Dana-Farber staff share their stories for Black History Month

This Black History Month, we are highlighting the experiences of two Black Dana-Farber Cancer Institute staff members. They graciously shared how their cultural identities have shaped their lives personally, professionally, and here at Dana-Farber. We are proud to have them in our Dana-Farber community and hope their stories inspire you to learn more and take action around equitable health care and racial justice.

Candice Hogu | HRIS Operations Manager

I work in our Human Resources department, and I have been at Dana-Farber for 20 years this upcoming June.

I was born and raised in Trinidad and migrated to the United States when I was a teenager. I grew up in Boston going to high school and college. I would see the name of Dana-Farber plastered all over. I always considered it an organization that did research. So, when a friend said, “Hey, they’re hiring,” I thought wow, that’s interesting. Twenty years later, I’m still here.

Health care is so vast, especially here. I’ve grown in my career and I love knowing the great things that we do here at Dana-Farber.

When I think about my identity at Dana-Farber and in the rest of my life, I’m a Black woman. When I drill down, I’m Afro Caribbean. But I’m also African American on paper. It really depends sometimes on who is asking: What is the situation? What is the scenario? At the end of the day, as long as you know who you are as a person and you stay true to yourself, what matters is who you are and what you choose to define yourself as, not what others deem you to be.

As a person of color, I’ve made my own path. I’ve observed other people’s experiences and built my own way in my career path. Sometimes being the only person of color in the room or in a meeting is intimidating. But I think about the tools that you put in your pocket to get you through. A lot of that is knowing myself and always looking for opportunities for a teaching moment. You have to do that in work, but you also have to do so in life.

Yaminah Romulus, MPH | Manager, Government Affairs

I have been at Dana-Farber for seven months. I was born and raised in New York City and I’m the proud daughter of Haitian immigrants. It was my experience of being a first generation American that led me to the public health space, particularly because I experienced a lot of challenges firsthand when accessing adequate health care. I also witnessed family members’ challenges and I thought, “This can’t be something that other people should have to deal with.” I’ve dedicated my recent career to working in the field of policy and advocacy to raise awareness about important health care issues, and I’m working to influence health care decisions that are being made on the state level.

Before coming here, I heard Dana-Farber’s name and it was always referred to as an excellent hospital for research, but most importantly for patient care. So, when I saw an opening here I just pounced on it, and the rest is history. 

For me, “Black” is an overarching term that encapsulates all aspects of my identity. I’m Haitian American. I’m Haitian, but I’m also American. Those are two different things that are very distinct for me. I lean very heavily on my Haitian side. It’s just the nature of my upbringing. My roots, my morals, everything in my culture, the food, the first language I spoke: It’s all tied to being Haitian.

But I also don’t want to neglect that I am Black in America, and I feel like with the term “African American,” there is a unique experience tied to that identity and experience in America. That’s why the term “Black” is what I align with.

I was fortunate and blessed to grow up in a Caribbean neighborhood. I was raised with people from all countries within the Caribbean and we embraced each other and our experiences and the challenges that came with being children of immigrant parents. So that was what I was accustomed to. Then when I was a teenager my family moved to a predominantly white suburb outside of Atlanta. That was the first time I recognized that I was different.

I had to do a lot of introductions in my classes about who I was and where I came from and they were like, “Where’s Haiti?” I was so confused. “What do you mean, where’s Haiti? It’s in the Caribbean, you know?” And they just didn’t know. They just weren’t aware of this whole country.

What was really challenging, too, was the level of explaining I had to do about being Black and all of the questions I got. “You wear braids, what are those?” “Why do you eat this food and not this food?” “Why can you do this and not that?” I’m all about educating people, don’t get me wrong! Questions are a valid thing to ask. But when you’re asked that day in and day out, it is exhausting.

 And people would ask in a surprised way, “Oh, you live in this neighborhood? Why not this other neighborhood?” And they’d ask because the neighborhood I lived in was predominantly white and the other neighborhood was predominantly Black. It was a wake-up call as a Black teen.

I’ve now lived in four different states prior to moving here to Boston and I learned to navigate being Black wherever I was. And I think your home is all about what you want it to be. So, I spent a lot of time creating my village, finding those allies, finding my good friends. And that has made Boston feel a little bit more like home for me.

But when I moved to Boston seven years ago, it was very interesting, the questions that I got when I first interacted with folks here who were Black and they found out I’m from Atlanta. “What are you doing here?” “Why did you move here?” It was a little concerning that when I told people I was moving to Boston, they would respond, “That’s a racist city and you’re not going to last there. You’re going to have a hard time.” There is some truth to that. Unfortunately, racism exists in many parts of this country. But I didn’t want to let that prevent me from pursuing opportunities here. And I’ve been able to find a good community of people who I can lean on and who support me and vice versa.

It is hard not to focus on race with what is on the news, what’s happening in the lives of people that I care about, for my friends, with the work that I do here at Dana-Farber. I try to also focus on the allies who exist. White people who support the advancement of and quality for people of color in various ways and areas of life. I’m very fortunate and blessed to be at an incredible institution like Dana-Farber where there are so many allies who have made that commitment. I try to look at the work for racial justice in a positive way. Yes, I’m aware of the realities that exist for Black people, but seeing that others are trying to help improve the lives and experiences of people of color is also something that gives me hope.

Learn more about Dana-Farber’s Cancer Care Equity Program (CCEP), which aims to reduce cancer disparities in marginalized communities. Donations to The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer, help support this program and others, by funding the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.