Evelyn Foster Shares Importance of Celebrating Contributions of Black Americans
In honor of Black History Month, Centene is shining the spotlight on diverse employees who are making an impact every day. Evelyn Foster joined Centene’s Louisiana Healthcare Connections in 2017 and is now Communications and Engagement Senior Specialist. She is also a member of Centene’s Multicultural Employee Inclusion Group MOSAIC. Learn more about Evelyn, her role in engaging employees, her thoughts on the importance of allyship, and on celebrating the history and contributions of Black Americans.
Q. Tell us about your background and your current role at Louisiana Healthcare Connections.
A. My education is in mass communications. I once had a goal of becoming a news anchor, but instead of covering stories about what’s wrong in the world, I get to be part of a story that helps heal the world — and that’s through Louisiana Healthcare Connections.
My first job out of college was in New York, working for a Wall Street firm. But after falling in love with my fifth-grade sweetheart (that’s a different story), we moved to the south and started our lives as newlyweds. I continued to work in investments, but soon realized I was only there to show the doubters that a Black female was capable. I was putting the need to prove myself above what made me happy.
I then changed course and re-engaged with my communications roots. I worked for Lowe’s Home Improvement’s corporate office as a member of their investor relations team. I wrote annual reports, worked shareholder meetings, and conducted analyst event coordination. The company was diverse, which was a first for me, and it felt right.
Fast forward a few years and two children later, I was the owner of a successful event planning business. After 12 years of what seemed like around-the-clock work, I wanted a change of pace and started looking for a part-time job in event planning.
Enter Louisiana Healthcare Connections. The first few interviews were all it took for me to see this company was special. The mission was for real, not just a well-crafted statement to hang a hat on. The hiring manager was kind (he still is), and we had an instant connection.
This year, I’ll celebrate my fifth year with the company. In my current role as a Communications and Engagement Senior Specialist, I lead the planning and implementation of Louisiana Healthcare Connections’ Employee Town Halls, Managers’ Meetings, and Provider Education initiatives.
Q. What is the most meaningful part of your job?
A. The most meaningful part of my job (so far) has been helping build a positive culture at our plan, primarily by revamping our health plan Town Halls. I was able to come in with fresh eyes and see opportunities to shift the way the meetings were perceived. We went from a mandatory meeting to an employee engagement event that my colleagues look forward to attending.
It means a lot having a CEO start these meetings with a “Remember the Member” story to keep us focused on the mission. These meetings make a difference in morale and help strengthen the Louisiana Healthcare Connections’ team. The more we feel connected to each other and our mission, the better equipped we are to provide life-changing services and support to members, providers, and the community.
Q. Who influenced you most during your career and why?
A. Jackie Wall, my high school art teacher, is the reason I have a career. Despite being in the gifted and talented program most of my schooling and being surrounded by some insanely smart classmates, it didn’t click for me that college could be my next step.
After Mrs. Wall casually asked me which school I was leaning toward accepting, I confessed that I hadn’t applied anywhere. It was my senior year. The next day, she found me in a different class and escorted me into the hallway. Her hands were holding college applications, and without telling me, she told me to complete them. Mrs. Wall wasn’t using my excuse of not having the money to submit the applications because she would “figure it out.” And she did.
Her caring for me, one person, who wasn’t a relative or someone she was obligated to care for by any stretch, was my game changer. Without her, there may not have been college at all, no career at all.
That’s what transforming lives looks like, one person at a time. Remembering moments like that make me realize just how important one person at a time truly is.
Q. How do you feel about Centene's approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
A. When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), companies have a choice to check the box or to think outside the box. Centene definitely thinks outside the box, with a real commitment to nurture and grow DEI. Because of Centene’s commitment, my awareness has grown, and at times, my beliefs have been uncomfortably challenged. In the end, I am more knowledgeable, more compassionate, and I look at everything differently. I’m a more well-rounded thinker and hungrier than ever to continue to learn so I can grow and be of better service.
Q. What is the importance of allyship to you, and how can employees be better allies?
A. As a Black American, I am aware of the discrimination people who look like me endure on a day-to-day basis. But allyship teaches us that despite our own struggles, the importance of standing with other minorities facing discrimination. Allyship teaches us to stand together and truly hear and see others, thereby creating relationships and trusting bonds with the people around us no matter what our differences.
Employees can be allies by creating welcoming environments and safe spaces within our teams and our communities. It’s also important that we continue to have courageous conversations with open hearts.
Q. Why was it important for you to become involved with the MOSAIC EIG?
A. I was really hurting after the death of George Floyd. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if we didn’t do something, my Black son, or my Black husband, could be next. I felt powerless in the moment. I remember crying what seemed to be gallons of tears as I tried to simply answer the question, “How are you?” at the beginning of a meeting with my Vice President (VP) and a colleague. They listened — I mean really heard me and felt my pain.
For my VP, I believe it was this that prompted him to step outside of what he acknowledged was privilege, to be a vocal ally for me and for the Black community. He oversaw efforts to offer a safe space for colleagues across the plan to offer words of love and support, and invited Erika McConduit, Centene Regional VP, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, to participate in our health plan employee Town Hall.
Centene also held a companywide Fireside Chat/Courageous Conversation that addressed racism, equality, and inclusion. I knew I needed community and allies — that’s what drew me to MOSAIC. But now that I am heavily involved, it’s so much more. It started as a place where I sought support, now it has become a place where I can give it.
Q. What are your thoughts on the significance of Black History Month?
A. I’ve always appreciated February as Black History Month. I do, however, long for the contributions of Black Americans to be included in a more meaningful way in everyday history lessons across America.
As I grow older, I realize that Black History Month growing up was limited to a handful of Black people whose contributions were the focal point of every Black History Month. As evidence in my own life, it wasn’t until working for Centene, in my 40s, that I learned about Juneteenth. The fact is, we have amazing pioneers and unsung Black heroes who have paved the way for people like me. I want to see their contributions celebrated too. I want their stories of perseverance to inspire my children.
I want the world to know that Black History Month is not just a time to mourn a painful past of slavery, burnings, lynches, and marches. I want it to celebrate pioneers like Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel into space; Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana; and Thomas Jennings, the first Black patent holder, to name a few.