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Black History Month: How Two Friends Created a Space to Celebrate & Recognize the Diversity Amongst Them

Black History Month: How Two Friends Created a Space to Celebrate & Recognize the Diversity Amongst Them  

From September of 2019 to September of 2021, every day at 7 AM in the café at Baptist Medical Center South, you’d find Dwayne Swinton, Patient Services Manager, and Jason Nielsen, then Retail Manager chatting over coffee, beginning their day not just as coworkers, but as best friends. During their morning coffee chats, they would talk about their kids, the latest anime craze, and of course, the day of work ahead.  Most of their “work talk” though, ended up being about how they could recognize and celebrate their team, which is a significant part of Morrison Healthcare’s culture, and what these two best friends are most passionate about.

One January morning in 2021, the topic of conversation was Black History Month. Teams across Compass Group celebrate Black History Month every year using a robust toolkit developed by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team, but naturally, Dwayne and Jason wanted to take it a step further. Jason asked Dwayne, who is African American, “What’s important in your culture?” and Dwayne quickly responded with, “Food.” After some ideas were tossed around, they decided to interview their associates and ask them two questions; what is your favorite food memory? And what do you want your legacy to be?

“Our team members are usually on the floor working with their hands, they’re not used to sitting down in an office, and you could tell they were apprehensive at first,” said Dwayne. But they soon learned it wasn’t so much an interview, but a conversation. They asked questions about their childhood and their favorite memories, and even played “throwback hits” in the background to set the tone for what kind of conversation this would be, fun.

From those conversations, Dwayne and Jason created 19 spotlights, which included a photo of each associate and a little bit about who they were. The spotlights were posted in the café and around the hospital. Immediately, people noticed.

Why was it so important to these two friends to tell the stories of their teammates?

It may come as no surprise to you, but their reasons were quite similar, and completely selfless. For Jason, it was all about making the unseen, seen; and for Dwayne, his goal was to give a voice to the voiceless.

“In a hospital, you see the nurses and, you see the doctors, but oftentimes you don’t see the people behind the food. Our goal in doing this was to make the unseen, seen,” Jason shared.

The conversations that happened because of this duo’s extra effort were eye-opening, they learned things about each other they’d never known, “we were shocked to learn that two of our teammates were published authors, some were retired sailors, many had lived in different countries, and one was a brand-new grandparent.” They created a space for deeper conversation between their team. Their associates felt more connected to each other, and they were proud of themselves because hospital staff and guests were interested to know more about them.

“As a person of color, I believe everyone, of every race has a right to have their voice heard. And in that moment, I was their megaphone,” Dwayne shared. And heard they were. The stories of our team members made their way to the desk of the CEO of the hospital. She was inspired by Jason and Dwayne’s efforts and soon enough, departments across the hospital were telling their own stories.

Jason and Dwayne had a feeling that their efforts would make an impact on their team, but they didn’t expect the impact it would have on them. Dwayne says it well, “It grabbed my heart, and it was a feeling I’ll never forget.”

The celebrations don’t stop after Black History Month. Like many of our teams across the country, Baptist Medical Center South celebrates the big and the small events. Events such as Women’s History Month, St. Patrick’s Day, Hispanic Heritage Month, Valentine’s Day and more.

And although Jason has taken an opportunity to support the company in another capacity (they still talk on the phone almost every morning), there’s no doubt that Dwayne and Jason’s friendship and efforts over the last two years has elevated the activities and team bonding at Baptist Medical Center South. And it all started with the magic that happened over those morning coffee chats.

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