By Steve Moran
The can’t-miss event of LeadingAge each year is the “Inclusion” event that happens on Monday evening. It is a huge party with lots of music and dancing. And, in a moment that was missed by most people, a horrible ugliness happened that is rocking the senior living world. It should.
Marvell Adams, who is the COO of Kendal—a not-for-profit senior living organization—and a Black man, wrote about what happened to him in a LinkedIn post. The entire text is below:
I have decided to depart from the LeadingAge Annual Meeting earlier than planned. Tuesday @8am, I was scheduled to be a co-panelist for session 029-E: How to Start Talking about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. I apologize to each of you for bowing out on such short notice. My decision was not an easy one.
I attended the LeadingAge Inclusion Party on Mon. night. Just like I have for the past few years, thanks to my good friend Lynne Giacobbe. She encourages me every year to attend. The first time Lynne invited me, I was not in the mood to enjoy a party. At that time, I shared with Lynne how I felt disheartened by the lack of diversity at the Annual Meeting. I had decided to just get my CEs and go back to my room each time I wasn’t in a session. I preferred to disengage this time. At least until Lynne found me.
I promised Lynne I’d once again be at the Inclusion Party this year. During last night’s Inclusion Party, a person said to me: “Quit being white.”
I was standing with a couple colleagues at the time. We were not dancing. Momentarily, I was in denial about what was said. I wanted to have not heard it. It’s a comment that I have brushed off for a few decades now. I even felt myself decide to leave. But I didn’t immediately leave because I made a promise to myself that I would not stay silent when I saw racism or systemic racism.
So, I asked, “What did you say?”
The person did not repeat the instruction they had given me.
I asked again. “I didn’t hear you the first time. What did you say?”
In reply this time, the person repeated the instruction: “Quit being white.”
I replied: “I should sock you for saying that but I’ll let it slide tonight.”
It was a reflex for me. Make a joke or ignore the comment.
The person backed up a couple of steps & proceeded to pantomime a boxing match with me. I played along, mimicking, gesturing in a pretend fashion. Then I didn’t want to play anymore. I turned away from this person.
I felt their hand on my arm. I was pulled off balance as the person pulled me towards the dance floor. I stopped & regained my balance. I looked down at the person’s hand on my arm and fought the instinct to quickly pull my arm back & away. I pulled my own arm down & out from under the person’s hand. The person took a step forward and put their middle finger in my face.
The person walked over to one of the colleagues standing alongside, looked back at me & winked.
I said: “I see you think this is funny. But I do not.”
I turned to the person next to me, a friend thankfully. I gave my friend a hug & I walked away.
The person that instructed me to “quit being white” was a white person. I am a Black person. I believed that I needed to leave. I believed things could only get worse for me. Numerous scenarios could play out. None of them felt safe. And I’m choosing not to participate in tomorrow’s panel session on DEI because that place no longer feels safe. Thx.
The Fear Factor
While I have much more to say about the lack of racial diversity in senior living leadership in the coming days, the big fear I have is that Marvell will receive an outpouring of sympathy, which is appropriate, and then NOTHING WILL REALLY CHANGE.
I have the fear that senior living organizations will not put organizational muscle and money into fixing this sin, and IT IS A SIN!
And that if there is any effort to make it better, it will be mere tokenism. That senior living will carve out a few spots for Black people, Hispanic people, Asian people, and feel satisfied that they have done enough.
It will cost organizations to fix this. It will cost money, it will cost ego, it will cost emotional capital. It will pay off rich rewards.
My dream is that this will be the clarion call to action. That when we get to the end of 2022, we will be able to say we did something meaningful to make this better.
- It is the moral obligation of senior living operating organizations.
- It is the moral obligation of senior living vendor organizations.
- It is the moral obligation of LeadingAge, Argentum, NIC, AHCA/NCAL and ASHA.
- It is the moral obligation of media companies like Senior Living Foresight.
- It is the moral obligation of conference producers.
The big surprise that each of these sectors will discover is that it will pay huge dividends. It will make each organization better at what they do. I can promise this is true because we at Senior Living Foresight are walking the talk and seeing huge early results.