Clinical Center News
Winter 2021

The Clinical Center Celebrates Black History Month

Hospital COO emphasizes opportunity, communication

Pius Aiyelawo, NIH Clinical Center Chief Operating Officer
Dr. Kamille West, Chief of the Blood Services Section in the Department of Transfusion Medicine
Bernard Harper, Chief of the Materials Management and Environmental Services Department
Ila Anita Flannigan, Deputy Executive Officer of the NIH Clinical Center

February is African American History Month or Black History Month - commemorating leaders, achievements and the deep-rooted history of African and Black Americans in the United States. It is also an opportunity to understand, reflect and work together to create a better, brighter and safer future for next generations.

Pius Aiyelawo, FACHE, who serves as Chief Operating Officer of the NIH Clinical Center, took a few moments to share his thoughts on what Black History Month means to him.

"Black History Month is truly about awareness and the challenges and struggles of African-Americans," said Aiyelawo, "Second, it's about celebrating the accomplishments and achievements of African Americans and its influence" as well as providing a brighter future for the younger generation in America. The result and impact of the accomplishment of African American trailblazers were especially inspiring to Aiyelawo.

With over 27 years of experience in the U.S. Navy and 30 years of federal service overall, he has seen many reforms and policies impact the workforce and livelihood of Black Americans. Two of the biggest changes Aiyelawo has seen is the increased opportunities for leadership positions in healthcare and the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010 which assisted millions in gaining health insurance. This is important as African Americans experience health disparities due to factors such as socioeconomic status, accessibility and are generally at higher risk for heart diseases, stroke and cancer, among other diseases or illnesses.

2020 was a challenging year with managing a research hospital through the COVID-19 pandemic, national racial justice protests and a tendency throughout America for people to yell at instead of talk to one another. But in a crisis, good leaders find opportunities.

In the Clinical Center, COVID-19 shifted priorities in the hospital: telework was implemented NIH-wide and leaders were tasked with motivating and inspiring staff to continue working together to serve the NIH/CC mission. As an African American leader, Pius believes racial injustice needs to be condemned as it still happens today and we must be able to find ways to engage each other and the community writ-large. "To be able to allow them (staff) to vent also to be upset and heartbroken and more important to be able to reaffirm our commitment at the NIH and the NIH Clinical Center…that we will always strive to cultivate a workplace that values equality, diversity and inclusiveness, which are our priorities here."

A diverse and inclusive work environment is key to Aiyelawo as a healthcare leader. No matter what grade or job title you may have, every single person contributes to the mission. Treating everyone with dignity and respect is a priority as a leader and individual in the workplace.

"We have to be able to respect different points of view and the communication styles that are very different from our own because when we do that, we will enhance our overall inclusiveness and create a positive workplace environment that people will be very much want to be part of." Respect should also happen when no one is watching, "We got to do that 24/7 not only when people are watching you, but also when people are not watching you, always treat individuals with dignity and respect," said Aiyelawo.

As a senior leader at the Clinical Center making decisions that impact thousands, Aiyelawo's leadership philosophy is "to listen, to learn and to lead." And he had some advice for new employees starting to work at the hospital: "I believe in treating each other with dignity and respect - our patients, fellow employees, visitors and others. Regardless of your position and where you sit at the Clinical Center, each and every one brings incredible value to the table and what we do daily contributes to our dual missions of safe healthcare delivery and clinical research. If you maintain that focus, you are going to be successful. I also believe listening up and down the chain of command definitely makes a big difference, including different perspectives, concerns, ideas and suggestions on how we accomplish our tasks".

"When I'm listening, I'm also learning from others as well. …[W]e don't know everything. We don't know it all. We need to see ourselves as being teachable, as being learners and this is where humility comes into the equation".


Kamille West, MD, Chief, Blood Services Section, Department of Transfusion Medicine

"Persons with diverse personalities, experiences and backgrounds may have different things to bring to the table when working together to achieve a common goal. I would caution against striving only for the appearance of diversity, and encourage leaders to nurture diversity of ideas, perspectives and approaches. I also understand that representation is important. A new experience for me when I joined the faculty in the Clinical Center was that African Americans would bring their children to meet me, just to see a Black woman from Jamaica in a position like mine. It’s both moving and a little sad for me to think that they would think of that as strange, since in Jamaica black doctors, lawyers and other professionals are the norm. But I am happy to be able to show those persons that race does not exempt you from achievement."

Bernard Harper, Chief, Materials Management and Environmental Services Department

"Black History Month is a call for reflection on all that our ancestors endured and overcame. It is a time to look introspectively and forward to the challenges still ahead of us with pride, patriotism and belonging. Every day I am honored to be an American and to help build a brighter future for the next generations."

Ila Anita Flannigan, MHSA, FACHE, Deputy Executive Officer, Clinical Center

"The reflection and celebration that comes with Black History Month (BHM), much like that of other cultural recognition months, creates awareness and opportunity for all people to learn about a past and progression, a marginalized people of which they likely have little understanding or knowledge of, particularly in respect to their contributions to American history. I'm sharing two quotes I believe underscore the importance of BHM and really of understanding your own history as well as the importance of why others should understand that history:

"In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute" -Thurgood Marshall

"A people without knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots." -Marcus Garvey"

- Janice Duran

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