Simms from our board said: “Dogwood acknowledges the complexity, pervasiveness and sometimes elusive nature of race-based discrimination in our U.S. culture. No one escapes it; it’s in the air we breathe. Recognizing that change, systemic or otherwise, begins within; Dogwood needs to commit to and model for our WNC communities the kind of in-depth race and poverty work that our society needs to truly live the lofty ideas enshrined in the Constitution by our founding fathers.”
Another board member, Martha Tyner, wrote: “Our organization must be thoughtful, intentional, and we must do all we can to promote that we believe that not only diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of our DNA, but that dignity matters. Every person has equal worth and merit. I think Dogwood needs to be at the forefront in WNC addressing this issue through our words and deeds, and we must live compassionately into our values of seeking to understand what we do not, and demonstrating we have the courage to step up and speak up to transform and be the model of change for that dignity of every soul we serve. We should surround our impact strategies with not only action, but with the deep arcs of diversity, equity, inclusion and dignity our communities deserve through the resources we have.”
Given the complexity of the issues, we know that we don’t at this moment have any perfect answers. We hope to tap deeply into the collective wisdom of those in our communities. However, here are key themes that have emerged in the past few weeks that we are exploring and will continue to pursue:
The fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Montreat in 1965 is a reminder that the work of equity and justice is not new to the region, and that we have early footings on which to build. It’s humbling to reflect upon the words from his legendary speech in Washington, DC: “… we shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice ….” Fifty-five years later in that long arc, we renew our commitment to having the dream become a reality.
Janice Brumit, Chair Susan Mims, Interim CEO
John F.A.V Cecil, Vice Chair
George Renfro, Secretary/Treasurer
John Ball, MD, JD, Board Member
Vivian Bolaños, Board Member
Casey Cooper, Board Member
Jackie Godlock, Board Member
Dawna Goode-Ledbetter, Board Member
Sam Lupas, Board Member
Jackie Simms, Board Member
Sarah Thompson, Board Member
Donna Tipton Rogers, EdD, Board Member
Martha Tyner, Board Member
What have we done so far to advance racial and health equity? This is a key question that every organization, individual and system needs to ask themselves. We at Dogwood need to hold ourselves accountable to our commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and plan to share our progress regularly. Here’s what we’ve done in our initiatives launched in the last 8 months:
Dogwood will prioritize diverse-led partners, diverse consultants, as well as anchor partners that commit to explicit race equity and health equity goals in their proposals.
In some areas, Dogwood is intentional about our vendors and suppliers. For example, in our senior executive searches, 2 of the 3 firms are diverse-owned or -led. We focus on diverse-owned restaurants and caterers for food for events and meetings. However, Dogwood will be much more intentional about other vendors and suppliers, such as janitorial, banking, general contractors, supplies, audit, tax, legal, etc.
These actions are just a start, and we are eager to work with our community to do even more. We’d love to hear your reactions to this work and your ideas for more. Please email us at [email protected] to share your thoughts.