LaVonne Ansari: Breaking down barriers is vital to building a stronger future

“The impact of Covid-19 has hit every quality of life that we know, from education to housing to health care to finance to employment,” LaVonne Ansari says.
Sharon Cantillon

Tim O’Shei
For LaVonne Ansari, it’s about seeing the whole. The whole person, the whole picture, the whole problem.

“This pandemic has hit the whole world,” said Ansari, the CEO and executive director of the Community Health Center of Buffalo and formerly a vice president at Niagara County Community College.

“The whole world is working on it at once. You will see the rise of one humanity when the environment calls for it,” she said. “But then you see also how the human being has set up his own road barriers, his own structural barriers.”
Breaking down those barriers, Ansari told The News during an interview in her Buffalo office, is vital to building a stronger future. Here are excerpts of the conversation, edited for space and clarity:

What should Buffalo Niagara do to emerge from Covid-19 and the recession it caused as a stronger region?

We need to reimagine what got us into this situation in the first place, which are racist policies.
The impact of Covid-19 has hit every quality of life that we know, from education to housing to health care to finance to employment.
We can’t piecemeal the solution. We have to uproot it and be more comprehensive in how we plan the future.

Where is the starting point for a solution?
Start with ourselves. Covid-19 has made us, as human beings, look at our core values. We’re all trying to figure out who gets the vaccine first. Those are core values and belief systems.

We’re trying to determine how those of us that are dying – particularly African Americans, and those of us of color and Indigenous people – are dying at three times the rate (nationally). This disease has exposed that.

How do you get people to understand how we got here? And how do we make sure that we’re better prepared through these structural policies and how we’re thinking?

Let’s tap into your education background for a moment. How can we improve schools?

Understand our learning styles. Start with the expectation that all children, all human beings, can learn. That is not how the system begins with us as children.

We don’t put a premium on teaching in this country. Other parts of the world, they have the best and the brightest. Not that we don’t, but we don’t look for them.

I’ll give you an example: I just started an academic mentoring program (at CHCB) because the schools are digital now and my employees were struggling with their children at home. We set up for them to come in and learn in the premises. The reason why that is important? Children that are privileged already have tutors. Their parents already had that set for them. In our communities, we can’t afford it, and we don’t have access. So we set that up.

Educating is ensuring that all children can learn, and not allowing – because the system has changed the way they’re teaching right now – that our children should not be taught.

What more could we be doing? What are many of us missing altogether?

We know that Christopher Columbus did not discover America. But they teach that a white man came over here. The Indigenous were already here. If we don’t start telling the truth that frees up everybody, we will always stay here.

Statistically, we know that (employers) will hire a white man with a criminal record before they’ll hire a Black man with a degree. Why? How does that work? That’s the data, and that’s because you’re familiar with them.

What is the change we need to make?

I think you change it by acknowledging all human beings’ goodness, and understanding that race is not the issue, because we’re all of the human race.

But racism is the issue. So when you begin to understand the role that we all play in the structure, then you don’t choose one human being over the other.

The beauty of being in Buffalo and Western New York is I get to have conversations like this, and we can make change. We have access to power very quickly, and we have access to each other – more than most places, honestly.

We’re able to have space to have these conversations. That’s what is needed.


Tim O’Shei
Enterprise Reporter

Jan 28, 2021

I’ve been a journalist and author since age 16 and write about social and political issues, popular culture, sports, business and anything – and anybody – that is interesting.

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