John Amaechi, National Basketball Association player, best-selling author, and now an organizational psychologist and consultant on issues of diversity and inclusion, was the final plenary speaker at Kaiser Permanente’s National Diversity Conference this morning. Mr. Amaechi began with sober observations about the divisiveness and fear that is currently seems so pervasive in U.S. society, where the preoccupation is finding others to blame. He observed that there is a toxic climate that not only drives young gay youth to suicide but also makes those of different backgrounds try even harder to fit into perceived norms. He noted that “discursive violence” – words that hurt and can silence – are a powerful threat to the health and well-being of so many, sharing his own experience of being called a racial epithet in college, and from then on, always wary of whether others only saw him as a racial stereotype.
Mr. Amaechi offered three best practices for those committed to diversity and inclusion. First, to practice mindfulness, which he defined as a keenly proactive focus on the person you are interacting with, or allowing others to feel safe, relevant and valued. He suggested that while this is vital in all our interactions, it is especially essential for health care providers in establishing a therapeutic relationship based on trust and respect. Second, as a six foot plus tall man, Mr. Amaechi urged the conference participants to “think of yourselves as big and massive”, meaning not underestimating the power we have to influence and make an impact. He noted his own experience as the son of a physician who has tremendous respect and influence in her community and urged those working in health care to recognize and leverage our power as opinion leaders in society. Finally, Mr. Amaechi exhorted us to approach each and every person we encounter as unique, remarkable and brilliant and that they can teach us and help us be better persons. Mr. Amaechi’s observations, inspirations and challenges were a fitting conclusion to the two and a half days of learning, sharing and re-commitment to diversity and inclusion.