Black History Month is important for Blue Shield of California, as it marks a time to honor and reflect on the history, contributions, and triumphs of African-Americans in the United States. With our Black Employee Network employee resource group (ERG) at Blue Shield of California proudly celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, we sat down with co-chairs Karena Bradshaw (senior core account service representative, consultant for Commercial Markets) and Chetera Watson (senior manager, Information Security) to gain greater insight into the work the Black Employee Network (B.E.N.) has accomplished in the last ten years, and the impact they are making at Blue Shield and beyond. 

Q: What does Black History Month mean to you?

Chetara Watson: Black History Month is a time to reflect on my roots, given the history of our enslaved people in America, so many of us have a break in lineage or will never truly know where we or our ancestors are from. We have a short history here in America, and for me, it is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments we’ve made.

Q: How did the Black Employee Network honor the month this year?

Karena Bradshaw: We planned several great events this month. We partnered with iUnidos! on a cohort event. We had an Afro-Lantinx speaker, the senior vice president of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Wells Fargo, who presented some of the disparities and commonalities that both African Americans and Latinos share, not only in lifestyle, but also in the workplace. She brought some great flavor that held value to both as well as the greater Blue Shield community.

We also had some health speakers come in. We were able to partner with some of our medical groups and clients who talked about diabetes and heart health, and how these conditions affect culture. We have our final celebratory event on Feb. 29, which focuses on mental health from a COVID post-trauma standpoint and how we’re navigating the workplace, how the pandemic changed our mindset and views on family dynamics, and even how it impacts our executives. Many of us are challenged internally and we don’t always talk about it.

Q: How can others get involved in honoring Black History Month?

Karena Bradshaw: Spread awareness by sharing information and join our events. It is not just about the African-American community, it impacts many communities, and we want our programs to foster inclusion and share educational resources. We are asking all of our ERGs to participate in and share our events with their communities. Yes, we are highlighting Black History Month and our culture, but sharing our stories with our allies and peers is a vital part of building community and honoring the legacies of those who came before us. It is beneficial information for everyone.

Q: If you could have lunch with anyone throughout history, who would it be and why?

Chetera Watson: It would be my maternal grandmother. She was someone who was very influential in my upbringing, and we spent a lot of time together. I skipped preschool because I was fortunate enough to have my grandmother take care of me full-time, and I would love to have lunch with her to talk about what she taught me growing up and how those things still apply to me every single day. Many of us have Black elders that guided our paths and paved the way for us, often selflessly and with great sacrifice. I would love to be able to thank her for the investments she made in me and my siblings. I would not be standing here today if not for her support.

Q: Could you share a bit about how Black Employee Network is involved with business activities and any positive impacts they’ve made?

Blue Shield of California's Black Employee Network at the Kingdom Day Parade

Karena Bradshaw: We have made a lot of great strides, especially with Blue Shield Promise for the Kingdom Day Parade. We’ve been a proud sponsor of the parade for the past seven years, honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Just seeing the increased impact this year from last year was amazing. It was so meaningful to see so many people who are proud to say, “We have Blue Shield!”, “You guys are amazing!”, “We love you!”, “Thank you!”, “We love your service!”, “We are glad that we have you!”, “You’ve saved our lives!”, or, “You helped our family!” It is incredible to have opportunities that allow us to connect directly with the communities we serve and call home.

Q: How have you been partnering with community organizations?

Karena Bradshaw: We recently partnered with Oakland Public Education Fund for their 10th Annual Black History Month Read In, and had volunteers join us in reading books by Black authors to students at a public school in Oakland. We’re leading a lot of intersectionality initiatives this year and working on programs with some of the other ERGs, such as Elevating Women, Disability Inclusion Alliance, Generations Alliance, and Operation VET. We want to partner with some of the non-profit organizations we already have on Shield Cares, one being a woman’s shelter called Haven of Peace. We want to be in a position where we are not only giving back monetarily, but physically as well, be it volunteering time, wellness and education resources, gifts, etc. We are working on partnering with them for a Christmas event where we adopt families to impact directly.

Q: How was Black Employee Network involved with Blue Shield’s Mahmee and Maven program?

Karena Bradshaw: We really have to give credit to Leigh Purry, senior manager of Program and Project Management, for spearheading this. She was very active and vocal about Blue Shield having doula programs and providing more support, especially for African-American and Hispanic cultures. We wanted to support her in getting that program implemented and off the ground. Now that the programs are live, we’re spreading the word and amplifying these invaluable resources to our employees and members.

Q: Reflecting back, what are some wins from Black Employee Network’s perspective?

Karena Bradshaw: Being able to really activate partnerships with other ERGs and increasing their participation in our events! Last year we had more collaborations with our fellow ERGs than we have had in years prior; it has been amazing to see everyone come together, share culture, and build community. I wanted to make sure that we were more involved with working and collaborating with the other ERGs, and we are off to a great start in 2024!

Q: What are some of Black Employee Network’s plans for 2024, what can people expect and how can they get involved?

Karena Bradshaw: We’ve had a strong start with the Kingdom Day Parade and Black History Month, and we’re looking forward to celebrating Juneteenth and our tenth anniversary at our signature event in June! Throughout the year, we’ll be offering volunteering, career development, and mentorship programs. We want to empower our community and others to get involved, take ownership of their professional development and career journeys, and be their own brand.

Q: Do you have any book recommendations you’d like to share for those who would like to further educate themselves on Black history?

Chetera Watson: Yes, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. I think it’s a great story and it connects the similarities of Black history to many other cultures. There are so many similarities and shared histories in fighting for liberation and progress.

Karena Bradshaw: Reading can be a great approach to learning about Black history, but I suggest another approach! I think the best learning a person can do about another culture is to lean in and sit with someone from that culture. Sit at the table with them, walk down their street, sit on their porch, attend a community or ERG event. Books can be a great and accessible resource, but I think if you really want to get to know the history and heart of a culture, you need to connect with and learn from the raw and authentic people that make up that culture. The action of engaging with members of the community in real life makes a big difference in humanizing and adding depth to our stories.

If you’d like to work for a company that prioritizes diversity and celebrating the cultures of our diverse workforce, we welcome you to check out our open career opportunities and apply.