Black History Month, reflections from Freiheit staff​

Moving from resilience to restoration.

How far is too far until we acknowledge that resilience is not a gold standard, but rather a developed safety mechanism that maximized strength in the face of threats to survival?”

Elsa John

When I was given the opportunity to write a piece for Freiheit Care in the interest of marking Black History Month, I spent a solid amount of time researching articles and collecting relevant information in order to consolidate a piece that would do justice to the incredible stories of excellence and resilience displayed by Black healthcare professionals. 

Resilience – what a beautiful word!  

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. (APA, 2020)

Surely, resilience is a strength? Perhaps, we might even say that it is an unwelcome companion – derived from the years of continual systematic failures, subtly hidden racist microaggressions, and unhealed intergenerational trauma suffered by people of colour, yet another shooting of a POC that appears in papers as a bleak statistic, and of course – the empty promises of a better tomorrow pandered to people around election time. 

Yes, resilience is an inevitable result of extreme adversity! 

But one thing the past couple of years have confirmed to us is this – humans are not blessed with unbreakable resilience or an ability to ignore injustice forever. For many, 2020 was a jarring wakeup call from the slumber of ignorance. Canadians watched our southern neighbours as the racial tension escalated and civil unrest increased following the unlawful death of George Floyd, whilst completely oblivious to our own failures at reconciling racial issues. Many, including I, were personally convicted of our passivity to the blaring disparities that exist within our society, but especially in our healthcare system – the very set-up designated to honour the value and worth of life.  

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed serious weaknesses within the Canadian healthcare system and amplified the disparities existing among healthcare workers drawn from racialized minority groups. 

To put it into perspective – in 2016, for the first time in the history of Canada, the total number of seniors surpassed the total number of children in our population (STATCAN, 2017) – highlighting the need for investments in long term care facilities and systems that uphold the health and well-being of elderly populations. Long term care facilities were barely holding on as we struggled with a serious shortage of healthcare workers, lack of public health funding, commodified care and other systemic issues. Then came the pandemic that left front-line healthcare workers with burnout and fatigue. Covid-19 disproportionately affected the Black population, and front-line workers were hit the hardest. 

In the context of an overwhelmingly racialized workforce, such as those serving long-term cares homes, it begs the questions – how are Black Canadian healthcare workers coping with caring for the vulnerable sector when they are subject to such exacerbated disparities in every single aspect of the social determinants of health? In a climate where the disproportionate effects of inequity and injustice continue to affect Black people, what are healthcare institutions doing to ensure their wellness and long-term wellbeing? How far is too far until we acknowledge that resilience is not a gold standard, but rather a developed safety mechanism that maximized strength in the face of threats to survival? 

If resilience was the by-product of extreme adversity, then I implore that restoration is way to sustainable resilience. Sustainable resilience may help integrate and empower Black Canadian healthcare workers move towards a healthier society. 

I believe that healthcare organizations have a serious responsibility to champion and complement Black resilience restoration in-order to make retributions for the past and present shortcomings. 

Restorative efforts may look like: – acknowledging anti-Black racism, implementing diversity training, adding extended benefits, ensuring a living wage, reducing the gender and race-based wage gap, moving beyond performative activism, de-colonizing healthcare work and other such intentional practices. 

To invest in restorative efforts toward Black healthcare workers – is to invest in a more equitable and equal society. 

To invest in our current and future Black healthcare workers, is to invest in Canada’s public health. 

To invest in the wellness of our Black primary healthcare workers, is to invest in the wellness of Canada’s aging population. 

To invest in our Black Canadians, is unequivocally to invest in the betterment of Canada’s healthcare system. 

Which brings me to conclude with the following words: 

Black History Month is unquestionably significant to everyone, but at Freiheit Care it is especially paramount because we have a wonderfully diverse team of Black and racialized healthcare workers who are the backbone of our company. 

As we come to the end of Black History Month, I feel a sense of pride to be able to say that I have the privilege of working with some of the most dedicated, professionally excellent, resilient, unapologetically Black individuals who add depth and character to my life as a healthcare professional. 

It is an honour to be asked to celebrate Black History and we shall continue to amplify Black voices in our work environments as well as outside our professional settings. Freiheit Care is also committed to ensuring a compassionate, inclusive, and a culturally sensitive environment for our colleagues. 

We collectively honour the history of Black healthcare workers and profess to be intentional about ensuring future triumphs for Black healthcare professionals. Additionally, in accordance with Canada’s Anti-Racism Act established in 2017, we continue to: – educate ourselves on how to be active champions of anti-black racism in our communities and work environments; identify existing systemic challenges for Black healthcare workers such as lack of equitable distribution of pay; as well as standing in solidarity with the anti-racist dialogues happening currently within the Canadian healthcare force.

In conclusion, I’ve been in awe of the tenacity of Jean Augustine, I’ve been inspired by the life of Juanita Wesmore Land-Traore, and I’ve been learning from significant trailblazers like Bernice Redmon and Lillie Johnson, –

But this piece is dedicated to my personal everyday heroes at Freiheit Care: The Black men and women who daily challenge, inspire, empower and strengthen me. 

We see you. 

We value you. 

We honour you.

We appreciate you. 

We acknowledge you. 

Here’s to celebrating Black History Month by empowering black future! 

Author: Elsa John

Elsa John is a currently completing a bachelor’s in health sciences, with a minor in Neuroscience and Mental Health. She complements her textbook knowledge of Canada’s healthcare system while working as a caregiver, as well working in the administrative HR department at Freiheit Care. With career aspirations in health policy and healthcare management, she is enthusiastic about having dialogues on loopholes in health policy, as well as building a sustainable healthcare workforce. Apart from work, Elsa is a dynamic speaker and passionate about ministering to marginalized communities. Hobbies – an avid reader of anything that piques her interest.

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