Adena Physicians & Staff, Community News

Black History Month Caregiver Profile: Michele Valentine

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Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Organizational Development, Volunteer Services

Michele has been asked to serve in a variety of roles over her 21 years with Adena Health. She has gained considerable insight into issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, not just through performance of her current work role, but through her personal experiences as a woman of color.

“I was told years ago by a co-worker, ‘Michele, you are the wrong gender to be an effective leader, you are too big and, by the way, you have the wrong color of skin.’,” she said. “Immediately I was reminded of what my parents always taught me: ‘No matter what, show up your authentic self and be determined to reach your dreams. You may have to work harder than someone that does not look like you, but your goodness and determination will win in the end.”

As we celebrate Black History Month and the importance understanding plays in the embracing of diversity, Michele shares some of those experiences that have helped her become the person she is today.

Forgiving the hate

Michele is reminded of the following poem that she feels demonstrates why trauma, fear and anxiety is mixed with pride, determination, dignity, and passion in the Black community.

“So you mean to tell me that someone down your ancestry line survived being chained to other human bodies for several months in the bottom of a diseased infested ship during the middle passage?

"Lost their language, customs and traditions, picked up the English language as best they could while working free of charge from sun up to sun down as they watched babies sold from out of their arms and women raped by ruthless slave owners.

"So you mean to tell me someone in your ancestry line took different names with no last names, no birth certificates, no heritage of any kind, braved the Underground Railroad, survived the Civil War to enter into sharecropping, learned to read and write out of sheer will and determination, faced the burning crosses of the KKK, averted their eyes at the black bodies swinging from the trees?

"So you mean to tell me someone in your ancestry fought in World Wars as soldiers only to return to America as boys, and colored boys at that?

"They marched in Birmingham, they were hosed in Selma, jailed in Wilmington, assassinated in Memphis, segregated in the South, ghettoed in the North, ignored in history books, and stereotyped in Hollywood.

"And, in spite of it all, someone in your family line endured every era to make sure you would get here.

"But you receive one rejection,

"Face one obstacle, lose one friend, get overlooked, and you want to quit.

"How dare you entertain the very thought of quitting. People you will never know survived from generation to generation so you could succeed. Don’t you dare let them down

"It is not in our DNA to quit.”

“We are still our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” Michele said. “We must stop watering things in our life that were never meant to grow. They were only for a season and to make us stronger. Forgive the hate because, if you don’t, hate will eat at your very soul.”

Push past your silence

“In my lifetime, I’ve seen police brutality, wrongful incarcerations within our black community, and it is as though it’s modern-day slavery,” Michele said. “We cannot forget the police that stand as an ally next to us, not tolerating racism, but the fear and trauma of watching Black people die at the hands of white people for jogging in a neighborhood is terrifying. It sits with us in our thoughts because these images and examples are real, as is being called the ‘N’ word multiple times right here in this great city. I ask that you have empathy, which involves action – very different from sympathy. Your silence is as loud as the racist comments. Push past your silence because your voice makes a difference.”

Holding her head up high

“This does not stop me from holding my head up high, both as a Black woman and human being – nobody can take that away from me,” Michele said. “I have a right to hold a college degree, and I am just two classes away from my master’s degree. I have a right to work hard and wear my director title with pride and continue to work hard at continued growth.

“I may not look like those in the board rooms across many cities, but when I get there, I will walk in and leave so much sparkle that they will need to clean the tables and chairs when I leave.”

Thoughts on Black history

“We forget that Black history didn’t start with slavery, it’s much deeper than that,” Michele notes. “It’s an emotional and psychological mistake to introduce the history of Black people as enslaved people, that’s how and when the damage begins. We were born kings and queens. We were leading complex political structures and were skilled in medicine and mathematics. We were business men and business women way before we were kidnapped and sold into slavery.

“I have not forgotten my queen potential, so each day I shine like I have the key to the castle. I shine for myself and for others. I cannot change the past, but I also won’t let the past change my future – I can only be a strong human to make sure the past does not repeat itself. I am supported by strong leaders of the executive team and blessed to report directly to the chief of HR, Heather Sprague. I am strong, beautiful, worth it and worthy. I can laugh, find peace and love and be loved. I lead with integrity, even when it’s hard.

“I am Black history.”