From Words to Action: Acknowledging Fenway Health’s Past and Moving Forward with Intention and a Plan

Last week, the Fenway Health Board of Directors unanimously approved a five-year Strategic Plan and adopted and affirmed a Racial Equity Action Plan. Neither will succeed without the other because there can be no business strategy without racial equity at the center of Fenway’s operations, care, services, and finances. And racial equity cannot be centered without a strategic plan for doing so.

The creation, adoption, and — over the coming months and years — implementation of both plans mark an historic turning point for Fenway Health. As stated in the Board resolution adopting the Racial Equity Action Plan, Fenway “acknowledges the ways in which white dominant culture has shaped this organization historically and presently, and commits itself to a transformational process in order to become an antiracist organization and better serve BIPOC communities.”

This is important.

Fenway Health cannot become an anti-racist organization without first understanding and acknowledging the ways in which it has been racist. Throughout its 50 years, Fenway Health aspired to be a conduit for minoritized voices in our community. Fenway was founded in response to the needs of low-income older adults, students, and LGBTQIA+ people in our neighborhood. Our goal then, as now, was to provide the highest quality health care, regardless of ability to pay.

But Fenway Health often operated from an institutional assumption that everyone had access to Fenway Health care and services and, when accessing care, felt as if they belonged at Fenway. We are acknowledging explicitly that this has not been the case.

As Fenway Health grew over time, it drew upon existing economic, educational, and socio-political systems that center cis-gender white people as the norm and BIPOC people as “other.” This has fostered conditions for patients, staff, and members of the community that can and do feel unwelcoming to BIPOC individuals and those with intersectional identities. Our complicity in perpetuating and reinforcing racial inequities in our operations, culture, services, and care means we are failing to meet our obligations to our community and failing to deliver fully on our mission.

That is changing.

In August 2020, Fenway Health publicly committed to becoming an anti-racist organization, and we published From Words to Action: Mapping the Fenway Health Racial Equity and Social Justice Journey outlining the steps we were taking to achieve that goal. In December, we published From Words to Action: An Update, sharing the progress that had been made over three months.

Today, less than one year after committing to becoming an anti-racist organization, Fenway Health has expanded its leadership team to include people with lived experience that is representative of the communities we serve. In collaboration with staff and community partners, we are embracing our opportunity and obligation to transform ourselves into the organization we need to become to deliver on the full promise of its mission now, and tomorrow.

This work is built upon the foundational efforts of many individuals from both within and outside Fenway Health who had named and identified a number of race, gender and class based challenges that BIPOC patients, clients, and staff experienced in their interactions at Fenway Health, and the efforts they made over the years to name the damage and harm that they had experienced and to urge the organization towards making change. We are grateful for their courage and tenacity.

Becoming an anti-racist organization and building a race equity culture require commitment, intention, investment, patience, and resilience. Fenway’s Racial Equity Action Plan will be a powerful tool for change.

This is the defining work of our time, and essential to our long-term relevance and impact. We know that we are only at the beginning of this journey. Our efforts will be ongoing, multidimensional, incremental, and ultimately transformative. Over time, we will begin to look and act different: leadership will change; how we design, implement, and evaluate our care models, research, advocacy, and services will change; the people who come to count on us, who want to work with us, who support us will change; and ultimately lives will change.

We invite everyone in our community to join us on this journey.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Matsui, Board Chair, and Ellen LaPointe, Chief Executive Officer

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