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Getting to know HealthPartners’ director of Diversity and Inclusion

Shamayne Braman discusses how to embrace change and transform our communities


November 27, 2017

     


Shamayne Braman first came to HealthPartners in 2016. And ever since she’s been focused on building relationships and breaking down barriers. Not only within our organization, but within the community.

“From a diversity and inclusion standpoint, the most important vehicle that can transform an organization or community is relationships,” Shamayne says. “I’ve seen the transformational power that forming relationships and breaking barriers can have in my own experiences.”

These experiences have influenced the way Shamayne approaches her new role leading our organization’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts. She feels emboldened by the chance to make a difference.

Embracing change

An immigrant from the South American country of Guyana, Shamayne grew up in Irvington, New Jersey. In the United States, her family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, all lived under one roof.

After high school, Shamayne went on to Princeton University. There she studied English and received certificates in African American studies and secondary education. She then attended Harvard Graduate School of Education for her master’s degree in Education Policy and Management.

Following her studies, Shamayne joined Teach for America. That brought her back to Newark, New Jersey (not far from where she herself had grown up). And it was there that she taught middle school English with KIPP Charter Schools.

As a teacher, Shamayne found herself making assumptions. Not only about what her classroom would be like, but about her students and colleagues as well.

“I shared my students’ racial background. And because of that, I thought I would automatically be able to connect with them,” she recalls. “That, however, was not necessarily true at all.”

Being willing to be curious and learn allowed Shamayne to tackle and adjust her early assumptions. She was able to embrace the fact that her students brought unique experiences to their learning. And the more she learned, the more she desired to make a greater impact in the communities she served. That’s ultimately what led her to HealthPartners.

“Things are always informing the way you see experiences. They’re shaping the lens through which you see the world and do your work,” she says.

Transforming communities

Every day, Shamayne seeks to be more curious, open and willing to change. She also works to help foster that mindset in others. She has seen first-hand how disparities can have adverse effects on people, she says. But she’s also seen how working to reduce and close those disparities can change the trajectory of lives.

“In my role, one question I often ask myself is, ‘Am I working to create the kind of environment where the communities I served would really thrive?’ If the answer to that is no, then it’s an opportunity for reframing,” she says.

Outside of HealthPartners, Shamayne serves on the Board Chair of Out-Front Minnesota. This advocacy organization is focused on advancing equity for LGBTQ Minnesotans. Shamayne says she feels privileged to serve as an ally and advocate for others through her role on the Board. And she says it’s also given her a chance to expand her own lens about diversity, inclusion and equality.

Get to know Shamayne Braman

Do you have any mentors?

Shamayne: When I was young, my uncles were my mentors. I spent a lot of time with them. And they were really brilliant people. They were all very academic and motivated me to pursue education. They were the visual of what success looked like to me.

Since then, having women of color as mentors has meant a lot to me. Being able to see people who look like me in leadership roles has inspired me to work harder and to challenge and push myself. It’s erased the question of whether it’s possible. Instead, it’s allowed me to frame my thinking around how to make it happen.

What first brought you to HealthPartners?

Shamayne: I wanted to be in a space where I felt I could have a bigger impact. So I would say curiosity and a desire to learn is what brought me here. What has kept me here is the way the organization embraces diversity and the way in which our leaders truly live the values of our organization.

What are your responsibilities as director of Diversity and Inclusion?

Shamayne: Our goal is to create a culture where every colleague, patient and member feels welcomed, included and valued. We want anyone who touches our organization to share in that culture. My role is to be a partner and help ensure that happens.

What motivates you?

Shamayne: I’m motivated by a few things. The first would be my love of learning and growth. And with that comes embracing a willingness to change. Next, it’s my love of working with people and building relationships. Lastly, it’s my passion for equity work. I’m driven to make a difference that will have an impact on the lives and experiences of others.

What’s one thing to know about you that would surprise people?

Shamayne: Cosmetology is my second professional passion! When I was growing up, one of my sisters owned a hair salon in Atlanta. As a teenager, I would spend summers working with her. I used to be ashamed to have a passion for something so non-academic, but then I realized that hair unifies and connects Black women. I saw how getting your hair straightened was a rite of passage for adolescent girls. And I saw how wearing your hair natural was a sign of courage and bravery. It goes beyond adornment. The salon was a sacred space.

When I got to college, I discovered many of the Black female students at Princeton had to travel to faraway Trenton to find that sacred space. So I had a little business in college where I styled hair from my dorm room. A few years later, one of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, wrote about this exact problem in her novel, Americana, and I felt so validated!

I’m also a runner. I’ve run 5 marathons and have a 6th coming up.

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