At Northwell, we stand united together, celebrating our differences and respecting them. February is Black History Month, and we sat down with Helen White, manager, community relations, Long Island Jewish Valley Stream and Ralph Thomas, project manager, administration, clinical transformation, Northwell Health to learn about their background, journey to becoming a leader, who inspires them and the importance of reigniting humanism through inclusion, dignity and respect.
What is your ethnic background and family origin?
RALPH: I am Haitian American. Both of my parents were born in Haiti and I was born in Brooklyn, NY. My family moved here to seek better economic opportunities.
HELEN: I am an African American woman whose parents proudly originated from Harlem, NY and Pittsburgh, PA.
When did you know that you wanted to be a healthcare leader?
RALPH: I always had an interest in helping others as a child. Growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn I personally experienced the challenges of accessing health care and the negative effects it had on the community as a whole. In high school, I decided one day that I would become a change agent in the healthcare industry. I began my journey in research and community health and eventually became an administrator.
HELEN: I have always been an outgoing and passionate person with the desire to organize and lead. While I did not plan on a career in health care, I grew to see how my values and my desire to help build bridges throughout our communities could be a powerful force in providing education and access to care to those who need it.
What’s the best part of your job?
RALPH: The best part is collaborating with clinical leaders, front line staff and administrative personnel to overcome barriers and find solutions in clinical transformation and organizational-wide projects. The outcome of our work has an impact on our patients, team members and the communities we serve. I am enthusiastic to be a co-chair for Northwell’s Bridges Business Employee Resource Group (BERG) representing African American and Caribbean employees. Being a BERG leader has allowed me to work in partnership with senior leadership on how to enhance recruitment and retention of culturally diverse talent and increase community outreach.
HELEN: The most rewarding aspect of my current position is how it enables me to partner with other community organizations and provide outreach projects for the underserved.
What thoughts and emotions does Black History Month evoke for you?
RALPH: Black History Month shares our history and contributions to the world with a wider audience. Similar to the Adinkra symbol Sankofa, Black History Month expresses the importance of reaching back to wisdom gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress. During this time and every day, I think of celebrating our rich past, present and work toward a better future.
HELEN: When I hear the term Black History Month, I fondly think of my childhood years. Every Saturday morning, the neighborhood children attended a Black History Reading Circle, hosted by a trailblazing woman in our community. We learned about black history on a weekly basis throughout the year and I can vividly remember the impact those sessions had on me to this day.
Is there a leader from history that inspires you? What about a figure from today?
RALPH: Nelson Mandela. He set an example of dedication, courage, and sacrifice for all. Also Angela Rye, an influential politico, lawyer, and advocate that has an unwavering commitment to ensuring positive change in the political process.
HELEN: I have always been inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His strength and stamina to follow his dream while facing constant adversity and life threatening challenges made him larger than life in my eyes. He exemplified what a true leader should be by teaching all of us about inclusion, dignity and respect. Most recently, I have been inspired by former President Barack Obama. I admire how throughout his public life he faced many challenges, but was able to maintain a respectful and dignified character.
Why, more than ever, do we need to reignite humanism through inclusion, dignity and respect?
RALPH: As humans, we are all capable of doing good to create a better society. While embracing our uniqueness, we have the opportunity to change the narrative on inclusion. Our patients and team members all have distinctive stories, challenges and successes in life that can benefit one another. Embracing our uniqueness, relying on each other, and creating new narratives will evolve our organization and surrounding communities.
HELEN: There are many issues dividing people today, all of which make it essential for healthcare providers to incorporate humanism in their care plan. All people need to feel respected, valued and cared for. I believe a purpose-driven life is a life of service and therefore, what better industry is there than health care to fulfill that purpose.