“We need to learn each other”

July 22, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council of Edward-Elmhurst Health: We are DRIVEN to create a culture in which all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual-orientations, physical abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can meet, share, learn, and flourish in an accepting environment. By creating platforms and opportunities that allow us to come together, we can begin to know and understand each other. And through better understanding, we can effectively meet the needs of our diverse patients and deliver on our mission.

When she was in middle school, Sharain Spears’ mother announced she wanted to serve as a foster parent for kids in need.

Spears, 50, a patient care technician at Edward Hospital, said she wasn’t entirely sold on the idea.

“I was kind of nervous because she said we might have white kids, Chinese kids, Hispanic kids. I grew up in a mostly black neighborhood. The only time we interacted with other races was when we went to school,” she says. “I was kind of worried – what would they look like? What if I can’t understand them?”

Spears had experienced being on the other side of misunderstanding. As a young child, she accompanied her mother when she cleaned houses for work.

“My mom was cleaning up for this lady, and her son used to look at us weird. I told my mom I didn’t want to go over there,” she says. She later learned why he was watching them so intently. “His father told him that black people had tails.”

Instead of internalizing this information, Spears saw it as a way to learn more about how others think.

“I was glad to know this because I was taught things about white people that I later found to be untrue. It’s important that people investigate what you’re curious about when it comes to other people.”

Starting when Spears was about 12 years old, her mother began fostering children ranging in age from infants to kids about her age.

“I had so many questions. Do they eat like me? How do we comb their hair? It was so fun in the end, but we went through our challenges,” she says, adding that they learned the hard way that white people don’t use grease in their hair. The kids were used to different food, different cultural traditions.

They learned as they went.

“It was a beautiful experience and I learned much,” she says. “Most importantly, I learned it was OK to be different and look different.”

In her day-to-day work at the hospital, she keeps this idea top of mind.

“I know we’re different colors, but I look at us as humans. I treat everyone with the same respect. Even the kitchen staff, the housekeepers -- we all need each other. Simple words, a smile can do a lot. Don’t add fuel to the fire, just try to learn each other.

“Those are things that are in my heart and my mind all the time. I’m thinking of ways to do better. I’m always thankful for my mother, because without her I probably never would’ve experienced it and who knows what kind of person I would have been?”

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