Speaking on the progress of Black women in the late 1800s, Mary Church Terrell said, “And so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long.”1
Progress can be a complicated thing. The non-linear process of it, the perceived need, the actual need, the expectation of it and the experience of it vary. It looks different from person to person, organization to organization and community to community. For some, progress is a scary thing. It can threaten comfort zones and the status quo. For others, progress is as important as air and is needed for survival.
This concept of progress and the different meanings it holds can apply to almost any aspect of our lives. We seek progress in health and wellbeing, personal relationships, workplaces, and communities and systems in which we live and operate. And champions of progress can seek it for personal aspirations, or for a greater, much larger purpose, “lifting as they climb,” as Mary spoke.
This year’s celebration of Black History Month reminds me of the nuanced notions of progress. It comes after a year of ongoing protests and demands for social justice, following the inauguration of the first Black, Indian American woman vice president, and occurring during a deadly pandemic disproportionately impacting the Black community.
And for Blue Cross NC, it comes less than a year after we’ve welcomed Dr. Tunde Sotunde, the first Black CEO and president in our company’s 88-year history. This Black History Month is a moment for reflection on the “struggling and striving” we’ve seen.
Despite the non-linear path progress takes, and the detours and bumps in the road we face, I remain hopeful that “onward and upward we go.” People and community organizers continue to do the work on the ground to push us forward. Institutions are stepping up to acknowledge and respond to inequities in ways they have not done before.
Here at Blue Cross NC, I’m encouraged by leadership’s work to double-down on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We pursue DEI not just within our own walls, but also by the influence and collaboration we employ with nonprofit, corporate, health care, media and government partners.
This year, in celebration of Black History Month, our African American/Black Employee Network will host critical conversations under the theme “from struggle comes strength.” Topics will include racial injustice, economic development, professional growth, health and more. We as a company will sponsor statewide celebrations of prominent Black figures through various media outlets. We’ll join forces with the Charlotte Hornets to discuss the intersection of health equity and economic mobility. We’ll do all these things in recognition of and in pursuit of progress – for the Black community, and, ultimately, for us all.
On March 1, Black History Month will be over – but the path to progress will not be. Community leaders will still be organizing. Children and young adults will still be the first to reach milestones that their families had previously been deprived of. People will continue to achieve the status of being the “first” in their professional pursuits.
I’m proud to know that Blue Cross NC will also continue its pursuit of progress. We’ll work diligently to be bold in our mission to improve the health and wellbeing of all North Carolinians and make sure these “firsts” are not the last.
And so, here’s “hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long.”
1 “The Progress of Colored Women.“ MARY CHURCH TERRELL // Activist for Civil Rights and Suffrage // First President, National Association Of Colored Women Address Before The National American Women’s Suffrage Association—February 18, 1898