As Black History Month comes to the forefront this February, aging services leaders nationwide are recognizing the need to celebrate and embrace diversity within their long-term care organizations. 

For leaders and organizations that may be late to the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) party or are simply seeking to amplify their efforts, there are many ways to create a workplace that acknowledges and actively celebrates residents’ and staff’s rich histories and experiences.

Five tips to embrace Black History Month at your organization

1. Encourage storytelling – Storytelling is one of the best ways to share information and learn with peers. Every person has their own story, and by sharing it, they can spread their perspective. 

For example, you may have a resident who lived through the civil rights era. By hearing their story, your community can go beyond knowing what happened in the history books and understand someone’s relationship with it. People remember stories much more than facts. Facilitate specific days and times for people to come together and share their stories. 

2. Participate in scheduled events – What is already happening in your local area? Local museums may host storytelling events and tours, local musicians might have musical performances lined up, and area colleges may host memorials or other events. Plugging into an existing event can be an easy way to show support. 

If you want to level up, you can consider having your facility sponsor the event. If your skilled nursing facility has members with limited mobility, or you’re a multi-side operator, you can dive into virtual opportunities.

3. Utilize outside consultation and guest speakers – Many consultants specialize in diversity and inclusion efforts extending beyond Black History Month. There are also motivational speakers, authors, and artists with experiences and materials specific to Black History in America. If you don’t have the expertise within your facility to address this topic, accept that and welcome participation from outside sources.

4. Include residents in the planning process – Keeping residents at the forefront of your monthly efforts is essential. One easy step to ensure this occurs is to start at the onboarding stage and gauge what events, holidays and cultural recognitions are most important to your community members. 

Secondly, ask for ideas. They may have a suggestion of a book, article or movie to digest and discuss. Or, they may have a guest speaker in their network that they would like to invite. In the world of virtual meetings, the options are endless.

5. Utilize social media and other marketing tools – One way to show external support is to post items on social media that celebrate the people and values of your organization. For Black History Month, some ideas would be to highlight events, programming and stories. 

Pitfalls to avoid when organizing Black History Month events and celebrations

One of the most common mistakes we see long-term care professionals make regarding Black History Month and other similar events and milestones is nominating a spokesperson who does not want to be in the limelight. 

There are many reasons why residents or staff may not want to tell their stories. There may be a factor of fear from their past experiences. They may have a more reserved personality from their upbringing. Perhaps they simply want to do their job, or live in their community, without talking about their life. It’s essential to be sensitive and mindful that not everyone wants to talk about their experiences.

Secondly, we find that leaders at long-term care facilities are sometimes hesitant to admit that they are uneducated or lack an understanding of Black history. Sometimes, the best route is to do your own learning without involving people. Go back to documentaries, podcasts or books. Work individually or as a leadership team with a professional organization. Attend or sponsor a community event and plant the seed for networking with diverse groups. If you want to have an organization that celebrates diversity, look within, check your biases and expand in knowledge. Your humility in admitting that you do not fully understand a topic and your willingness to learn will speak volumes.

Start somewhere, today

Staff and residents will see and appreciate your efforts to honor Black History Month. Supporting local events, organizing meaningful discussions, posting on social media, and similar actions send cues that you are in an open and conscious environment. It also makes life exciting and fun when you’re constantly learning from those around you.

We believe it’s better to do something and learn as you go than to miss an opportunity like honoring and celebrating Black History Month. 

Marsha Wesley Coleman is the director of learning for Friends Services Alliance in Blue Bell, PA. In this role, she designs educational programs for aging services organizations nationwide and works with leadership teams in diversity and inclusion efforts. Professionally and personally, Marsha is committed to contributing to a future where all people feel valued, respected, and included where they live and work.

Shanda O’Dennis has extensive experience in administration and executive management, with an emphasis on systems alignment, team building, and staff development. As a learning and development associate at Friends Services Alliance, she is focused on increasing understanding and fostering conversations about diversity and inclusion for senior living organizations nationwide.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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