By Steve Blanchard - February 01, 2021
This year, Black History Month has a special meaning. Even though 2020 is finally in the rearview mirror, the socio-political upheaval of last summer’s marches and protests against systematic racism are still fresh in the minds of many.
In fact, it was those protests that sowed the seeds of what is now called Black Empowerment Alliance at Moffitt (B.E.A.M.), Moffitt Cancer Center’s newest team member engagement network.
While the group officially launched in late January, its members became active months ago as a way to seek comfort during an unprecedented year.
“To be honest a group of us began talking when the civil unrest began back in June,” said Jason Grundy, who works in Moffitt’s financial office and is the chair of the group. “That was a hard time for a lot of us and I know for me it was hard to go to the office every day and to stay focused on work. I needed an outlet.”
Grundy said he reached out to the only other two Black employees he knew that were in management or senior level of their position to express his feelings. He said he soon learned that he wasn’t the only Black team member who was struggling to cope with the ongoing news coverage of systemic racism in this country.
“This all started organically,” Grundy said. “We needed an outlet and the group started to grow. We reached out to people about what we were doing and soon we had eight individuals involved.”
Moffitt’s Diversity team took notice and asked those involved if they would be interested in forming an officially recognized group. Grundy admits he was hesitant at first, but then he and his fellow leaders saw the benefit of expanding their work.
Moffitt’s Associate Director of Industry Alliances Latanya Scott was inspired by Diversity’s outreach and had experience working with other team member engagement networks.
“Diversity was excited and behind us on this and recognized this was something Moffitt has needed for a long time,” said Scott. “This organically started from a few seeds and Diversity wanted to help leverage that. This was a way for us to help more than just our group and we saw how everyone benefits – Moffitt leadership benefits us while we benefit Moffitt.”
Scott said she and other members of the leadership team saw B.E.A.M. as a vehicle to help so many more team members than just the initial core group. It took a few months to get everything organized, but the launch right before Black History Month seemed appropriate.
“It’s important for an organization like Moffitt to assist in representing team members and patients who are African American or another minority all year long,” said Vonetta Williams, a core staff scientist at Moffitt.
The network, maybe not so coincidentally, officially launched a week before February, Black History Month. But the leaders of the group have been meeting long before their official recognition by the cancer center. For Williams, the representation of Black team members falls into the values of the cancer center.
“Moffitt assists in representing team members and patients who are African American or other minorities,” she said. “Assisting with this network shows that Moffitt recognizes the value we bring to the organization while recognizing the unique culture that we have.”
Grundy is thankful for the official support of Moffitt but says that there is a lot of work ahead for B.E.A.M. that stretches well behind the month of February. Year-long representation of Moffitt’s Black team members is the goal and purpose of the group.
“I think the group was a bit hesitant at first because we know how much work something like this takes – we’re all busy with our jobs here,” Grundy said. “But we know we can make an impact on the overall organization and we have been allowed to move forward at our own pace. It took some time to develop our strategy, vision and mission. I was also thrilled to have such strong support from my own department’s management.”
That support will continue to grow, at least if Dr. B. Lee Green has anything to say about it. As the vice president of Diversity and Strategic Communications, Green has been involved with the development of B.E.A.M. and other team member engagement networks from the beginning. A network like B.E.A.M. was a long time coming, he said.
"These challenges presented our Diversity team with a mission to offer even more resources for our valued team members. One way of doing that was to restructure the team member engagement networks and offer more opportunities."- Dr. B. Lee Green, VP of Diversity and Strategic Communications
“Racial injustice has always been an issue, but this year it has been especially visible,” Green said. “Moffitt stood firm on its beliefs that equality is extremely important to the cancer center, and its leadership wanted to step up and support all of our team members and patients from every walk of life during a very difficult year. These challenges presented our Diversity team with a mission to offer even more resources for our valued team members. One way of doing that was to restructure the team member engagement networks and offer more opportunities.”
Williams is looking forward to not only providing a conduit of communication for Black team members but educating other employees of all cultures and backgrounds about her own community. It’s not only important for other Black team members, but for Black patients as well.
“There’s a patient perspective we haven’t even explored yet, but I know we can make an impact there,” she said. “Patients want to see someone who looks like them and we do have those team members at Moffitt. We are thinking outside of ourselves and at what kind of impact we can bring to our team members and our patients.”
It’s been a long journey to just get the group organized and ready to work, but with an ambitious plan in place, Grundy is optimistic that impact B.E.A.M. has will be a long-lasting one.
“What we do as Black Americans is cope,” he said. “If you don’t do that you die early of stress. We have a long way to go, but if we can have someone in the room who understands our culture you can then improve communication. There’s a lack of understanding how the Black culture works, and I don’t think it’s intentional. We’re here to help fix that.”