In My Reality, an editorial series from D CEO, North Texas executives share their personal experiences of diversity and bias. Below are the perspectives of LaSharndra Barbarin, CEO of Medical City Lewisville, who spoke about early moments in her life that made her aware of the racial divide, how those experiences led her into the healthcare field, and the responsibility she feels as a Black female leader in the field.
“Like most minorities, the first experience of that racial divide was an experience when I was very young. At the age of seven, I was at a department store with my mother, and she allowed me to go upstairs to the toy department and gave me a timeframe to come back to meet her in the lady’s department. I remember being there with my brother waiting for the elevator, and three ladies, Caucasian women, were also on the opposite side waiting for the elevator. When the elevator came, they walked in and then used a racial slur and said, ‘You can’t get into this elevator with us.’
“I remember my younger brother crying and being upset. I didn’t necessarily know what that word even meant, but I certainly recognized that it was coming from a place of anger and hate.
“A Place of Fear”
“That was the first experience for me. Unfortunately, my experiences after that were many—in being at the hand of [racism] or certainly witnessing my brother being at the hand of that.
“I went to a private school, but it was largely Caucasian. There were instances where I recall seeing my brother go over to the visitor’s side [of an athletic competition] when we played an all-black school because he had friends over there. And I recall him not being able to get on the other side because he was told that he needed to go back to the side he belonged on, and the side he belonged on was the side he was being denied access to.
“I knew that one day, I would have to have these same conversations with my children. I just prayed that I would have those conversations later in life versus when they were too young. My oldest’s first opportunity to be at the hand of that racial divide was when he was four at daycare for my children.
“I recall picking him up, and he was always a very joyful, happy child, and I remember picking him up that day and him being in tears. You could see the pain and heartbroken spirit that he had, which was not like him at all. And I remember asking him, ‘What happened today?’ He said, ‘I couldn’t play at recess today. I couldn’t play on the tire swing. This little boy told me that Black and Brown people couldn’t play on the tire swing.’
“I knew that I would have to have that conversation. I didn’t think that I would have to have it at four.
“I shared those younger experiences to drive home the fact that they’re going to experience that. I am blessed that I had parents that helped me recognize my value, recognize my worth, and recognize that when those instances occur, they’re coming from a place of sometimes hatred, but largely coming from a place of ignorance, or lack of education, fear, or of not knowing better so that one could be better.
“Those were always guiding principles for me. I know that my journey into healthcare came from the same type of racial divide.
“When I was probably 9 or 10, my mother was hospitalized for a very significant issue and was in the ICU for a period of time. A Caucasian male physician who didn’t know that I was sitting by the door had come in to check on her. He then left the room, and I heard him communicating with the nurse that she may not make it because these people don’t take care of themselves.
“And for me, even at 9, I remember being very curious, who are these ‘people’? Is he referencing family? Is he referencing mothers? Is he referencing the middle class? Or is he referencing Black people?
“I wanted to create an environment where care was always going to be provided equitably, regardless of race, creed, or color.”
“That sparked curiosity and questioning at a very young age, and it inspired me to want to understand and discover societies. What do people think? What goes into who they are? What shapes your belief system? I knew that I wanted to go into the healthcare industry because I wanted to create an environment where care was always provided equitably, regardless of race, creed, or color. In being in healthcare administration, I would have the power to influence that, and I could influence equity. I could potentially ensure that no other child witnessed or overheard a comment like that about their mother.
“I recognize [my position] as an exceptional responsibility. But I embrace it because I know that others don’t have the opportunity to sit in the seat that I sit in. And with that responsibility comes a duty to represent well and to inform the conversations then. That’s informing the conversations around what’s needed to establish a pipeline for other minority leaders within our organization. I need to step into my voice and own that.
“When we’re taking a look at suppliers, have we done our due diligence to see if we have small business owners that are minority investors that are producing an equitable product because they serve our patients? When I’m having conversations, even with our patient advisory boards, I am making certain that we are in tune with our whole span of cultures that we serve and aware of their cultural norms.
“It’s small things that have an impact on being able to break down now what is now a framework of systemic racism. It may even be unconscious biases, for whatever reason. I recognize it as a huge responsibility, but I definitely step into it and think that it is mine to bear.”