What do the Starbucks in Philadelphia and Highland Hospital Have in Common?
By Gloria A. Morgan, Ed.D.
As I convalesce at home, I’m catching up on my reading. I read an April 12 editorial by the Democrat and Chronicle’s Editorial Board. It related to the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism event and quoted members of panel who addressed their personal experiences related to racism, sexism and bias. I was in attendance. I agree with the Board. We can no longer pretend that prejudice, racism and discrimination do not exist. We all must speak up and out when it occurs—no matter the incident. Kudos to the lady who recorded the one in Philadelphia.
On April 25 my three adult daughters had an early-morning encounter with a security officer in the waiting area at Highland Hospital. One had been up for over 24 hours in order to work and make a late-night flight to see me before my scheduled surgery. Her sister, who picked her up from the airport, had had an 18-hour day with little sleep. The third one had awakened very early to ensure my timely arrival at 5:45 a.m.
They had blankets and neck pillows. They were tired and sleepy physically and emotionally concerned about my surgery. A security officer entered the area and spoke directly to one daughter and stated that she could not sleep there and why was she there. Half-asleep, she asked “what was the problem?” One daughter told him that they were there because their mother was in surgery.
The officer proceeds to state again that they could not sleep in the area and that it “doesn’t look good.” That is was during business hours (I believe that all hours are business hours for the hospital). It should be of note that there were plenty of empty chairs available across the waiting room. The officer walks away. However, he returns five minutes later to inquire as to why they haven’t moved yet. He stated that he had asked them to take their feet off of the chairs. My daughter pointed out to the officer that he passed by a white gentleman and lady that had their feet on the chairs and that the officer DID NOT say anything to them. The officer states that he was addressing the “room.” My daughter shared that on both trips over to the waiting room he was speaking directly to her and that he didn’t say anything to the other individuals. The officer then walked over to the chair of my other daughter who was asleep, and he hit the side of the chair several times demanding that she wake up and put her feet down. At that point, my daughter (the one with whom he has been conversing) told him that she would wake up her sister. He told her that if she did not like what he was doing, she could leave. Even though there were others in the area asleep and slouching in their chairs with their feet on the table, they were not addressed by the officer. The daughter who was engaged in the conversation happens to be a veteran in security matters. She wisely called the Officer in Charge to report the incident and lodge a complaint rather than allow the situation to escalate. No further confrontation occurred. No one followed up with the complaint.
My daughters were profiled and harassed. Two months prior I, along with four other family members, was in the same waiting area awaiting a report on my mother’s surgery. We, too, slumbered and slept. There was no incident during the same time frame.
I hope that the others in that waiting area will read this, reflect upon their inaction and speak up when an encounter like this occurs in the future. I also hope that we all take a stand when injustice happens. Change can only happen when we recognize and acknowledge that it is necessary. I do not share this incident out of anger. I share it to inform and engage all who read this. The country was informed about the Starbucks’ incident; action resulted. I salute the mindset of the two gentlemen who negotiated action in their settlement with the City of Philadelphia. Starbucks has announced their plan of action.
Each of us has the responsibility of not just informing others about the problem but also to offer a solution—and at least take action that leads to solutions and change. For the past two years I have participated in an initiative led by St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center—Race and Equity (Structural Racism) and funded through a community health grant from the Greater Rochester Health Foundation. Partner agencies have seen the need to assist individuals and businesses to recognize and address this topic (reality) as the result of the Structural Racism sub-committee of the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI). If you are moved to action, visit the St. Joseph’s website and click on the “Structural Racism” link to view a wealth of information and resources.
Now, you have the answer to my question.
Dr. Morgan is Editor of Our Voice – The Magazine and is a Participant of the Structural Racism Initiative, St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.