The North Carolina Nurses Association (NCNA) has spent the past year embarking on a multipronged initiative of self-reflection, intentional listening, and planning a more inclusive version of Nursing Forward. The methodical process culminated in a Racial Reckoning Statement approved by NCNA’s Board of Directors in September.
The statement acknowledges NCNA’s history, apologizes for its past actions, and commits to relentlessly holding itself accountable as a more inclusive association in the future. This represents the first such initiative from any state nurses association.
“NCNA is committed to recognizing where we have fallen short in the past to ensure we do better going forward,” says NCNA President Trish Richardson, MSN, BSBA, RN, NE-BC, CMSRN. “We have been intentional about the process and making sure this isn’t simply ‘checking a box.’ The Racial Reckoning Statement is a vital milestone for the association, but it is not the end of the conversation.”
NCNA convened a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Values Task Force, charged with developing a values statement, and is appointing a new member of the Board of Directors with past experience with DEI programs. Meanwhile, NCNA worked to educate its members about the association’s history of racism, highlighted by a three-part series in the Tar Heel Nurse membership magazine that was spearheaded by NCNA member and nursing historian Dr. Phoebe Pollitt, RN. Her research shed light on overtly racist actions by the association and its leaders and a decades-long pattern of resistance to integration and inclusivity within NCNA leadership.
The combined efforts stem from NCNA’s newest strategic priority of “Relentless Inclusion,” first championed in 2022 by Immediate Past President Meka D. Ingram, DNP, MSN, RN, NE-BC. The association has implemented strategies and tactics by the American Nurses Association and the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. Still, NCNA intentionally made this initiative a stand-alone effort that was developed independently, focusing on North Carolina-specific goals and outcomes.
“Many of the results from this initiative have been disheartening to confront, but I am proud of what we have achieved and optimistic about the real changes NCNA is implementing,” says Ingram. “I am encouraged by my colleagues from across North Carolina who have approached this with the seriousness it deserves and, in some cases, had their minds changed about why this type of work is incredibly important.”
NCNA solicited feedback during the Statewide Membership Forum at its Annual Convention and via member surveys conducted through October 15 to help determine the next steps. Feedback overwhelmingly supports the Racial Reckoning Statement and the overarching initiative. Some anonymous quotes from NCNA members include:
- “A humbling document to read, pierced by a ray of hope that the document was finally penned and unabashedly shared with all NCNA members. Nursing Forward.”
- “Well written. I think it should also have some language around each individual holding themselves accountable for correcting and preventing the continuation of these wrongs but also hold other nurses accountable not to allow racist behaviors to continue and prevail.”
- “Include all minorities, not just African/black Americans.”
- “I accept the acknowledgment of racism in the nursing profession, which has been an issue in North Carolina and a national issue. I have been a victim of racism throughout my years as a registered nurse, but I did not allow it to deter me. Yes, I have experienced some bitter and ugly situations. I never allowed racism to control my attitude toward my peers or patients. However, racism did raise its ugly head. I aspired to be the best registered nurse and advance to a higher level of nursing academics. From this time and toward the future, let us move forward with professionalism, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
- “I support this change but am disappointed that NCNA waited until 2022 to speak up.”
- “It is admirable that the NCNA would take this opportunity to reconcile the past and present. We cannot go back and change what happened; however, acknowledging the past is huge, even when it is uncomfortable and not the most popular thing to do. I am proud of this action and think this is a great step in moving nursing forward.”
This initiative has been challenging and, at times, painful. NCNA’s Board of Directors also believes it has been well worth the effort and hopes it serves as a catalyst for other nursing and healthcare organizations to be similarly introspective and join NCNA in committing to a more inclusive future for the entire profession.