Allison Needham Invites Honest Talks on Anti-Racism

29 April, 2024 | Initiatives and Projects

Allison Needham is the Director of Anti-Racism, Equity and Social Accountability at Toronto Unity Health. She also has love as a core value, something many working within Réseau Compassion Network understand. On April 18th and 19th, Needham came to Winnipeg to share her experiences and perspectives on anti-racist leadership during a two-hour speaker’s series event, followed by a full-day workshop for network members.

“I think by now, we all know that systems can be harmful,” Needham shares. “But we forget that systems are run by individuals, so sometimes the change we need to make is in someone’s heart.”

Needham blends her career and lived experience as a black woman in Canada to help participants engage with anti-racist content by bringing their whole selves to their work. In advance of the full-day session, Needham was looking forward to the interactions with the 20 RCN network member employees. “I’m hopeful that we’ll have some really honest conversations about what it means to do this work. I want us to have a space where we can truly talk about the things we’ve struggled to talk about in other spaces.”

Despite her open spirit and gentle demeanour, Needham models honesty and truth-telling. At one point during her Speaker’s Series presentation, Needham reflected, “We spend a lot of time talking about the groups that are under-represented in healthcare. Why aren’t we spending more time talking about those who are over-represented?”

Dozens gathered to hear Needham speak.

Needham was the first person to take on the role of Director of Anti-Racism, Equity and Social Accountability at Toronto Unity Health three years ago. She understands the work ahead for health and social services agencies and while she’s eager to make change, she recognizes that not every initiative will progress as quickly as she’d like. “Sometimes, you think a change will take two years and when it takes five, you’re mad,” she admits. “But then you realize that five years ago, there was no change at all. There are many things I know I won’t see in my lifetime. But there are some things that I’m willing to fight for until I take my last breath.”

Réseau Compassion Network member organizations have expressed a desire to learn more about anti-racism and how they can create safer spaces for patients and participants, and how to encourage a more diverse workforce that better represents those they serve. Like Needham, they understand that change will take time, but they are seeking guidance and support to ensure they are moving forward with purpose.

“Bringing Allison in was a new perspective on how we disrupt our traditional systems,” explains Jennifer Kilimnik, Director of Culture and Compassion for RCN, who organized the Speakers Series. “She has a direct approach to talking about privilege and racism that engages participants in becoming co-conspirators. We talked about many colonial practices that we need to unlearn and replace with newly learned ways to stop exclusion and create belonging. At the end of the day, we wanted more!”

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