Systemic Racism: Let’s Change Our Corner of the World

Conversations with Katie | August 18, 2020

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan introduces the new LeadingAge Summer Enrichment Program, which will help members prepare a diverse group of students to become leaders in our field.

It’s so easy to feel paralyzed as we face the hard truths about systemic racism in America. After all, what can one person or one organization do to reverse the social injustice that has permeated American culture for hundreds of years?

This question has kept me up at night.

Part of my distress has been personal. Like many Americans, I find it hard to reconcile the fact that I’ve enjoyed the privilege of whiteness throughout my own life, while millions of Americans have been denied rights and opportunities—and suffered daily humiliations—due to the color of their skin.

Part of my distress has been professional. Even before George Floyd’s death, LeadingAge has grappled with how to address the social justice issues that have gained such prominence in our world this year. The problem is so large and complex. In light of the overwhelming need for change, any potential solution seems inadequate.

Until now.

After much fruitful discussion, LeadingAge decided to take 2 immediate steps to address the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Other steps are under development and I look forward to sharing those with you at a later date.

First, we decided to hold a mirror up to ourselves. LeadingAge wants to learn and grow alongside our members. We’re committed to doing the important and necessary work to ensure that LeadingAge is an inclusive organization. A staff Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council is guiding our work. Recognizing racial equity as a crucial starting point for this work, the council’s purpose is to identify and engage resources that will build our internal awareness, educate, and inform recommended actions.

Second, we decided to focus on the painful recognition that we have tremendous disparities within our organizations. One need only look at the composition of our C-suites and board rooms, and contrast that with the composition of our front-line workforce.

To address these disparities, we are launching a new LeadingAge Summer Enrichment Program in the summer of 2021. Through the 10-week program, undergraduate and graduate students of color can advance toward leadership positions in LeadingAge member organizations, the offices of LeadingAge state partners, and within our LeadingAge national office. Summer interns will complete a substantive project within one of these organizations, work with mentors to hone their leadership skills, and take part in a variety of leadership development activities.

LeadingAge will be there every step of the way, providing resources to help you design and implement your internship program, disseminating information nationwide about the Summer Enrichment Program, promoting your internship opportunity, and offering interns and preceptors myriad opportunities for professional development, education, training, and networking.

I hope you will begin preparing today to participate in this national effort to make our field as diverse, inclusive, and welcoming as possible. The summer of 2021 may seem a long way off. But now is the time to include funds for an intern in your 2021 budget.

I’ve already included $5,000 in the LeadingAge National budget to cover the stipend we intend to pay our Summer Enrichment Program intern in 2021.

LeadingAge is making a financial commitment to the Summer Enrichment Program because it’s the right thing to do. And it’s something we can do right now to begin righting the wrongs that systemic racism has visited upon our country.

LeadingAge also knows this program will strengthen all of our organizations. Studies have shown that organizations are strongest when their leaders come from diverse backgrounds and bring diverse perspectives to the decision-making process.

I look forward to working with you to make sure our leaders reflect the diversity of our nation, the diversity of the aging population, and the diversity of the direct care professionals who work in aging services organizations.

Will the LeadingAge Summer Enrichment Program eradicate systemic racism? Not alone.

But I’m convinced that, working together, we can use this important initiative to change our little corner of the world. For now, that’s an important first step.