As news of the unconscionable murder of George Floyd filled the airwaves and then the streets earlier this month, the collective pain was palpable in Milwaukee and in our nation. It was an incident of brutality that shook the world. And the world’s still shaking.
At SaintA, heartfelt discussions across our organization unearthed the concern that we should not reduce the call to action of George Floyd’s death by responding with a quick social media post, or by simply publishing an agency statement against racism, and call it good. We wrestled with the truth that there is nothing quick or simple about the road we need to be walking on, listening on, and leading on.
We recognized that if we are to be true to our established commitment to equity and inclusion, that the work is the real work. There are no shortcuts. And this work is not easy or comfortable. Unpacking systemic racism and denouncing institutional racism requires passion and humility, and crucial conversations that can be rough. Seeking to understand history and historic oppression, and having engaged discussions that create change and action…that is the real work. There is no way around it, this work is the work.
Doing the Work, TogetherSaintA leaders and staff concluded that this new phase of our equity journey, inspired by the racial strife of our times, should be framed as The Healing Starts With Us. We developed a plan for an all-agency gathering where we would publicly denounce systemic racism, commit to being part of the community healing, and accept our individual and collective responsibility to advocate for the racial justice we want to see.
We developed a Healing Starts With Me pledge, based on the collaborative input of two dozen staff who are SaintA equity group leaders and participants. Before we launched any agency position in our quest to become an anti-racist organization, we committed to talk about it first at our gathering.
The Healing Starts With Us gathering was Friday, June 26, just one week after we declared Juneteenth Day an agency holiday and flew the Juneteeth flag at our Milwaukee campus. Morning thunderstorms meant our plan to come together in a socially-distanced, mask-wearing, in-person outdoor event went out the window. But as I often believe, everything happens for a reason. The successful shift to a virtual gathering was amazing.
237 SaintA staff joined on the Teams call in a conversation that I will never forget. Although we were gathered from our homes across Southeast Wisconsin, the energy of the SaintA team was palpable, as though we were gathered at an in-person rally. The message chat feature on Teams proved to be a powerful way to connect and express viewpoints though words and memes. It was sometimes painful, but it was real, because the work to create equity is the real work. And we worked hard that morning, though tears and joyful moments, to affirm our commitment that the Healing Starts With Us.
Walking the Road of Healing and JusticeSaintA’s full commitment to equity and inclusion has evolved through our efforts to embrace trauma informed care. Over a decade ago, we unveiled our model, the Seven Essential Ingredients of Trauma Informed Care, which teaches the science of child development, adverse childhood experiences, and resilience. The 7ei make evident that recognizing historical and generational trauma as being fundamental to a trauma informed perspective is non-negotiable.
You simply cannot talk about trauma without talking about historical and generational trauma.
And any discussion about historical and generational trauma leads you directly into the arena of equity and inclusion. We choose to be in this arena. While we have had an agency diversity committee for over 20 years, momentum has grown more recently. Since 2015, we have created and nurtured a Historical Trauma workgroup, an Equity Council, and several additional staff-led affinity groups that address equity. Our Board of Directors approved a sweeping equity and inclusion statement in 2017.
Steadily over the past several years, we have diversified our workforce, our Executive Team and our Board of Directors to reflect the diversity of the people we serve. In 2019, 63% of the children served in our child welfare program were placed with relatives, up from 35% six years ago. Even with these accomplishments, there is so much more work yet to be done.
Our Healing Starts With Me pledge (included below) is an important step in SaintA’s quest to fulfill our mission and serve the community. It steps up to denounce racism and calls each one of us to commit to the work. This work is not just a pithy social media post or a declarative agency statement, the work of creating equity and inclusion is the real work.
SaintA’s values of compassion, excellence, innovation and integrity are woven into the work highlighted by our pledge. The trauma informed way that we serve children, families, and community is woven into the commitment of our pledge.
Truth, trust, transparency, together. When the healing starts with us, the work is the real work.
Ann Leinfelder Grove
SaintA President and CEO
The Healing Starts With Me PledgeI am an employee at SaintA where our mission is to facilitate equity, learning, healing, and wellness.
At SaintA, we stand against the systemic racism that is deeply rooted in our society.
I commit to dismantling institutional racism in all spheres of my life.
I commit to the responsibility for perspective shift and the quest to be anti-racist. I commit to change and to focus on unity over comfort, lifelong learning rather than a short-term obligation. Healing is my responsibility.
At SaintA, collectively and individually, the healing starts with us.
Related: Milwaukee Trauma Conference Aims To ‘Promote Healing & Systematic Change’ (Listen at WUWM.com) Related: SaintA Annual Report, Our Work/Equity
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