Published on June 30, 2022 in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Lydia Fisher-Commisso had a lifelong dream to work in healthcare. She wanted to help people – particularly people who face barriers to access – receive equitable care.
“I know what it’s like to be treated differently during an exam because of your sexuality, or to have to check a box on a health form when none of the options apply to your family,” Lydia said, recalling her own experiences as a patient. “I always knew there were better approaches.”
Now, Lydia is taking steps toward fulfilling that dream as a manager in the bariatric surgery department at Henry Ford Health – one of Michigan’s largest and most diverse employers.
Lydia is one of more than 1,350 Henry Ford employees – from doctors and nurses to custodians and office staff – who signed up to take United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 21-Day Equity Challenge.
Kimberlydawn Wisdom M.D., senior vice president of community health & equity and chief wellness & diversity officer at Henry Ford Health System, credits the organization’s communications team with sharing the information through a wide range of channels to get employees involved.
“I’m impressed with the level of engagement from our team members considering that healthcare right now is very stretched,” Dr. Wisdom said. “People took the time to read the emails, click the links and watch the videos – the videos were amazing – and share the content within their own networks.”
Henry Ford Health, a new equity partner champion for the 2022 Equity Challenge, is a longtime supporter of United Way. Recently, we partnered to increase access to care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and worked side-by-side to create innovative programs that coordinate care and better connect individuals to services. Find the full list of our partners and champions here.
At United Way, we know that addressing inequity is critical to accomplishing our mission of building equitable communities of stable households and thriving children. But to do so, we must understand our history and what drives these disparities. When we take it upon ourselves to learn, grow and educate others, we’re doing our part to build a brighter future for our region.
The 2022 Equity Challenge built on the success of the challenge’s inaugural year, using insight from multiple organizations and experts across the country, as well as feedback from community members and United Way staff. We dove into topics of power, privilege, bias and identity. Then, we took an in-depth look at important and timely issues — including those that impact our community here in Southeastern Michigan — like Islamophobia and the rise of anti-Asian hate; environmental justice and the unequal impacts of climate change; and racial and gender health disparities.
Weekly virtual roundtables created brave spaces for community members to come together to discuss these topics and more. Nicholas Felder, one of the roundtable facilitators, encouraged participants to practice critical personal investigation – recognizing individual biases and areas for growth.
“It’s about listening to people’s stories, especially those different from our own,” Nicholas said. “And it’s learning to embrace the hard spaces — where people get real and suppressed, painful experiences surface.”
“You meet people there, connect with them and work through the space together. And that’s where you find hope and where this work becomes lasting and meaningful.”
Dr. Darienne Hudson, president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, said that these conversations play a critical role in advancing equity across the region.
“We have to keep these conversations going because this is how we advance equity in our community,” Dr. Hudson said. “It’s not easy. This is deeply personal work. These are personal experiences – these are people’s lives, but it’s something we must do if we’re serious about equity and inclusion.”
We can only solve problems like hunger, illiteracy and injustice if we also fight to make our world more equitable and just for everyone. As Dr. Hudson shared during the community celebration:
“Equity is a muscle that we must all work to build. When you share a Ted Talk about bias on your Facebook page, or when you bring new knowledge about ableism back to your workplace, when you begin to approach your everyday interactions with others differently, that’s working your equity muscle. And every time you stretch that muscle, you’re creating change.”
Brian Wheeler, an automotive supplier senior manager and consulting sales executive, Deloitte Services LP,, joined the Equity Challenge and shared daily content with his social media followers. As someone who grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the location of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — he has a deep appreciation for the power of learning the truth behind historical narratives and using that knowledge to spur change.
“The more we can have honest conversations about the past and keep these things top of mind, the more equitable society we can create,” Brian said. “Only good can come of that and so I’m thankful to United Way for providing this platform.”
Deloitte served as an Equity Advocate Champion for this year’s challenge – a symbol of the organization’s ongoing commitment to equity and inclusion. In 2020, Deloitte published a study on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the automotive industry and 2022 marks the organization’s Year of Allyship.
During the community celebration to close out the 2022 challenge, Tonya Adair, chief people, equity and engagement officer at United Way, spoke about the organization’s efforts to make our actions and initiatives more equitable and inclusive.
Last summer, we announced the launch of our Racial Equity Fund, a grant funding initiative aimed at providing support — both financial and otherwise — to 13 organizations with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) executive leadership. The fund supports a variety of organizations, including small, grassroots groups to larger nonprofits working toward systemic, structural change. We focus on those typically excluded from the traditional funding ecosystem.
Although the 2022 challenge is over, the work is far from finished. In June, United Way announced nine additional Racial Equity Fund grant recipients, bringing the total allocation to $1 million.
Below, you can watch the full community celebration featuring the Detroit Youth Choir. To financially support this critical work, click here.