Health Systems

My Reality: Guwan Jones on Reaching Out to Others as a First Step

Nothing combats racism like having real relationships with people who are different, says Baylor Scott and White's chief diversity officer.

In My Reality, a new editorial series from D CEO, North Texas executives share their personal experiences of diversity and bias. Below are the perspectives of Guwan Jones, chief diversity officer of Baylor Scott and White, who spoke of her upbringing, how others can be allies, and how real relationships with those who are different can impact our perceptions. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

“I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, which was the center of integration for schools. Being Southern a girl and growing up in Little Rock, I was aware of the conversation about racism, but not because I necessarily felt that people were me treating differently. I never had the experience of being treated differently until we left home. However, the projects and things that I got to participate in school made me aware that there was a ‘them’ and ‘us.’

“I wanted to be a doctor, and part of that was because I was a very sick kid, so I spent most of my time in hospitals with doctors and nurses. I always had an interest in how I could help translate that experience and medical knowledge for people who were like me.

“Every year, my White second-grade teacher would invite some of her pet students to her house, and I was one of those who got invited out to the pool and some other things. She loved me as if I were her own, and that helped me see that this wasn’t something that everybody had. It wasn’t a Black and White thing for me there.

“I went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, which is an area that was quite less diverse in the 1990s. I remember having a conversation with my mom, because she went to a historically Black college—that wasn’t my plan. Part of the reason I wasn’t going to go was because I felt like I would be loved there, and it wouldn’t be the real world. I wanted real-world experience.

EXPANDING THE CIRCLE

“We’re seeing a lot on TV about Black families having conversations about systemic racism, and even though in my daily life I didn’t experience it as much, I still got a chance to experience what happened to my parents generationally, because we talked about how the world didn’t necessarily love me the way they did.

“If we’re only counting on television shows and movies and things to describe a particular people, or you are only taking in what you see in media about a particular group of people who aren’t in your everyday circle, then you need real-world experiences, because nothing beats racism more than actually having a relationship with somebody.

“Part of the reason I decided I needed more education (before medical school) was going back to that conversation that Black families had. I was told that I needed to be overqualified just to get a regular job. So, I decided to get a master’s degree in public health. I had a heart for people who were being discarded by the system and weren’t being taken care of properly and didn’t understand all of it. My job helped me see that public health was really where I needed to concentrate, because I could affect bigger populations that way.

“I think I’ve benefited so much from sponsorship because of the relationships that I’ve made. I’ve been sponsored by so many White men in our organizations who speak well about me behind closed doors and give me opportunities. Once again, I’m a Master of Public Health in Human Resources—it makes no sense. But they saw a skill set and advocated for me when I didn’t know I was being advocated for. I have been elevated into this vice president position because people advocated for me.

FIGHTING FIRST IMPRESSIONS

“We have been seeing images of George Floyd being brutally murdered in front of us on TV over and over again. As a Black woman, this is not the first time I’ve seen such images. It is a wound every time I see another one of these situations happen. All of a sudden everybody wants to come and talk to me about it. This time it feels a little different. Trying to process through that while also being the sounding board and the support system for a healthcare system right now has been hard. I’m not going to lie to you.

“It is interesting because the reality is that when people see me, the first thing they see is a Black woman. This is how people see a particular group. And I can’t speak for the whole population of Black women. What I can point to is that if you look at infant mortality rates among Black women and you adjust for income, education, and access to healthcare, what you see are rates that are deplorable for Black women. The only explanation that science has been able to come up with is that there is certain stress around being a Black woman. And I can tell you I’ve never thought about it, but this time I feel that stress.

“There’s a lot carried on our shoulders because what shows up first in people’s eyes is “Black woman.” After they get to know me, I become Guwan. But the first thing people see is a Black woman. And so during this time of me needing to be there for people, it’s been a little harder because I’m still dealing with the hurt around the changes we had to make organizationally.

‘THE CONVERSATION HAS CHANGED.”

“During COVID-19, we have been forced to get in touch with the things that truly matter. We spend a lot more time talking with our family. We spend a lot of time investigating who we are as people and what we value. This moment has created an opening for everybody to experience the same things that the Black community has been experiencing for years, which is why I think the conversation has changed.

“People are more sensitive during this time, and can truly see that [George Floyd] was somebody’s daddy, was somebody’s son, was somebody’s brother. And it looks like there was no fight from him. So why did that happen?

Right now, in the organization, people are calling. I’ve heard from one of our leaders about how bad she felt because when she looks around in her circle, there aren’t a lot of people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. She thinks about her kids’ friends; they have very diverse groups of friends, and how does she not have a diverse group? And she got to feeling bad about that. And I had to explain to her that humans like homeostasis. We like to know what comes day after day after day. We like to eat the same thing. We like consistency, and we’d like things to be routine. It is not something you intentionally do.

“So now that we’ve identified that problem, let’s change it. All you need to do is just be open. Let’s make different decisions and pursue different experiences so we can have different relationships. Because what truly has to happen for us all to defeat what has been systemic racism for the African American community for decades upon decades upon decades in American history, is we have to have bigger circles, we have to have new friends. We need different experiences to combat what we’ve seen in movies and on TV. We need real experiences that offer a counterpoint to what has been programmed within us.”

If you’re a North Texas business or nonprofit leader and would like to participate in D CEO’s My Reality series, please contact [email protected]

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