#BlackHistoryMonth Q&A- Building a more inclusive company
February marks #BlackHistoryMonth. We asked our team members to share their experiences as we aim to build upon our inclusive company values. Thank you to our Vocational Specialist, Shana Derstine, for sharing your story, perspective on diversifying the industry and your daily inspirations.
How did you end up working at Success?
I ended up working for Success at the perfect time. I had reached a peak of frustration with the company I was employed with. The nature of that job was similar to how staff care for the clients here, except my job was primarily with the elderly and I worked in their homes. There was a lot of good that came of it, in terms of relationships with my clients. I always find it fascinating to hear peoples’ stories and what they learned in their life.
The issue I had was with management. Unfortunately, I was one of the very few people of color employed by them, and they did not prioritize their employee’s needs in the workplace — at all. They often just wanted to find coverage and fill the schedule with bodies without a thought. I voiced my concern about continuing to be placed in homes with clients who outwardly did not like people who look like me (African American). It should never be a surprise to walk into someone’s home to find that they are in fact racist, especially when the company has been in the home and met the client and performed an assessment. I finally left that company after I was scheduled at an overnight and arrived at 11 pm and saw that they were avid collectors of racist memorabilia. Their entire house — wall to wall — even bathrooms, was decorated with anti-black photos, paintings, objects, statues, etc. The imagery was violent and several of them included the N-word. (There are plenty of people who try to argue that they merely collect artifacts of the past and are not themselves racist. I am not a subscriber to that belief. I find it highly offensive and the only message I got from seeing their house was that they do not respect people like me and possibly would want to harm me based on the color of my skin.)
I was actually scared and alerted my family and the agency of the situation. I stayed at the house because there was no one to fill in for me and I did not want to leave the client unattended. It was a strange situation. The wife was a little younger than the husband, who was bedridden and needed a lot of care. He did not talk much at all. She introduced herself and seemed surprised that I was her aide for the night. She disappeared and I did not see her again until morning. When it was time to leave she asked if I would be interested in coming back again with a big grin on her face, I said maybe and that it would depend on my upcoming schedule. (I lied to get out of there safely. She was odd and I did not like the way she looked at me). Anyway, situations of that nature are unnerving and extremely frustrating. The company was not surprised at all when I told them what the house looked like and that they should not schedule anyone who would be offended (which should not only include black people) by the house to work there without knowledge of what they will be walking into. They continued to schedule me and others there, so, I left.
That said I had been working for Success for a few months at that point, and seeing how this company operates, in comparison, solidified the choice for me. I always feel heard here, and that is paramount in moving forward with a tricky subject like race relations.
In honor of BHM, who do you feel (dead or alive) inspired you personally?
There are so many people who I find fascinating who inspire me. As a child, I loved Harriet Tubman’s strength and perseverance. As I got older, I started to look for women to look up to who were either fictional or real. Rene Jackson was a fictional character from a show I aspired to be like for a while. She was a civil rights lawyer and always fought the hard fight for her clients who always seemed to have impossible cases. Her best friend was white and that friend’s uncle was in the KKK. They had so many problems just trying to be friends with each other, but they worked it out. Now my focus is back to real life women who are amazing, and I have found that Iyanla Vanzant is really resonating with me these days. She has accomplished so much in her life but came from tragedy. She is honest about where she is now in every way and is determined to help others see their truth in order to grow and stop negative cycles in their relationships with family, significant others’, and themselves.
What would you like to see more of in our industry/company pertaining to Diversity and Inclusion?
I personally would like to see more people of color in higher positions. I think it would also be great to see people with differing abilities working here. The more we mix it up the better. Having gone to that boarding school, I am totally biased. I spent my formative years with people from all over the world. Every day, in every class, every meal, any downtime, in the dorms, I was surrounded by so many different perspectives. We were literally a global family.
Any interesting tidbits about your heritage and customs?
I grew up with a Mennonite father who was familiar with Pennsylvania Dutch food/culture and was engaged in farm life — which is why I enjoy shoofly pie and apple butter! My mother was Catholic and interested in other cultures — particularly Native American culture. It made for a very interesting upbringing. I attended a Quaker boarding school (due to experiencing a lot of racism at school here in Quakertown), and learned about their core principles. To this day I still value their practice of Meeting for Worship, which is a service centered in silence. When you feel moved to speak on what it’s in your mind, you just stand up and speak. We have a lot of familial traditions, but none are based on one particular culture.