Creating a Salon for Nurses of Color

Creating a Salon for Nurses of Color

Dr. Tammy Sinkfield-Morey, DNP, MAN, RN, PHN, CCRN, is a Nursing Supervisor at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, MN. In 2018 the March of Dimes named Dr. Sinkfield-Morey “Distinguished Nurse of The Year,” and the Minnesota Hospital Association appointed her as 2019 “Caregiver of the Year” for her work in Storying, Diversity and Inclusion. With her background, she was naturally inspired by the concept of the nurse’s salon, and started one in the Twin Cities dedicated to the needs of nurses of color [NOC]. In the latest issue of Creative Nursing, Dr. Sinkfield-Morey discusses the NOC salon and its history.

Nursing salons are a thing of beauty and dynamism! They provide opportunity for collegiality, comfort, collaboration, connectivity, and conversations about what’s on the hearts and minds of the participants.

I first experienced Marie Manthey’s Nursing Salon in 2013. In 2016, I revisited her gatherings and attended seven salons that year, when to my wonder, I realized that the issues on my mind as an African American nurse were quite often not the same as those on the minds of the White nurses present. During that same reflection, I was moved by the fact that during each of the salons, I was the only nurse of brown hue. Marie had reassured me that other nurses of color (NOC) attend the nursing salons; however, it is common for them to also be “the only” when at any one of the gatherings.

The experience of being “the only” was nothing new to me. I had spent most of my life as the only person of color in the spaces I inhabited. That was the case at the Catholic school I attend during my preschool, elementary, and middle school years, and I was, for the first 7 years of my professional career, the only nurse of color where I worked. It is not uncommon for a person of color to be “the only,” but it is almost never entirely comfortable.

Ta-Nehisi Coates beautifully articulates the sentiment of the feeling I had as a lone Black professional among my colleagues at one of the salons. He said,

“I knew that my portion of the American galaxy, where bodies were enslaved by a tenacious gravity, was Black and that the other, liberated portion was not. I knew that some inscrutable energy preserved the breach. I felt, but did not yet understand, the relationship between the other world and me. And I felt in this cosmic injustice, a profound cruelty, which infused an abiding, irrepressible desire to unshackle my body and achieve the velocity of escape.”

–Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the world and me

There it was.

I became consumed by the distance I perceived between the world of the other nurses and my own. I also recognized the healing moments and revelations that the nursing salons rather serendipitously rendered for their participants. I knew that these forums of uninhibited sharing and purposeful dialogue about all of our experiences as nurses could also be a sacred space for authentic discussions about race, racism, and the foundational contexts of discrimination and White supremacy in health care that people of color, as consumers and providers, have all experienced.

I pondered for weeks the possibilities for change. I wondered what could be accomplished by a collective of Black and Brown women and men in health care, gathering in conversation about what’s on their mind regarding the social construct we call race and the undermining behaviors and divisiveness that accompany it. What effect could it have on, for example, the experience of professional validation and emergence, and yes, even on the institution of racism?

Marie Manthey says, “Salons are lively gatherings where people engage in big talk—talk that amuses, challenges, amazes and is sometimes passionately acted upon. Most importantly, salons are gatherings where each participant forms and informs the conversation. Unlike formal meetings, they are opportunities where people can casually connect and share their experiences.” In addition to Marie’s view, I envisioned that a “NOC” salon would provide a shelter under which the burdens and pain of discrimination, racism, bigotry, bias, and White supremacy, that some of our professionals in health care experience when caring for others, could be spoken aloud, unharnessed, finally heard.

I knew in that instant that I needed to help create a space for nurses and other health-care workers of color to escape from the confines of prejudice and any other judgment they face in their practice; and I knew that a nursing salon for NOC, modeled after the salons that Marie had designed, would be the propitious space for the rich conversation that would emancipate our voices. In a loving moment of mutuality and grace, on June 19, 2018—Juneteenth (an African American holiday commemorating the date in 1865 when many slaves in Texas learned they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of June 1, 1863)—we experienced our first NOC Nursing Salon in Marie Manthey’s home, a moment created as a catalyst for ongoing conversations.

At our first NOC salon we defined our purpose as having conversations about our lived professional (and personal) experiences with racism, difference, and the pursuit of inclusion and equality, on a continuum to learn from each other. Our intention was to convene as NOC, in dialogue about our individual and shared journeys and about our encounters with others who place less value on the beautiful essence of who we are. As we all consciously contributed, genuinely from our hearts, about the ways we deal with racism, we were empowered through learning each other’s stories. Through dialogue, we discovered hope that we could create opportunities to make our practices more inclusive, and reduce the biases and microaggressions that we experience. We established a safe and caring environment, centered around listening to each other.

Our subsequent NOC salon was filled with heartwarming, inspiring, meaningful, and interconnected dialogue. Prominent Black Nurse leaders and people of color in nursing joined in rich conversation and acknowledgment of our impact in nursing historically, and in nursing practice in general. We ended the salon feeling heard and acknowledged, having had the opportunity to share our personal experiences, both good and bad, that occur in our healing environments. We all participated in conversation about our positive and negative experiences of equity adversity and racial inequality in our practices.

True to the nature of the salon, these beautiful NOC and their hosts created a lively gathering in which we all engaged in big talk; talk about challenges we face as NOC, discussions about racism past and present, renewal of the spirits within us, and our endless passion for what and who we are as nurses. I have so much gratitude for the beautiful people who attended our salons and created an exquisite tapestry of thoughts, experiences, and new memories through which we can all grow, expand our practices, and share our voices. I look forward to more conversations at our NOC Salons on institutionalized supremacy and its corrosive effects on all of our bodies, Black and White. I am energized to create space through the power of the salon for the pursuit of knowing, and the right to declare our own curiosities as we “evolve towards some truth that is ultimately outside of the boundaries” (Coates, 2015) of our lives and bodies and our nursing practice.

To attend the NOC Salons in the Twin Cities, or to learn more about how to create a NOC Salon in your area, please visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nursesofcolorsalon/