Blog Post

And exactly what does this have to do with health equity?

Today’s post is an excerpt from Karen J. Hatcher-Sneed’s reflections speech at the commencement of her Health Leadership Fellows class in June of 2014.

These are the leadership moments that particularly resonated with Karen – and she got quite a few big laughs from the audience. We hope they’ll give you a more intimate glimpse into the program itself.

The Circle: Before

Let’s start with “the circle.” Either standing or sitting, this is how our meetings started and ended. No broken spaces or recognizable gaps allowed, meaning no empty seats. Everyone was expected to be present before starting. Our cardinal rule was to come prepared to engage, contribute, and speak with authenticity from the “I” rather than “We” perspective.


the circle

Note: not the actual circle

Often I think back to how I truly felt the first time I was in the circle. I was uncomfortable and in uncharted territory. Probably other fellows in the circle felt the same way. The experience was different and unfamiliar.

It was too touchy, too feely and too transcendental like! I silently asked myself, “Exactly what does this activity have to do with eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities?”

There we were. All together in a circle: executive directors, nonprofit managers, program officers, nurses, dentists, public health officials, a surgeon, a psychiatry professor, an emergency preparedness coordinator, health equity advocates, healthcare administrators and company presidents.

Imagine the thoughts running through our heads as we “checked each other.” Here we were– the “highly accomplished, intelligent, driven, analytical thinkers —– evidence-based decision makers!” “Results-oriented performers!”

All in a circle being asked to reveal ourselves or interpret the learning events of the day with a phrase “I am……” followed by one single adjective. “I am whole, I am complete.”

My inside voice begged, “Let’s get on with it, please!” There are critical health issues to resolve in my community. I need answers. I’m ready to take action, to perform. All I need is strategy, the action steps. And I expected the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) to offer it up.

It was not apparent then, but became increasingly clear as the program evolved; I was leaning back rather than leaning in.

The Circle: After

In a relatively short period of time the circle became not only a venue for understanding health equity issues but a place to facilitate our own personal leadership learning.

The circle became a place for me to examine my beliefs about how I and others learn, and how that learning influences my ability to be proactive change agents for health equity.

In the circle we learned the value of openness, and sharing and finding merit in the thoughts and feelings of others without the need to judge. In the circle we were asked to the take risks, to invest in our own leadership learning.

In the outside we world, we were performance-based leaders. In the circle, we shifted gears and became leaders of learning. We also learned to pause, be present and in the moment. Consequently the circle became the embodiment of transformational leadership.


Fellows Class of 2014

Fellows Class of 2014 Commencement. Karen Hatcher-Sneed is pictured far left.

We were no longer leaning back, but in fact were leaning in and leaning on each other.

The Diversity Walk

The Diversity Walk exercise also provided opportunities for self-exploration of cultural identity. The walk pushed me to get beyond the narrow, obvious ideas and thinking I possessed about diversity and cultural differences.

Taking those steps, and sometimes alone, allowed us to get below the surface of diversity. We had to consider and recognize the “not-so-evident” diversity, and to confront our own individual unconscious stereotypes, categories, labels and descriptions.

The Diversity Walk forced me to test my deepest assumptions. The walk was a pivotal learning event for me. I became more confident in my ability to engage in those difficult discussions around race, diversity and health equity.

My walk was hard and emotional. I speculate it might have been the same for my colleagues.

Efforts to eliminate health disparities are not without its challenges. We face ingrained patterns of behaviors, altering power structures and entrenched and competing interests. However, I am optimistic that because of the opportunity afforded by this leadership learning experience and to become part of the ever expanding network of CT Health Fellows that we will be successful in building an equitable health care system for all of Connecticut’s residents.


Colourful chairs in a circle” by Camille King is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0