Juneteenth—A Day for Reflection and Action

Imamu Tomlinson, MD, MBA, CEO of Vituity and President of the Vituity Cares Foundation

Imamu Tomlinson , MD, MBA

CEO of Vituity and President of the Vituity Cares Foundation

Published June 17, 2021


You want to change the world?
Let’s start with our world.

I often talk to my leadership team about changing the world. I truly believe that everyone is blessed with a special ability to change the world in their own unique way. Even if we believe we will only have what seems to us a small impact, it is our duty to help create a world that is kinder, fairer, and more accepting.

There is no ignoring 2020’s impact on America’s social landscape, specifically in regard to social justice. And in my opinion, there can be no social justice without addressing healthcare justice. Racial, financial, and social inequities are even more evident when we analyze access to care, healthcare delivery, and healthcare underrepresentation. We have so much more to do, but the work starts by cultivating an environment that acknowledges the gaps in our healthcare system and provides tangible solutions for the generations of today and tomorrow.

At Vituity, our company’s mission and drive to make healthcare better are part of our everyday culture, and we are always mindful of making our workplace a safe, productive, and inclusive one. This month, we officially recognize Juneteenth for the first time. Employees receive a paid holiday, and we have devoted resources for enterprise resource groups to educate and help our workforce honor this special day.

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of the last enslaved peoples in Texas after the Civil War. But more broadly, it celebrates the abolishment of slavery from the United States entirely—and the Black American experience that thrived after this struggle. So when my leadership team and I were considering how to recognize Juneteenth, it became one of the most clear-eyed decisions I’ve ever had to make as CEO.

To talk about why, I first have to talk about when. Take yourself back to the summer of last year. May and June of 2020 were especially heart-wrenching months: Mounting illness and deaths caused by COVID-19. An angry and fragmented political climate.

Then it happened. You probably know what I’m referring to without me having to mention it—but I have to. We all watched George Perry Floyd Jr. suffer and perish under the knee of Derek Chauvin. The next hours and days were a blur. That flashpoint made it clear that changing the world wasn’t optional.

My team held meetings with clinicians and employees throughout our workforce to discuss George Floyd’s death. At first, I didn’t say much. I wanted to listen—not just because I wanted to hear their perspectives but because it was also a form of therapy. I needed to hear their sadness and anguish at what we all collectively witnessed. Almost every Black peer had an experience to share—aggressions they had endured both large and small—and this was often the first time they had an opportunity to safely share their story.

Shortly after, my team received some discreet suggestions from people we trusted. It boiled down to this: You want to change the world? Let’s start with our world. Enact institutional change in our organization and industry and recognize the Juneteenth holiday. We said yes almost immediately.

CEOs are constantly asked to make changes. These changes are most often operational and strategic in nature, and they can potentially pull the strings on many unforeseen consequences for the people they impact. As a result, multiple stakeholders give multiple dissenting views to steer our decisions. This is healthy debate, and critical for any organization that is playing an infinite game.

But sometimes, as with this one, a decision comes along that just feels right. My leadership team was unanimously supportive, and we made a call based on instinct, empathy, and solidarity. We had a duty to do the right thing. Some of our workforce members had spent their entire adult lives working on Juneteenth while privately celebrating on the weekend, which felt exclusionary. Now, our entire workforce can celebrate the holiday together with social resources and a much-deserved day of rest.

To other executive leaders, within healthcare or any industry, I encourage you to do right by employees on Juneteenth. Examples of this may include:

  • Offering Juneteenth as a paid company holiday annually.
  • Sponsoring company and community events that celebrate Juneteenth’s importance.
  • Promoting Juneteenth on your social channels as a celebration and recognition of Black culture and history.

Regardless of how you recognize Juneteenth throughout your company, know that by simply acknowledging that attention must be paid to this holiday, you’ve already set a positive example. Take that a bit further through action and know that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Do what feels right to you, based on what you know will resonate most with your employees and other stakeholders.

Leverage this opportunity to reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate a community of people nationwide and throughout centuries, without whom our nation would not be the vibrant and hopeful place it is today. I hope you’ll join me in changing the world!

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