While I am the new President and CEO of United Spinal Association, neither I nor United Spinal are new to a commitment to racial equity and diversity inclusion.
For years the focus of my work with my past employer, The Coca-Cola Company, was inclusiveness and intersectionality with disabilities and a wide spectrum of diversity. United Spinal, itself was born from the undying commitment of a diverse group of veterans, who fought for equitable treatment from a government and country which they had defended and given so freely and so much of themselves.
But no matter how strong our past commitments, events of the recent past, demand deeper soul searching from every American and every organization, to do more. Black History Month takes on increased value this year as we reassess our commitments to our fellow citizens and communities of color.
Black History Month began as a wake-up call to everyone by one man armed with an historical truth, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, that the contributions of Black Americans and the black experience was being excluded from America’s educational system. As the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which Dr. Woodson founded, succinctly framed the initial idea for Black History Week, the predecessor of today’s month-long celebration, “a special time for us to collectively celebrate our racial pride as well as collectively assess white America’s commitment to its professed ideals of freedom.”
James Weisman, my predecessor and our General Counsel, laid down a lasting marker in concrete commitments to communities of color, “As Americans celebrate the heroism of essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis, many of whom are ethnic minorities, we must demand systemic change to address the disproportionate lack of access to healthcare, loss of life and rate of arrest and incarceration in their communities. We call on the US Congress to conduct hearings to expose systemic racism and discrimination, propose equitable solutions to systemic problems and address the specific problem of racism and disability discrimination in law enforcement.”
Our long serving Board of Directors member and Vice Chairwoman, Carmen Jones, hosted a wide-ranging webinar on race and disability. And our free monthly magazine, New Mobility, also covered the topic in its August 2020 edition.
Those of us with a disability realize that freedom, independence, and all that springs from those values are often won millimeter by millimeter over extended periods of time. Indeed, one’s disability teaches patience. But we also know, when we combine our individual progress into a collective force, it takes on renewed power and recognition. This Black History Month, we mutually pledge to renew our commitments to equity in diversity and we do so heeding the lessons of giants like, Carter Woodson.
For while today, it is evident, Dr. Woodson was a visionary, let us never forget that all Black History Month accomplishes today, began with his sincere commitment to a single idea, setting the record straight about Black contributions to our collective history. As a teacher, let us always remember the lesson he left for each of us, that from the seed of an idea, great trees of productivity can grow. And that if we each do our part, greater returns will inevitably flow.
Whether it is a personal goal of yours or a goal of an entire organization, like United Spinal, combine Dr. Woodson’s vision, his commitment to a tangible idea, his ability to lead through teaching others, along with a healthy dose of practicality and you have a recipe for success. Dr. Woodson put it best, “A teacher in a rural school takes up a penny collection among her forty pupils and adds a twenty-five cents or a dollar and sends it to the national office in Washington. The amount contributed is small, but the lesson in self-help may be far-reaching. Years hence the pupils who gave only a penny each may give thousands to a worthy cause.” We at United Spinal will constantly strive to be worthy of Dr. Woodson’s relentless spirit.
—Vincenzo Piscopo, President & CEO, United Spinal Association