My parents met in Panama, where my mother was from and where my father was stationed with the U.S. military. As a military brat, I got to travel all around the world, but my childhood began in Panama. At 5 years old, I was taking frequent mile-long walks with my mom to the water pump, carrying two large jugs. We washed our laundry in the creek and pounded it on a rock and, for fun, climbed mango trees every opportunity we could get. This sounds like it should’ve been at least one hundred years ago, right? But it was only 50 - and it was a huge part of my life. Even when we left Panama and moved to the U.S, we returned every summer and picked up right where we left off with our family, lifestyle and traditions.
And to quickly get you up to speed on how I ended up at Aledade, I graduated from high school in Frankfurt, Germany, moved to Washington, D.C., to attend college at Howard University (majored in Microbiology and minored in Spanish History), stayed in D.C., met my husband, had five kids and have spent the last five years proudly working at Aledade.
Lillian said this in her blog, but when you’re from mixed heritages, it can be difficult to find your place - and family is often the only environment where you can find true acceptance. This may sound weird, but I didn’t think much about race or diversity for the longest time in my life. The military was very diverse, and I was raised in a very inclusive environment with people from all different countries and backgrounds. I was also White passing - my mother is Black, but because of my appearance, I never really identified with that. My husband, on the other hand, had a very different experience than I did growing up. He is Black, and he grew up in D.C. in a predominantly Black community. It was challenging to navigate the many dynamics between both of our experiences, but everything changed when I got to Aledade. Here, tough and transformative conversations truly take place - and in large part, we have our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to thank for that. I found myself connected to each and every ERG available - so, naturally, I joined all of them, and I have the honor of co-leading the Latinx ERG with Lillian. And I can’t even begin to tell you how these groups have enriched every aspect of my life and identity.
While we make a big deal about Hispanic Heritage Month within the Latinx ERG and our company at-large every year, this year was particularly impactful. Lillian and I organized a panel on an often undiscussed topic: migrant workers and their families. Our panelists blew us away with both their stories and honesty. For example, they walked us through experiences many child migrant workers face. They often live in hotels or motels and may go to four or five different schools in a short time frame due to their families needing to move for work. They may not have health coverage, so if they’re sick, no one can stay home with them - which means they have to join their family out in the field. They get paid by the bushel (literally) and have to get up before the sun rises to put in as much work as they can before heading off to school and giving their classes their best effort...only to return to the field that evening to finish up what they can…all before they go to bed and wake up the next morning to do it all over again. Do they have an opportunity to get involved with after-school activities? Probably not. Do they have time to think about and prepare for college? It’s certainly much more difficult. On behalf of our Latinx ERG and all of Aledade, I want to thank our panelists Melani Forti - Director, Children in the Fields Campaign (CIFC) - and Vashti Kelly - Program Director, Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (parent nonprofit of CIFC) - for not only their time, but for everything they shared with us. Children in the Fields Campaign focuses on raising awareness and opportunities for school-age children to attend post-secondary schools through scholarships. Aledade and the Latinx ERG were proud to provide a small donation - and if you’re interested, you can provide them with further support via their online store (all proceeds help fund the campaign).
More than anything, all of the ERGs at Aledade meet people where they are, and invite everyone to take a look at all different kinds of cultures and experiences. Take it from me - you’ll always be surprised by just how much you get to learn and grow by better connecting with both your colleagues and yourself.
The best part for me personally? My experience with the ERGs at Aledade didn’t only impact me - there were countless ripple effects for my entire family. I’m incredibly proud to share that my two oldest children (who are 33 and 31) are now Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leads at their organizations - and they both have told me that they never would’ve even considered taking on those roles if it wasn’t for me talking about the Aledade ERGs all the time and what we’re discussing.
Where my family and I are now is amazing, and I’m so grateful for the journey so far and all the learning and growth ahead of us.
Maria McVicker-Roberts is Lead, Practice Innovation, ACO Specialist Care and Referral Management at Aledade.