Deke Cateau

As a black man who leads one of Atlanta’s oldest and largest nonprofits comprised of a predominantly black workforce, I join many others who are angry, hurt, sad, confused, and a whole range of other emotions concerning recent events across our nation.

I am deeply disturbed by the racism, injustice, and violence in a country where equality is promised and in a time when we should expect nothing less. I should not be scared for the safety and well-being of my family, my extended work family or myself because we are black.

The last couple of weeks have amplified the many complicated, systemic societal issues that must be unraveled and addressed before we can truly realize equality, and further racial divide will be detrimental to our progress. COVID-19 is clearly not our only crisis, and our industry — which has always stood firmly and strongly against ageism, ableism and many other “isms” — must not be silent during this racism crisis. We cannot afford to be silent.

We must acknowledge that our direct care workforce is racially and ethnically diverse, but our senior leadership is not. We must be honest with ourselves and each other and have difficult and uncomfortable conversations that push us to change. We must listen and sympathize even if we don’t have shared experiences, and most importantly, we must take steps to address the racial biases and prejudices which clearly exist. We must do more than issue statements. Words without actions are meaningless.

I’m proud to be one of the few black leaders in this industry, but I’m even prouder to work alongside a compassionate, diverse workforce that has a more important role now than ever before. To the many others in this field who have been newly coined “essential” in our battle against COVID-19: It doesn’t take a crisis for you to be essential. You — we — have always been essential.

Deke Cateau is the chief executive officer of A.G. Rhodes, a nonprofit skilled nursing organization operating three communities in metro Atlanta. With more than 20 years of experience in long-term care, Deke is passionate about fostering a greater understanding of and appreciation for the aging population.