MLP is an Opportunity to Dig Deeper into What You May See on the Surface of a Person

This interview is part of NASTAD’s celebration of its history during this year’s Chair’s Challenge, 30 Years of Leading Change. 

Dr. Tangee Summers is the Ryan White and HOPWA Program Service Manager at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. In this position, she manages those who serve as liaisons for Medical Case Management, Specialized Case Management, Outreach Services, Peer Adherence Coordination, and Quality Management. She also oversees all of the 19 sub-recipients who receive Ryan White Part B funds across the state and conducts site visits to ensure that all of the funded sub-recipients are in compliance with federal regulations and policies while also ensuring that these agencies have a robust and thorough quality management program across the state.

Dr. Summers was a participant in the 2019-2020 NASTAD Minority Leadership Program (MLP) cohort and recently spoke with NASTAD about her experiences in the program.

Why did you apply to the MLP program?

One of the main reasons that I applied to the MLP is that I am the youngest manager within the STD/HIV division, and on top of that, I am a Black woman in this leadership role. There were a few uncomfortable situations that I encountered while being in this position that led me to feel inadequate and unequipped for this role. For instance, I had to work in difficult situations that caused a lot of confusion throughout the division and amongst those who we worked closely with. As a result of this ongoing tension and negativity, I began to shut down and shut myself off completely when I knew that as a leader, I should be more vocal and actively engaged. Instead, I tried to avoid conflict and stayed quiet. Being a part of MLP helped me to reignite the fire that I knew was always inside of me. I am now more confident and more than capable of doing my job and being a vocal, positive, strong leader!

What was your favorite moment from MLP?

All of it. Honestly, from beginning to end, the entire journey was such a wonderful experience for me. It was the self-reflection, understanding who I am and my worth, understanding that I have the tenacity to push forward, learning to truly believe that my thoughts and decisions are valid, and that I had every right to speak up for myself and what I believed in. The things I’ve learned, I have begun applying to my everyday life. I often put others before myself and didn’t engage in much self-care and self-love that I knew I deserved. Now, with the tools learned through this journey, I practice self-motivation by telling myself often, “Tangee, you are a great employee, wife, leader, and supervisor. You work really hard, and it is ok to pat yourself on the back and reward yourself.” I can thank MLP for this.

Why would you recommend other health department staff join future MLP cohorts?

MLP grants the opportunity to dig deeper into what you may see on the surface of a person, especially as a minority living in today’s society. This program provides the tools needed to peel off layers that truly expose authentically the person you are deep down inside. At times, people are faced with situations where they aren’t as vocal as they should be or don’t trust what they believe in because often, their thoughts and/or ideas are dismissed. This program will equip you with the tools needed to light that burning fire within that gets you motivated and back truly believing in yourself. I am definitely an advocate for minorities, but if this leadership program were open for anyone to apply, I would encourage everyone to apply so that they, too, can experience this wonderful opportunity to learn the necessary skillsets needed to help you be your best self and a positive, impactful leader within your career.

How can health departments better serve people of color working in public health?

Listen to them for one. The worst thing is being a part of a minority cohort at your job where you are the only minority in the group, and they never take heed to the information and the ideas you (as a minority) are presenting to them. It is disheartening to have a program for a specific population, and you don’t have that target population at the decision-making table. You see that at a lot at state health departments where you are serving a certain population and don’t allow the opportunity for those you are serving to also be decision-makers.

What advice do you have for people of color who are in the early stages of their public health careers?

Keep fighting and keep pushing for things that you believe in. If you are truly passionate about certain things or if you feel that you are not being heard, continue speaking up and standing up for yourself. Your day will come.  You often aren’t paid what you deserve, but if you have that passion and you are doing the work from your heart, keep the flame in your heart and your soul ignited, and keep fighting to get where you want to be in your career. There will be obstacles, there will be hurdles, and stumbling blocks that will take place but if you are passionate about public health, if you are passionate about making a difference, keep pressing and keep fighting.