What our community has faced over the past several months is extraordinary. COVID-19 impacted us all but the disproportionate impact the disease has had on People of Color had already called into question the healthcare inequities that our black, brown and minority communities face. The senseless murders of black Americans such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others in recent months only exacerbated the injustices they face, setting off a level of protest, demonstration and anger that is, simply put, historic. I am angry and confused at what I am witnessing and also uncertain about what the future holds. And from what our team members are saying, they feel anger, despair, confusion and uncertainty as well.
The Black Lives Matter movement has swelled and is sustained, seeming to gain more followers, gathering a louder voice as the days and weeks go on, in part because our community, our world is finally waking to what members of our Black communities have been saying for far too long: there is no racial justice for black people in this country!
Sound, as one of the largest providers of behavioral health services in the region, is home to black people, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people of diverse ages, identities and perspectives. We are home to people who have been on the farthest margins of society. Our team members come from all walks of life and our clients have had harrowing experiences feeling forgotten and left behind. Our work everyday reminds us that there is endless inequality out in our world.
And yet, I believe we can, and must do more, and be better. We must do more and be better for our team members. We must do more and be better for our clients. We must do more, be better, listen and raise our voices louder about injustice because of the influence we have in our community. I was very pleased to see Sound turn out for the Black Lives Matter coordinated Silent March on Friday, June 12 in Seattle — an effort we supported with time off for our team members to participate. We have also decided that Sound will recognize Juneteenth a paid holiday beginning in 2021.
While these and other steps we’ve taken do not address the systemic racism that exists, it is a first step to recognize team members and clients whose experiences differ from most of ours and it is a way for us to begin the process of celebrating Black culture. Though the inequalities and racism that exists in this country and in our own community requires a complete examination of and changes to the system and institutions at the highest levels, Sound still must do its part.
Two years ago, we committed ourselves to this process by investing in our Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) program here at Sound, including recently hiring a new team member in our People Operations department, Kevin Henry, who will be dedicated to the effort. Among the initiatives this department will launch:
- Sharing Circles – where team members can process and express their feelings, concerns, and learn from others
- Training for team members who want to lead their own Sharing Circles
- Developing a People of Color and White Allies Sharing Circles
- Assisting with recruitment for increasing diverse job candidates for Sound through outreach
- Partnering with Sound’s Marketing & Public Relations Department to produce content on our social media channels and website
- Regular emails to Team Members about D&I-related topics
- A Video Conversations series focused on Race and Social Justice that will feature subject matter experts, ranging from community leaders to Sound team members
- Evaluating proactive programs to improve Law Enforcement-Client-Team relationships
- The D&I webpage featuring content focused on D&I activities
- Interviews with Sound Team members to get feedback about D&I issues and personal concerns
Currently, and as I write this letter, we are in the midst of working with team members to identify, develop and drive systemic changes beyond our walls – specifically within the areas that impact our clients the most: in crisis response and law enforcement. I look forward to what we and our team members will be doing in the weeks and months ahead to apply our influence in these areas.
Beyond this and as part of our work with the Diversity & Inclusion Department, the Executive Leadership Team will outline a strategy, rather than a handful of simple programs, so we are engaging not only management but all of our team members and the community in this effort.
Though we are in the early planning stages, some of our proposed Diversity & Inclusion work will include strengthening our relationships with the law enforcement community and promoting greater understanding of our client populations, developing and expanding our existing training for law enforcement in de-escalation techniques; monitoring Sound’s internal processes and procedures with an eye to root out and eliminate racial bias; create and promote White Ally groups and partner with other organizations and behavioral healthcare providers to form Ally groups, and work with the county to be part of their diversity and inclusion planning.
We know that we all must work as one entity to inform our actions and promote accountability and these and other steps are the beginning of that process.
The Executive Leadership Team fully supports this effort and will dedicate ourselves to investing in it by listening more to the concerns, challenges and recommendations of our team members around issues of racial injustice and equity and partnering with team members to address them.
While the issues that exist in our community are institutionalized and much larger than our organization, recent events serve as an inspiration for us to engage more, get involved more and do our part to dismantle the effects of racial injustice to the extent that we can. As a group, Sound is angry, confused and sad about what is going on — and we plan on taking the emotions we feel and doing something about it.
We are, oneSOUND!
In service and unity,