Our People in Profile: Radiology clerk Karen MacLean says learning, listening key to understanding that ‘we’re more alike than we are different’

Karen MacLean, a radiology clerk at Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, is deeply proud of her African heritage.
Karen MacLean, a radiology clerk at Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, is deeply proud of her African heritage.

Radiology clerk Karen MacLean is deeply proud of her African heritage.

“My African heritage is rooted in some amazing ancestors who worked hard for a living and contributed significantly to the world’s economy and advancement. They never gave up in spite of all the obstacles that they faced,” said MacLean, who works at Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow.

"My African heritage is one I’m proud to be a part of – it’s one of great love and resilience.”

MacLean is also grounded in her culture’s strong faith.

MacLean’s heritage and experience as an African Nova Scotian woman has shaped how she shows up at work and in her life.

“I bring a level of understanding and compassion to everyone I meet,” said MacLean.

“My mom and dad taught me to always be kind and have dignity and respect for everyone. I bring these valuable teachings to my workplace. I try to bring a sense of belonging to others who may struggle to feel comfortable in an uncomfortable world.

I’ve had experiences where a person would look at me and not even acknowledge that I was even there. I want people to know I see them and they matter.”

African Heritage Month is important to MacLean, giving her a chance to learn about and celebrate her ancestors.

“I just love it,” she said. “I learn a lot. To learn about our ancestors and what they contributed – it’s amazing! I’m glad our kids now get to learn about our African heritage.”

Throughout her life, MacLean has faced challenges, experiencing a lack of acceptance, understanding and respect.

“Being an African Nova Scotian woman, often times you’re not valued in the same way – our voices are often not heard or respected in the same way.”

She believes the way to overcome these challenges and amplify unheard voices is through listening, education and discussion.

“I wish people would take more time to listen and understand the lived experience of people of African descent and have more empathy for that experience,” she said. “I wish more people would take the time to learn about our experience and our culture and get to know who we are and how much we’ve contributed.”

Talking openly about race and racism is a necessary step to creating a better future, MacLean said.

“I’m happy to see that we’re finally beginning to have open conversations about race and the deep ways it impacts all of our lives. I’d like to see the conversations continue.”
Cultural competence training is also important, said MacLean, who believes training should be in place for all employees and leaders within the health system.

Ultimately, MacLean believes acceptance comes from recognizing one another as people of equal value.

“We’re more alike than we are different,” said MacLean. “Everybody wants to be validated and they want the best for their family and for themselves.”

MacLean believes that the more we are open to listening and learning, the more progress we’ll make toward an inclusive society.

She sums up her thoughts with a quote from a renowned African American poet; a writer, singer, actor and activist.

“Maya Angelou said, ‘When we know better, we do better.’ That’s the truth.”

To learn more about African Heritage Month in Nova Scotia, please visit https://ansa.novascotia.ca/african-heritage-month.