Black lives still, and always will, matter – Black August and an update on RNAO’s Anti-Black Nursing Task Force

RNAO launched in June its Anti-Black Nursing Task Force, currently co-chaired by Immediate Past President Dr. Angela Cooper Brathwaite and NP member Corsita Garraway. In the following article they update on the origins and plans for the Task Force.

Many Canadians and people around the globe on an annual basis observe Black History Month in February. It’s a time to recognize and acknowledge the substantial achievements, contributions and experiences of people of African ancestry. Lesser known (yet no less important) is Black August, a month to reflect and learn about the legacies of Black revolutionaries and honour the lives of those who were killed or imprisoned for simply defending their freedoms. Originating in California’s prisons in the 1970’s after the deaths of brothers Jonathan and George Jackson, 50 years later, we still are witnessing the violent and brutal murders of innocent Black lives around the world. Eight years after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, which sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we are witnessing a horrifically unjust system of racial inequity.

Early in June, RNAO released a statement in response to a wave of atrocities in the United States, Canada and around the world, unequivocally condemning racism, oppression and discrimination in all forms. RNAO stands in solidarity with the loved ones of those who have suffered at the hands of law enforcement and those who experience gross inequities because of the colour of their skin.

RNAO reinforces its position that no sector is immune to the ingrained effects of systemic racism — including health care. Nursing has a history of excluding women of colour, who could not enter nursing school in Canada until the 1940s. The struggle to achieve equal access for women of colour to professional development, training, promotions and leadership roles remains unfinished. RNAO released its Organizational Statement on Diversity and Inclusivity in the spring of 2007. It commits to “…providing an environment that is free from racism, prejudice, discrimination and harassment. We strive to reflect the diverse communities within our organizational structure (board, staff members and students) and to promote equitable access to the programs and services we offer.” However, similar to society at large, much more work has yet to be done.

RNAO launched the Black Nurses Task Force to tackle anti-Black racism within the profession — its organizations, regulatory body, associations and the broader health system — targeted towards and experienced by Black Nurses. The task force, launched in June, began with an expression of interest request extended to all members of the association. Seeking to secure broad and equitable representation of diverse nursing career stages, roles, health sectors, geographic locations, organizations/institutions, and lived experience, the co-chairs selected 15 Black-identified RNAO members – RNs, NPs and nursing students. The task force has had two meetings of energized conversations to get to know one another and develop the plan, which will culminate with a report and action plan. The group is committed to a transparent process of reporting back and consultation via monthly, open webinars. 

A webinar series “Let’s Talk about Anti-Black Racism and Discrimination in Nursing” is one of the many activities being led by the task force. It follows the significant interest and engagement generated from the first June 15th webinar, “Let’s Talk about Racism.” On July 20, it focused on Introducing RNAO’s Black Nurses Task and sharing of personal experiences. On August 17, it focused on Understanding Anti-Black Racism in the Education System: From Preschool to Graduate School. Both events were attended by hundreds of nurses and members of the public. Access to the presentation slides for all three webinars is available here. The fourth installment in the series will be on Sept. 21. More information and registration is available here.

As professionals bound by moral and ethical obligations, nurses must denounce oppression and discrimination in all its forms. Nurses can be, and are, important allies for survivors of anti-Black racism, underserviced and vulnerable populations in the fight for social justice. We implore all RNAO members and the public to join the #BlackLivesMatter movement and observe #BlackAugust as we courageously pursue the freedom, justice and equal opportunities for Black people – including nurses – at home and around the world.

RNAO update: Information about past webinars and the upcoming one on Monday, 21 September, including registration links, can be found here.