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Employee voices: Black History Month 2023

“It's so important to be in an environment where we are comfortable bringing our true selves to work.”

Today, the first day of Black History Month, we asked employees across North America to share their reflections on the history of Black and African Americans, and what that history means to them. We’re proud to share some of these below, in the first of a series of personal stories that we’ll highlight throughout February.

Cleveland Davis
Mid-Atlantic region director, Acute Specialty Products, Charlotte, North Carolina

It is important to have a month focused on Black History. However, we must remember and learn from our history and our ancestors throughout the year. That is how we will continue to move forward. The sacrifices and contributions of countless Black and African American heroes and heroines that have come before us have opened doors that we all can pass through. 

My wife and I talk about this frequently with our two boys, who are now 13 and 8, because it is vitally important to us that our sons know who they are and where they come from. We want them to know their value as young black men; we want them to stay positive, strong and grounded in who they are. This will help them navigate difficult situations that they may encounter in school and beyond. We are teaching our sons that they do not need to respond to all negative or biased comments in the moment. We are also teaching them how to interact with police officers. Our goal is to have them come home safely. If any issues occur during an encounter, we will address them.

Last year, we took a family trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. It evoked such strong emotions in all of us – sadness, anger, pride and joy. The museum shares stories from the beginnings of slavery through Jim Crow Laws and the Civil Rights movement to the present day. There are a plethora of examples of strength, courage, intellect, talent, and achievement displayed in all categories of life throughout the museum. It is a powerful reminder of how far we have come and of how much work we have yet to do. That experience will forever be etched in our minds. We look forward to returning in about five years so that our sons can experience it from an older mindset. I am looking forward to discussing their perspective compared to their initial visit.

I want for my boys the same thing that I want for myself: to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. The work that Cardinal Health leadership is doing, with its focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), is helping to make that possible. The company’s 2030 Representation Goals and its differentiated leadership programs are making an impact.

I’m very grateful to be participating in the leadership program called Elevate (a six-month program designed to advance high-potential, ethnically diverse talent). To date, it has been an absolutely life-changing experience. In an earlier session, we spent time understanding how our past shapes us. During a breakout session, I realized that something traumatic I experienced early in my career still impacts the way I interact at work. That epiphany reinforces the importance of being in an environment and feeling comfortable bringing my true self to work.

Helen McKnight, PharmD
Director of accreditation and medication safety, Innovative Delivery Solutions, Birmingham, Alabama

As a first-generation immigrant, I have always been eager to understand more about Black history in my adopted country. I celebrate Black History Month by reflecting on my British-Jamaican-American culture. I’m inspired by many remarkable Black leaders and their various contributions. I live by their example as I strive to do my best for my family, my community, and my healthcare team.

My Jamaican-born parents met and married in England, where I was raised.  Our family moved to South Florida when I was 8 years old. I had to start all over, and felt so different from my classmates, with my  European values and British accent.

When I went to the University of Florida College of Pharmacy in the mid-1990s, only 3% of my classmates were Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). Even today, Black and African Americans represent about 5% of licensed pharmacists in the United States, according to the 2019 National Pharmacist Workforce Study (NPWS).

My parents were very encouraging, constantly reminding me how important it was to do well in school and to get a good education. I was proud to graduate with high honors and join a profession that I love. That’s why, early in my career, I began mentoring pharmacy students, residents, and young pharmacists of color. Everyone needs to see role models who look like them. I’m delighted that the University of Florida has made many strides in recent years and received one of the top diversity awards in higher education.

My experiences have made me keenly aware of the importance of DE&I. Several years ago, I wrote my MBA capstone project on the impact of diverse leaders and a culture of diversity. My premise: A comprehensive, diverse leadership and a diverse culture will provide a healthcare organization with operational return on investment, culturally competent care, and health disparity reduction. When I came to work at Cardinal Health in 2022, it seemed to me that the company already was focused on doing the kind of work that I promoted in my paper – that is, the work of creating a workforce where everyone can be their true selves. Cardinal Health has made a strategic decision to prioritize DE&I, understanding that DE&I provides a competitive advantage.

I am delighted to be part of Cardinal Health and want to do all that I can to support its DE&I work. There is a Jamaican proverb that says, “Every mickle mek a muckle.” Translation: Small things when combined add up to a big effect. It’s really so simple: When a workplace is truly diverse, equitable and inclusive, everyone can do their best work.

Arleen Jones-Harkness
Senior inventory coordinator, replenishment center, Atlanta, Georgia

Every Black History Month, I think about my heroes: My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. These folks were born and raised in Alabama and did extraordinary things for their time. My paternal great-grandfather bought land early in the 20th century, and managed to hold on to it through the Great Depression; that property is still in our family today. My paternal great-grandmother was educated and taught my great-grandfather to read. A great uncle was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the primarily African military pilots who fought in World War II.

My maternal grandmother was born in 1915. She was one of only a very few Black women to get a college education. Her daughter, my mother, studied to become a nurse, and later went to law school, finishing at the same time I graduated high school. She was fearsome.

Not surprisingly, my family encouraged me to work hard and get educated. As a result, I have done many things in my career. I wanted to be a scientist like George Washington Carver; I became a scientist. I wanted to be a writer, and I wrote high school chemistry books for an educational publisher. And then I came to Cardinal Health, where every day, I work to get critical medical products to where they need to be – into the hands of healthcare providers who use them to take care of patients. It’s meaningful work, and I love it. I also appreciate that DE&I is plainly visible at Cardinal Health, at all levels of the company.

As my parents and grandparents encouraged me to succeed, they encouraged my daughters from a very early age, and so did I. Today, my younger daughter has a degree in fine arts; my older daughter is a healthcare recruiter. Both are smart and talented young women, navigating well in what can be a frightening world.

That brings me to my close: This Black History Month particularly, I am reflecting on the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that seem as relevant today as when he spoke them in 1962: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

Chloe Ferrell
Senior specialist, quality assurance, Indianapolis, Indiana

Black History Month is so significant for me; it helps me understand all the extraordinary achievements of my ancestors who paved the way for me to succeed. When I was growing up, my family talked a lot about monumental figures in Black history, especially Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Both of these heroic people had such a significant impact on America; their work and dedication created so much positive change – even if they didn’t live to see all the results of their impact.

My mother always encouraged my sister and me to do more than she’d been able to do with her own life, and she told us that she would support our goals and dreams. She married young, had the two of us and worked a lot; she didn’t attend college. She always instilled in me the importance of getting a college degree.

I’m a parent now, also – my daughter is 15. She and I discuss Black history in America. This month, we’ll attend Black History Month activities at various museums. We also talk about what it means to be Black today. Like all of her peers, she has so much exposure to peer pressure, social media, television, and 24-hour-a-day news. It’s really important to me that we have raw and real conversations about the world. My approach is to be very direct. I want her to understand that the most important thing is for her to be herself at all times. But at the same time, she needs to be aware of how the world sees a young black woman. I want her to have the resources to avoid intensifying any compromising situation. She knows to speak clearly, calmly and with respect. And she does; she’s very mature, and conducts herself with dignity and respect for others.

That respect is something I see Cardinal Health emphasizing with its work to cultivate an inclusive workplace for everyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or religion. It’s so important, because everyone has unique experiences and unique perspectives. I firmly believe that when you pull all our creative minds together and push aside bias, you can make magic happen.

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