Hundreds of black nurses from around the country filled the grand ballroom at the Washington Court Hotel for the 29th annual National Black Nurses Day on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Feb. 2.
The event was held by the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA), a nonprofit that represents over 150,000 registered and retired nurses, and nursing students.
“Nurses are coming from across the U.S. to lobby in congress regarding violence as a public health crisis in African-American communities and to speak on behalf of the underserved and underrepresented populations regarding the Affordable Care Act,” said NBNA President Eric Williams, the organization’s first male president.
Each year the organization picks the most pressing issues in the African-American community and prepares its members to lobby politicians on the Hill in a day of directed sessions. This year’s theme was “Addressing the Epidemic of Violence,” in which NBNA targeted gun violence and federal funding for nursing education and research, and keeping the Affordable Care Act alive, among other topics.
“Nurses are on the front lines,” Williams said. “We see the devastation, we see the lack of care that affects our population and who is it that can best advocate for the elimination of health care disparities other than a black nurse. We’re excited to be agents of change and be visionary leaders and make a difference.”
The association provided the nurses with background information and a list of recommendations to legislators for each issue so they could meet with them at the end of the day.
Longtime Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, an NBNA member, told the nurses how important it was to participate politically in their field.
“I always feel right at home,” Johnson said. “It’s so good to see all of these faces that are still active after all so many years. I guess, once a nurse, always a nurse.”
Most health care services involve some form of care from a nurse. Nurses make up the largest segment of the health care workforce and one of the largest segments in the country’s general workforce, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
“It’s important to be involved in your profession,” Johnson said. “You must be mindful of the fact that you must be part of the policy that governs your role.”
Organized in 1971 by Dr. Lauranne Sams, former dean and professor of nursing at Tuskeegee University’s School of Nursing, NBNA’s mission is to “represent and provide a forum for black nurses to advocate and implement strategies to ensure access to the highest quality of health care for persons of color.”
Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop gave the nurses tips on how to reach their representatives.
“It’s very important, since we are supposed to have a government of the people, that you be here to let your voices be heard,” Sanford said.
He told the nurses that everyday citizens could influence policy by writing individualized letters and emails to their representatives, calling their offices, and showing up in-office to voice concerns.
“You may not think that it counts, but you can truly make a difference,” he said.