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From Words to Action: Mapping the Fenway Health Racial Equity and Social Justice Journey

The fact that racism is a public health crisis comes as no surprise. Perhaps the surprise is that it has taken so long for this to be publicly acknowledged. Over the past months, Fenway Health has made public statements of solidarity with others who are who are fighting for racial justice and support for #BlackLivesMatter, expressing our anger and dismay about continuing violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and affirming that we need to engage in the work to transform Fenway Health into an antiracist organization. But, while it is important to witness and stand with those who are on the front lines and most at risk, it is not enough. We are writing as the CEO and Board Chair to affirm that more is needed. We write today to share more about the actions Fenway Health will be taking to address racial inequities.

Centering racial equity is critical to the mission of Fenway Health. We were founded to serve under-resourced and marginalized communities, and advocacy is a core component of our mission. We know that we need to do more to center racial equity in everything we do and to work to undo disparities and inequities that exist in the services we provide, the people we reach, and the outcomes we achieve.

We commit to taking the necessary actions that will ensure that our entire organization is engaged in racial equity and social justice service delivery and practice. Everyone within our organization must be involved in this work – our Board of Directors, organizational leadership, staff, and volunteers – and we must focus on how we engage our patients, clients, and community partners in this work as well. We need to develop our capacity to have difficult conversations together, recognize and address conscious and unconscious bias, microaggressions, and bias in the workplace. We are committed to applying an equity lens and trauma-informed approaches to staff supervision and management. We recognize that doing the work of becoming an antiracist organization asks different things of White, Black, Indigenous, and POC stakeholders. We respect this fact and it will be a guiding factor as we develop our organizational plan.

Our Actions:

We will rely on the principles set forth in the Building the Best Workplace Culture framework developed by the Fenway Health Employee Advisory Council to cultivate a healthy, respectful environment for our patients, clients, staff, and board.

We will hire an Executive Vice President of Racial Equity and Social Justice. Reporting directly to the CEO and working closely with the staff, leadership, and board, this individual will help shape and drive our efforts to be a diverse, antiracist, equitable, and inclusive organization, offering leadership, alignment, support, and accountability. We are on track to launch this search by the end of August.

We will modify our organizational holiday schedule as follows:

We will eliminate the Columbus Day holiday beginning in 2020, replacing it with a floating holiday individual staff can use for a religious or cultural observance/occasion of their choosing.

We will observe Juneteenth as an organizational holiday beginning in 2021. As part of this observance we will curate opportunities for staff to reflect on the history of slavery, racism, and white supremacy in the United States, as well as events and opportunities to facilitate healing and learning.

We will establish a Race Equity Action Team to develop an ambitious, achievable racial equity action plan for Fenway Health. We will endeavor to complete this plan by the end of 2020. It will be integral to the long-term strategic planning process we will be undertaking this fall.

We will establish a Health Equity Task Force that will use a data-driven approach to identify gaps and opportunities for improving our care and service delivery models that result in health inequities for our patients and clients. The team will create specific, measurable, ambitious, achievable goals, as well as strategies to meet those goals. This group will start work by the end of August and will be ongoing.

We are engaging an independent firm to assess our current compensation practices and ensure that we have a consistent, competitive, equitable, and transparent compensation framework. The target completion date for this work is early April.

We will evaluate and improve our procurement policies and practices to prioritize vendor, service, and consulting relationships with BIPOC individuals and businesses. The target date for completion of a new policy is early April.

We will establish a professional development/advancement program, which will include specific annual racial equity-focused professional development goals for individual staff. We will work with the incoming EVP of Racial Equity and Social Justice to launch this program in 2021.

We will actively expand our community engagement and partnership efforts to align with partner organizations that can help guide and strengthen the intersection of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ issues in our programs and services, and contribute to community-based efforts to achieve shared goals that help increase the health equity of all communities that we serve and care for. This work will be ongoing.

We will continue to diversify our Board of Directors. Over the past three years, the Fenway Health Board has adopted a community-centered approach to recruiting new members, resulting in a substantial diversification of representation, lived experience, and perspectives. Today, our twenty-member board is one of the most diverse in our history, and well over half are Fenway Health patients. Expanding board representation, especially in terms of race, gender identity, and age will remain a top priority. We will continue to cultivate new board members who represent the diverse communities we wish to serve. This work will be ongoing.

We will diversify the leadership of our organization. We understand that BIPOC perspectives and lived experience are essential at all levels of our organization. We will make cultivating, retaining, and advancing BIPOC staff and leadership a top organizational priority. This work will be ongoing.

Our Principles

As we move forward, we will abide by several key principles:

  • We will balance the strong sense of urgency we feel with our need to act thoughtfully and make changes that are intentional, effective, and sustainable in our complex organization. We will seek opportunities for both short- mid-, and long-term change as we cultivate a culture of inclusion and equity.
  • We will assume good faith in one another and engage in respectful, constructive dialogue. This does not preclude us from having difficult conversations. Indeed, difficult conversations are essential to our progress and growth.
  • We will listen, and we will center BIPOC voices and the perspectives of the people who have been impacted the most in defining the specific outcomes we seek. As part of this, we will ensure that that people throughout our community are engaged in developing solutions.
  • We will set ambitious, measurable and achievable goals with timelines.
  • We will establish benchmarks that can be counted/seen/felt to hold ourselves and each other accountable.
  • We will be transparent in reporting our progress and setbacks as we go.

This is by no means a complete list of what we will do to become an antiracist organization, but we believe these are key initial steps to take. Our work will be multidimensional, incremental, and ultimately transformative. It will not happen all at once. It will be continuous and ongoing. But we will center these efforts, and we will keep pushing forward. If we do so, we will begin to look and act different over time:

Leadership will change;

How we design and implement 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.

Thank you for being part of our community in these extraordinary times.


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

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