February marks Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans, who have helped to shape our nation. In honor of the month, Akron Children’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Bernett L. Williams shares more about her career in health care, what Black History Month means to her and the women who inspire her.
What’s your job title, and how long have you worked at Akron Children’s?
I’m currently chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer and vice president of community initiatives at Akron Children’s. I joined the hospital 12 years ago as vice president of external affairs.
What do you enjoy most about your work at Akron Children’s?
I enjoy the variety of work that I get to do, as part of my sphere of responsibilities. I bore easily, but I know I’ll never bore at Akron Children’s. Health care is constantly changing. Whether it’s through community outreach, external relations or DEI, I truly have a variety of work and different ways to make an impact.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
There’s a saying in the Black community, “Black History is 365/24/7.” But what I appreciate about the month is that it’s a time for people in the Black community and others to pause, reflect and engage in the history of the Black experience and Black culture.
How do you recognize and celebrate the month?
Because of my role with the hospital and previous positions I’ve held, I tend to do a lot of speaking engagements throughout the month. But it’s also a time to pour into myself, as well as the community. I like to educate myself and take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow by attending events.
When my kids were little, we talked a lot about the importance of taking the time to remember those who have come before us and reflect on where we are today as Black Americans. It’s especially important to remember that not all Black leaders are well-known throughout history. It’s essential to recognize that there are many Black Americans, even here in our own community, continuing to make history. Black History Month is a time where that’s visible, and I’m grateful for that.
Is there an African American in history who has made a big impact on your life or inspired you?
There are three Black women in my life who are extremely important to me: my mom and my two aunts. I call them my Golden Girls. They keep me grounded.
My Aunt Dolly and I talk several times a week, and she doesn’t let me hang up without reminding me of the importance of God and faith. She’s also our family historian. I love to hear her stories about our family’s experiences growing up in the South.
My Aunt Betty is a comedian, but there’s always a lesson within her humor. She has lots of sayings, like “Save a little something for yourself, niece. Don’t give it all away.” That’s her way of reminding me to take care of myself.
My mom, Mary, taught me early on about the value of hard work, saving and budgeting. Our family was able to do a lot without much money, because my mom had the discipline to work hard, to save and be smart with her limited resources for 6 kids.
Those three women are my “sheroes.”
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