A Letter From
Robin Antonellis

Vice President of Human Resources
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 
NEEBC Board Member 


Dear NEEBC Friends and Colleagues, 

Reading over the July 4th weekend The Boston Globe’s Headline – “Baker says Phase 3 of Reopening will Begin on Monday”  – offered me a reflective moment focused on the past 19 weeks in Boston and inspired this letter.  It would be easy to permit desensitized perceptions to seep into our thinking.  Afterall, if “Phase 3” started, then things must be better, right?  Allow me to share the reason I’m thinking “yes and no.” 

The “yes” feels easier to categorize. Our teams likely have weathered living and working among the national pandemic “Hot Spots.” I’d wager that your organization has navigated appropriately and that you’ve been beacons for managers and staff alike. (If this heinous virus has impacted you or your family, please know my heart breaks for your trials, as I share in your first-degree-of-separation from COVID-19.) Had anyone told us that our offices would be emptied, new-hire orientations and benefits fairs would be virtual, and we’d have no face-to-face collaborations after February, we probably wouldn’t have believed her or him.  Aside from those heroically on-site, most of us are working remotely. Many of us have had no need to fear traditional commutes or shared space; “quarantining” has been largely possible and caring for our loved ones, albeit hugely complicated without traditional resources, has been possible. At this point, most of us are well into the “recovery” work. These factors contribute to thinking “yes,” things have improved.

You knew there was a “but…” coming. These most recent weeks have challenged our nation, and all its people, in ways that even the pandemic hasn’t.  It has challenged me.  Let’s not become numb to persistent sub-headlines reporting new coronavirus cases and deaths. Vigilance remains required.

However, my reflection goes well beyond the vigilance needed to remain safe from COVID-19 to a haunting June headline: “Two autopsies both find George Floyd died by homicide.”  This tragic reality influenced the “no” part of how I’m personally answering the question that asks whether things are better?  We may be “New England’s” council for employee benefits, but what happens in Minneapolis, or in Georgia, or New York, or Kentucky, or elsewhere in the country can be overwhelming and make us feel helpless. We can, and must, be responsible for how we connect with each other, and for the professional communities we steward. (In this blog, I’m offering some practical thoughts toward that end.)  That means rejecting racism and inequality by actively supporting colleagues who feel impacted by these events, and the frustration and injustice they represent.

Maya Angelou has offered me a poignant mantra on which to reflect intermittently through my adult life: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  Nothing has felt truer to me over recent weeks. We will remain diligent in eradicating COVID-19…and we must extend beyond. Be vigilant in making room for our Black and Brown colleagues’ stories, as well as the stories inside each of us. Everyone has a story. Let’s tell some. LISTEN to some.  A healthier, “new normal” with less room for agony, requires normalizing the acts of sharing our stories, empathizing with teammates, and making the space needed.  No quick fixes, but maybe some infusion of hope…particularly on achieving a universal answer of “yes” on whether things are improving.

Warm regards,