“We need to acknowledge and affirm to Black America that systemic racism in America is real, and it has been institutionalized. The scars and wounds of these traumas continue to be inflicted daily. We need to remind ourselves that we have not made the progress we need in race relations.”

Baljeet Sangha, FACHE

Regent, California - Northern & Central, California Association of Healthcare Leaders

Message from Your ACHE Regent

Many of us have them. Scars and wounds of traumas you cannot see, painfully inflicted, yet rarely talked about experiences of when your value as a person in our society was diminished to zero. I have some of my own, and despite however long or fleeting they may be, they are a part of us in the same way the blood that flows through our bodies is a part of us, stored away in the far recesses of our memories only to come crashing back to the front of mind when reminded. I have wished those reminders never happened, but they continue to come – as they have these past months and the many, many months before that. Those reminders have names: Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Malcolm Harsch, Robert Fuller, Sean Reed, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown Jr., Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, David McAtee, Botham Shem Jean, Emantic “EJ” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., Michael Dean, Jamee Johnson, William Green, Anthony Hill, Jamarion Robinson, Willie McCoy, Jemel Roberson, Laquan McDonald, Jerame Reid, Mario Woods, Gregory Gunn, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Terrance Crutcher, Stephon Clark, Maurice Granton, Julius Johnson, Sandra Bland…These lives mattered, and their names are names I wish we never knew, yet we are now compelled to say. And never forget. There are so many more reminders of names not written here that date back years and decades. Yet, more names continue to be added daily, accompanied by dirges that continue to grow louder from Black America, demanding to be heard.

These horrible reminders always bring about a reflection for me, as I flashback to various moments of my own life and my memories of the time:

  • New Orleans, LA, March 1991: Unclear what the grainy footage on TV meant to me as a 7-year-old, or why the name “Rodney King” was being spoken silently around the house, and why my mother’s tone became more concerned as she called daily to speak to her brown skinned brothers in Los Angeles.
  • Union City, CA 1997-2001: The hundreds of walks to the local convenience store, dressed in sweats, or shorts, or a hooded sweatshirt to get the latest junk-food fix. The many days I rode my bike to the park to play basketball. The many afternoons I went for a run. I always made it back home safely. Unlike Trayvon Martin.
    Unlike Ahmaud Arbery.
  • Union City, CA, October 2001: The car my friends and I were in being pulled over by the police because of reports of a vehicle being driven suspiciously slow in a residential neighborhood with the vehicle occupants suspiciously dressed. After sharing our IDs, the Police Officer… let us go home, unlike countless Black teenagers and adults across America. That was the last time I went out on Halloween night, and the last time I chose to dress like the villain in Scream.
  • Berkeley, CA 2004-2006: Majoring in History with a special focus on the civil rights movements of African Americans, Native Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans studying the courage and valor on display by communities of color. Individual people, joining together, using their collective will to tear down the institutionalized racism that was masquerading as “normal.”
  • Davis, CA, May 2006: Forcefully being sat on the curb by the Police, getting a lesson on the differences of “respect” vs. “disrespect” and how to demonstrate it to law enforcement. Never having been in that situation, I started to get up to shift my weight, and promptly being ordered by an Officer, who instinctively placed his hand on his holster, to “not move until told to.” After 45 minutes, the officers… let us go home, unlike countless Black teenagers and adults across America.
  • Dallas, TX, April 2011: At first work conference out of state, being asked in front of my peers by a person unaffiliated with the conference “how much would it cost to have you take your turban off and put it on my head?” Oakland, CA December 31, 2008: Taking a packed BART train from San Francisco to the East Bay, passing by Fruitvale Station, and ending up at home safely in my bed. Unlike Oscar Grant.
  • Livermore, CA June 2017: My most defining scar. Sitting on a bench, hair wildly falling across my face, my turban nowhere to be found, suit pants ripped down the leg, suit coat ripped down the back, searing pain in my left foot increasing by the second. A pain later to be attributed to the foot I had broken a few minutes prior, after someone punched me in the back of the head, knocking my turban and whole body, to the ground. As I sat throbbing with anger and pain, I tried to calmly
    answer the questions from the responding officers as to why I was there, what I was doing that could have catalyzed the night’s events, and who the individuals were in quickly forming a crowd of bystanders that were calling to me to join me. While my eyes darted back and forth, the hurt increasing, and embarrassment growing at being so publicly humiliated – I tried not to be visually agitated, so as not to elicit any rebukes or reactions from the Officers. Despite being the victim, I still felt as if I had done something wrong, and concerned about getting in trouble, so when the Officers finally asked what I wanted to do once they
    let my brother and friends join me, my reply was: “I just want to go home.” This is the scar and trauma I still carry when the numbness of my foot reminds me of that night, but I am still grateful I made it home safely, unlike countless Black teenagers and adults across America.

These reflections continue to prove one thing to me: I am privileged. As a culturally practicing Punjabi and religiously practicing Sikh, I have adapted to the world I live and continue to prepare myself for it. Preparing myself for what may be an initial reaction when someone sees me in my turban for the first time. Preparing myself to explain to friends and colleagues why I have to go to the airport just a little bit earlier because I “never know how long Security will take.” Preparing myself to silently nod and agree when, for the hundredth time, I am told how TSA precheck works, and I should “use it right” so I can stop going to the airport so early. All these mental preparations continue to confirm one thing: I am still privileged, as compared to Black America. Millions of Black men and women across America continue to endure a disenfranchisement that I will never know, and a crippling fear of not knowing whether the color of their skin will be a lens with which their behavior is viewed, or with which their pleas will be heard or ignored.

The fight for equity in Black America – and across all ethnicities – is on display daily in our professional spheres, as we work to reduce and eliminate health disparities. However, the problems we face in the country certainly go beyond this. We need to acknowledge and affirm to Black America that systemic racism in America is real, and it has been institutionalized. The scars and wounds of these traumas continue to be inflicted daily. We need to remind ourselves that we have not made the progress we need in race relations.

Most importantly, we must uncomfortably point out that racism has never gone away. I had hoped that the images of advocates marching and calling for overdue change, protesting racism and inequality, protestors being hosed by water cannons and tear gas, and demonstrators facing off against a militarized police-state would all remain relegated to the history books I studied in College, a reminder of how far we had come in America from the sordid past we cannot afford to forget. However, those images continue to blister our hearts and souls as they hit us in the face, not as historical recollections but splayed across social media and TV as current events happening nightly. This is not the country we know we can be, nor is it the norm we wish to continue.

The statement issued by ACHE’s President and CEO, Deborah Bowen, highlights the strong stance that ACHE remains committed to standing against racism, racist beliefs, injustice, and violence of any kind. This is again another reason why I am privileged. I am privileged to be part of an organization that takes such a strong stance, but also one that recognizes there is much to be done. I am privileged and lucky to have this platform as your Regent so that I can add my voice to the chorus of voices demanding change.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing more I can say that’s profoundly unique or different than the voices we hear demanding change. I agree with them. Like them, I am enraged about the black lives we have lost, and their potential that has been ripped away. Those inflicted scars and wounds will never heal or fade with time. We will never know how the influence of these lost lives would have affected the world. Was one of these individuals going to play a pivotal role in finding the cure to cancer? To housing insecurity? To food insecurity? If they didn’t lead the charge for cures to the incredible amount of maladies afflicting our society – and change the world – would they have affected the minds that could? This question is another reason why we must say their names: of the obscene amounts of Black men and women who were robbed of their lives, they couldn’t change the world while they were in it, but they are inspiring and igniting the minds that will change the world now. It is here that I ask for your continued support – as the minds that will change the world – to use your voices and not to let that anger be used against us in our push for change.

I ask that you all use your platforms because you all have them. Everyone has a voice and an obligation to use it now. Support the voices. Acknowledge them. BE one of them. Whether it is through your community work, volunteer activity, professional careers, religious circles, family gatherings, water cooler conversations, or even just group text messages with family or friends. Via these platforms – you can start and continue the dialogue for the demand for ending the systemic prejudice and oppression being faced by Black America.

Rosa Parks was not the first Black person to be asked to give up her seat to a white passenger. Nor was she the first to refuse. However, she used her voice to build on the voices that had come before her and the platform she had – as a passenger on the Montgomery, Alabama Cleveland Ave Line Bus #2857 – to take a stand to say enough is enough. Enough was enough then, just as enough is enough now. History can be made when communities come together and sustain an action for that change. We cannot continue to place Black men and women into impossible situations: obey law enforcement vs. fear of obeying and what it might result in vs. resisting. What is the right choice for a community that has systematically suffered under institutionalized racism and whose trust has been betrayed over and over again, usually for only being guilty of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

In our professional careers, we regularly engage in process improvement and LEAN education, and it is this same approach that we need to bring to process improvement for our society. As we go to the Gemba of our workplace to see how the work is done and hear from the front line staff who do it, so too must we go to the Gemba of America and our communities, and hear from the people who inhabit it on the front lines. As healthcare providers, we work incredibly hard, with a profound sense of obligation, to do no harm and not discriminate in providing care to our marginalized communities. We do not see political affiliations, immigration status, income brackets – yet we continue to see our communities of color, especially Black men and women, suffer. As we continue to practice humility and educate ourselves further on Diversity and Inclusion, we are fortunate that organizations such as ACHE, which offers tools and content, highlight how integral this is to our work.

I hope this message complements the conversations already underway. I hope this message is a catalyst to use your platforms and privileges to start a conversation, as I am using my platforms and privileges to do so. Finally, I hope that this message is received well by all its recipients. But the reality is, it likely will not be. It will cause discomfort, but I will not let that stop me from sending it. And why is that?

Because all lives cannot matter, until Black lives matter.

Baljeet Singh Sangha, FACHE
Regent for California – Northern & Central
VP of Support Services
Alameda Health System