Using Our Power for Progress: Addressing Anti-Black Racism

Lakeysha Molock is pictured on the left and Dr. Leslye Steptoe is pictured on the right

Over the past several years, WellPower has worked diligently to understand and address systemic anti-Black racism. Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusiveness (DEI) Dr. Leslye Steptoe and Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusiveness Lakeysha Molock recently provided insight on our progress as an organization, what they feel is going well in our Addressing Anti-Black Racism work and how we can better understand the connection between DEI and mental health.

What changes have you seen at WellPower with respect to addressing anti-Black racism during your time here?

Dr. Steptoe: I’ve seen an incredible shift in our organization. We’ve gone from a culture where DEI work was very much an individual pursuit, to one where we are working to embed anti-racism in every facet of WellPower. Addressing anti-Black racism is now an explicit and unambiguous goal of our entire organization.

We didn’t have a model to base our work on, so we are trying to become the model for how community mental health centers integrate anti-racism principles into everything we do.

Molock: Adding to that, we’ve created or adopted a multitude of tools and resources for our staff. We have affinity groups where staff can build relationships over shared experiences. Our required trainings go beyond DEI 101 and dive into more complex intersections of culture, clinical work and community. We have a task force addressing bias in the interview process.

WellPower made addressing anti-Black racism an organizational priority and then asked, “What needs to happen on every level of our organization to push the needle forward towards equity?”

What about our addressing anti-Black racism work is going well?

Molock: We’re making measurable progress in this work. We see it in more Black staff being hired. We have more trainings for all of our staff, including our executive leadership team. WellPower is investing the time, resources and energy into helping all of our staff members find accountability and ways to take action towards addressing anti-Black racism. This work isn’t theoretical or performative; it’s real and action-oriented.

Dr. Steptoe: We’ve also seen our DEI team grow, our trainings become more robust and the culture around DEI work shift. Our staff are learning how to find the growth in productive discomfort which can feel overwhelming at first.

There’s a wider understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats – when we address anti-Black racism, we’re addressing barriers and harm to populations of people who are most vulnerable and most affected by systemic oppression. If you can dismantle the things that oppress Black people, you will improve conditions for everybody.

How does addressing anti-Black racism improve mental health?

Dr. Steptoe: How does it not? This work impacts all aspects of mental health. We know that Black people are faced with a multitude of challenges in accessing mental health care. The social determinants of health – things like housing, food access, education and more – that tie into mental health disproportionately fall most heavily on Black people.

Molock: Yeah, the necessary systemic changes that impact the Black community also enhance our community overall. And these changes can happen when we focus on the shared responsibility of the work, which is why it’s so important that WellPower continues to move forward as a collective.

Dr. Steptoe: Mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We’re all affected by all aspects of well-being. We can’t have a conversation about access to mental health care without also talking about how Black people experience that access in relation to socioeconomic status, housing, food, physical health and more. I’m proud of this organization for facing this work head-on. We’re looking at stigma, we’re looking at how we prescribe medications, we’re looking at where we show up in our community – all of the things that influence community mental health start with how they affect the most impacted populations. We’re stepping up and using our power for progress.