Shame On Me

It took the unimaginable suffering of eight minutes and forty-six seconds ending in the murder of George Floyd. Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and countless others killed by systemic racism weren’t enough.

Shame on me – that it took so many killings to move to action.

For more than a quarter of a century I have had the honor to help lead Vivent Health, one of our country’s most successful responses to the still deadly HIV pandemic. Vivent Health is social justice in action. We are all-in achieving health where illness once reigned, providing housing to the homeless, assuring strong representation in the face of injustice, overcoming addiction and isolation with support and community. Literally snatching life from an almost certain death for our more than 10,000 patients.

Shame on me – that more of that time wasn’t committed to antiracism.

Amidst our social justice work we have worked on the issue of racism, a bit. We are proud to align our efforts in pursuit of our aspiration that everyone be treated with respect and provided the finest of care regardless of the color of their skin or their gender identity, who they love, where they live or how much or how little money they have. We hold ourselves accountable when we don’t meet this aspiration and try more and harder.

We have even set our sights firmly on eliminating at least one aspect of systemic racism – health disparities between black and white patients. We are on the verge of doing just that.

Shame on me – that we did not go even further to overcome racism.

This is all good and important and valuable. And, it is not nearly enough.

Shame on me – that it wasn’t enough.

In the two months since George Floyd’s murder our social justice efforts have more fully embraced antiracism. We have created platforms to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations about racism. We stretched beyond ourselves to invest our time, talents and treasures in the antiracism work of leading organizations like the NAACP and the Lawyer’s Committee. Collectively, our staff have completed more than 1,000 hours of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging training. Our agility has assured we are reviewing and changing policies and practices to be more open and inclusive.

I have signed and am implementing the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge while having dozens of conversations to learn more about systemic racism and its insidious impact on the lives of our fellow humans. I have marched on numerous occasions to advance the Black Lives Matter mission. My wife and I have supported and learned from our children in their antiracism journey including as they visited the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shame on me – that I wasn’t there alongside them.

Now is the time for leaders and organizations to prioritize and share what they are doing to be anti-racist. Overcoming racism and deconstructing systems of oppression shouldn’t be some secret formula. We all need to work together and share what we are learning. Transparency and a willingness to receive and exchange feedback is going to be critical.

I’ve shared what I and we are doing and am happy to do a deeper dive with others. Let’s connect – I am excited to learn what you’re doing as well.

Shame on me – never again.

Mike Gifford
President and Chief Executive Officer

Michael J. Gifford has been a leading force in the fight against AIDS in the United States for three decades. He currently serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Vivent Health. During…