Black History Month: AVIA Reflections


avia reflections

This year for Black History Month, we asked AVIAns from across the company to reflect on how their perspectives on race have shifted in life and at work. From showing up to work as authentically Black, to waking up to pervasive racism, to pushing forward on health equity, AVIAns have experienced the events of the last year in a variety of ways, and we’re honored to share those personal insights.

When Black people are hesitant to show up as ourselves, we suffer from a great loss of opportunity to make a significant impact.

“Since the events of 2020, I’ve committed to showing up as my authentic self in all aspects of my life, most importantly the workplace. For years, I was conditioned to believe that my Blackness was a handicap. Come Monday morning, walking into the office or joining my first Zoom meeting meant that I’d turn off all that is me and my culture for the comfort of my colleagues. I’d put a smile on my face and do my best to portray the image that I am “just like you,” when in fact, the tragic events in our country constantly reminded me that I am not. I’ve learned that compliance is no longer an option, nor does it improve equality in the workplace.  “

Lauren Rencher, Executive Assistant, Health Strategy & Solutions

“2020 was the year my bubble popped, physically and intellectually. After 20 years of suburban life, 14 miles from where George Floyd was killed, I moved to the heart of Minneapolis to be part of the solution. After 20 years of naively clinging to a fiction that is “Minnesota Nice,” I saw clearly that dignity and respect aren’t distributed equally. After 20 years of public health practice, working to solve racial disparities, I finally began naming the root cause, racism.”

– Sarah Carroll, Director, Center for Care Transformation

“Re-defining what “humility” means, and how I seek to embody it, strikes me as the most meaningful and ongoing introspective learning for me this year. I believe and hope many people have felt a collective questioning of innumerable systemic assumptions we have all used to define how we understand our history, how we contextualize our world now, and the ways in which we structure and govern ourselves. I have found myself questioning the most basic assumptions I have held in my personal life as well: 

Of course, I feel safe, comfortable, and confident in this room.

Of course, I believe my voice is heard and perspective is understood.

Of course, my intentions and my impact are aligned.”

These are only a few of many, often subconscious, assumptions I am beginning to realize I have brought into every room, every conversation, every interaction I have ever had. Knowingly or not, I have projected my lived experience onto the people around me, and expected them to feel similarly. My hope in seeking more complete humility is to be mindful of every assumption I hold, and deliberate in recognizing both the intent of my words and actions, and their impact. Rather than using my lived experience as a tool or indicator of what “reality” looks like, I hope to continue learning how to use my lived experience as a tool to empathize, explore, understand, and engage with the lived experiences of others.”

– Max Meyers, Executive Assistant, Provider Solutions

It has been a learning experience for me to accept there are "levels" to racism, to be more cognizant of the realities of others, and to fight against racism not only for my community but for all communities.

“The events of this past year have opened my eyes to the realities of racism towards Black people in America. Unfortunately, I have experienced anti-Asian racism throughout my life; however, these events were never a matter of life or death. It has been a learning experience for me to accept there are “levels” to racism, to be more cognizant of the realities of others, and to fight against racism not only for my community but for all communities.”

– James Cao, Senior Manager, Health Strategies and Solutions

“This moment, where the deep roots of racism have been yanked up to the surface, is about who we are as individuals. Not others. As a white mother, I have a unique vantage point to see just how real my privilege is when our beautiful Black and brown sons are not extended the same benefit of the doubt, unquestioned access, or ease of belonging. They simply are not. I want the world to be held accountable and corrected, so it is not kneeling on their throats. But the world is you and I. There is no other. The beliefs and structures that lift or bind are created by each of us, stringing together one action after another action, after another. This year, I’ve watched raw roots made unapologetically visible and seen the power of vocal allies with linked arms. We are creating a great unraveling—of assumptions, constraints, and silence. If, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, our ultimate measure comes from where we “stand at times of challenge and controversy,” then I have felt the stirrings of hope. 

I always aspired to be color blind. I was fierce in affirming that everyone was the same in my eyes. We are all equally human. And then I became the white mom of beautiful Black and brown boys. I learned to not see color is to not see them. They make their way in a world that is constructed of checkpoints, barricades, and easy buttons based on skin color. If we do not see color, we do not see patterns of beauty and consequence. Saying we are color blind allows the collective claim that it is irrelevant if one color is bleeding or suffocating or thriving. Those glorious shades of melatonin can give us the acuity to see what needs to be fixed and celebrated, without being the sole definition of who we are. In the space of one generation, my family has gone from dominantly white to beautiful brown. Twelve siblings, with 31 kids. All but eight are white. What gives me hope about this year? That people are seeing color.”

– Amy Stevens, Executive VP, Digital Strategy Performance and Practice Lead

“As I reflect on the past year, I am committed to taking a critical look at the news and stories I consume. What is being told, and what is not; whose perspectives are shared, and whose are overlooked; which narratives are being furthered, and which stay silent? Media plays such a significant role in shaping our outlooks, and I am committed to seeking stories and perspectives that challenge my existing biases.”

– Rachel Weiss, Manager, Product Strategy

For the first time in my life, every organization and every company I work with begins our conversation with questions about race and equity.

“For the first time in my life, every organization and every company I work with begins our conversation with questions about race and equity. Some white people are beginning to understand that this really is our problem, and we need to buckle down and do the work. Once again, we have political leadership in our country that values integrity, respect, honesty, science, and is committed to advancing hope, access and justice – knowing just how endangered this was. We know that Black women saved our country, along with tireless efforts from millions of others. I find hope in the determination I see around me—not blind optimism, but strong, committed willingness to do the right thing again and again and again.”

– Molly Coye, AVIA Executive in Residence

“Last year’s events were a wake up call for me. I now deeply grasp the understanding that not doing anything is one of the worst forms of action. I could not stand idle any more and I had to do something. I flew to DC to join a civil protest. I’m talking with my kids about social inequalities and politics. I started to read and educate myself and I’m no longer letting my lack of knowledge get in the way of open and honest conversations.”

– Guy Cohen, Manager, Client Engagement

“For me, 2020 was a deeply introspective year unrivaled by any other in my lifetime. I am committed to making a number of changes personally and professionally. Among other things, I am actively seeking to broaden the sources from which I get my news, refine my perspective, and understand the world as others live it in my own country. As a leader, I am committed to translating my passion for equal opportunity and access into an intentional plan that I pursue with focus and energy.” 

– Linda Finkel, CEO

“In 2020, C-suite leaders at over 50% of the AVIA Network put forth public statements outlining their commitment to health equity and anti-racism. Racism and race disparities are complex problems requiring comprehensive solutions and this work will be challenging. If we work together and hold each other accountable, we can demonstrate meaningful progress towards advancing health equity for employees, patients, and communities across the nation.”

– Hanna Helms, Manager, Center for Care Transformation

To learn more about AVIA’s anti-racism work, read our anti-racism statement and the statement from AVIA’s Black community.