Education and community cited as the foundation of supporting Black excellence

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Dr. Katherine Golar, chief medical officer for Optimus Health Care, spoke about how she has faced a lot of discrimination within the medical field and shared how the medical profession needs to make changes to become a more welcoming community for Black people. The event titled “Future Vision: Supporting Black Excellence” invited panelists to gather and reflect on how to continue to empower Black people, especially children and young adults, to become the next generation of doctors, teachers, advocates and more. Photos courtesy of the author.

On one of the last days of Black History Month, Delta Nu Boulé teamed up with UConn to host the third session of “Couch Conversations.” The event titled “Future Vision: Supporting Black Excellence” invited panelists to gather and reflect on how to continue to empower Black people, especially children and young adults, to become the next generation of doctors, teachers, advocates and more.  

“I think systemic racism shows up in so many different ways that we can’t begin to do justice to the conversation without dialogues like these,” Dr. Katherine Golar, chief medical officer for Optimus Health Care, said.  

Golar spoke about how she has faced a lot of discrimination within the medical field and shared how the medical profession needs to make changes to become a more welcoming community for Black people. After a long history of racism and discrimination within the United States, many Black Americans are fearful of going to the doctor because of concern over lack of respect, negative attitudes and other factors. Golar said that to amend this, change needs to happen from the inside.  

“We as healthcare institutions have to do a much better job of helping our staff meet people where they are … so a lot of it is work on our part that we have to do,” Golar said. 

The medical field is just one of many career paths that are disproportionally geared toward non-Black Americans due to different levels of education access and equity. All three panelists agreed that equal access to quality education is one of the most important steps in supporting Black excellence. 

“You want to get an education that will allow you to be in a position where if something were to happen and you can pivot easily into either your home or another opportunity because you’re qualified,” Nadene Mckenzie-Reid, deputy head of technology at NatWest Markets, said. “I think that’s really where we want to focus when we talk to kids about career choices.” 

Early on in her career, Mackenzie-Reid noticed the need for strong advocates for children who might not have this in their parents, guardians or family members. This led her to become involved with Stamford Cradle to Career, a partnership that works to align community resources to ensure equity in excellence in education for every child. Mackenzie-Reid now serves as the Vice-Chair of the board and focuses a lot of her time on providing educational opportunities for underserved students. 

“The emphasis on getting our kids educated and understanding that if you take a job in a company where your job is coveted and it’s hard to get by and you are not easily replaceable …that’s a position you want to put yourself in,” Mackenzie-Reid said. 

The coronavirus pandemic showed just how easily and quickly the entire landscape of the world can change and many people found themselves without a job overnight. Mackenzie-Reid and the other panelists talked about how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected many Black workers because they were either on the frontlines with a high risk of contracting the virus or they were fired from their jobs. 

The first step in ensuring that all students, not just those of a certain race or socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to achieve success in their professional working life is to create more opportunities for diversity and inclusion in educational institutions. 

“I think institutions are now starting to understand that we can’t take color-blind approaches to supporting our students,” Dr. Franklin Tuitt, vice president and chief diversity officer for UConn, said. “We need to have some kind of affinity-based programs and support measures in place so that our students can have opportunities to feel validated, affirmed and encouraged.” 

Tuitt has more than two decades of higher education administration experience and was hired at UConn in July 2020. Since then, he has worked tirelessly with students, faculty and the administration to create a more inclusive and affirming campus environment so that all members of the UConn community can feel like they belong.  

In addition to education as a factor supporting Black excellence, all three panelists echoed the importance of showing up in your communities in whatever way you can to offer guidance and support while advocating for the people who are far too often left out of the conversation. 

“For me it’s really about lifting our community together in ways that create opportunities for us to be the best versions of ourselves,” Tuitt said.  

Though Black History Month is now over, we must continue to support Black excellence and celebrate the achievements of Black Americans all year long to continue to work toward a more inclusive and representative society.  

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