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Empowering voices and inspiring stories: how BlueCross celebrates Black history and creativity

BlueCross has recognized Black History Month for more than 20 years, and it’s one of many ways we foster a sense of connection within our organization. This connection that our employees feel with one another helps us better support our members and communities.

During observances like these, we invite employees to celebrate their cultures and share their experiences.  This year’s national Black History Month theme is “African Americans and the Arts” and celebrates the creativity and impact of artists across various mediums who shaped the history in Tennessee and beyond.

As part of this year’s celebration, three employees featured below shared their journeys, their connection to the arts, and how history inspires them.

Katie Banks: harmonizing quality and artistry 

Katie Banks, senior quality specialist

As lockdowns and social distancing measures took hold during the pandemic, Katie, a senior quality specialist, found solace and purpose in crafting.  

“The pandemic inspired me to start making ‘Welcome’ signs and sports signs, and refurbishing old furniture,” Katie says. “Before I knew it, I had to keep a book to keep up with my orders.” 

Organization and collaboration were already areas where Katie excelled — they’ve served her well in her 35-year career with BlueCross.  

“My role is about upholding a commitment to excellence — ensuring every detail aligns with provider contracts and member benefits,” she says. 

Reflections on the arts 

“The arts — through music, dance, and poetry like hip-hop and jazz — play a vital role in the African American community,” Katie says. “They serve as powerful expressions of culture.” 

Katie highlights Maya Angelou’s poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”  as two of her favorite examples of African American art. These timeless works made a big impact on Katie, inspiring self-love and acceptance, celebrating the beauty found in imperfections.  

And she finds her own connection to this rich community through her craft.  

“Crafting intricate signs and creating custom T-shirts has become a fulfilling escape,” Katie says. “It’s my way of bringing innovation and attention to detail into my life outside BlueCross.” 

‘Stronger together’ 

To her fellow artists at BlueCross, Katie advises to be aware of challenges but not to compromise or settle. Instead, be eager to be heard and transparent.

“Embrace your uniqueness,” she says. “Explore and appreciate the diversity of talent within our community. Black History Month is not just about recognizing the past, but also embracing the rich cultural contributions that continue to shape our present and future.” 

“Let’s use this month as an opportunity to amplify voices, foster understanding, and celebrate the unique stories that make us stronger together.” 

Georgette Carter: a musical heritage 

Georgette Carter, quality analyst

For Georgette, a quality analyst, this year’s Black History Month theme – African Americans and the Arts – hit home on a personal level. 

Georgette is the proud niece of Dr. Roland Carter. “Uncle Roland,” as she fondly calls him, is a Chattanoogan recognized internationally as a composer, conductor and arranger of African American spirituals. 

“He’s distinctively known for his arrangement of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’” she says. “His arrangement of the song has been widely sung by many choral groups nationally and internationally for more than 50 years.” 

Reflections and recommendations 

“It’s important that the African American community keep its cultural history alive,” Georgette notes. “Our history has had an impact on the world.” 

When asked for a favorite work by an African American artist, Georgette recommends one of her uncle’s newer compositions — “Make Some Noise, Get in Trouble (Good Trouble, Necessary Trouble)” — which echoes the words of the late congressman John Lewis. 

“I feel connected to the words in this piece,” Georgette says. “And I really like the section of layering vocals that says, ‘See something, say something, do something, make some noise.’” 

Georgette believes change and appreciation start at the local level.  Another Chattanooga artist she recommends is Genesis the Greykid, a renowned poet and artist with an abstract fine-art style that Georgette finds unique.  

“Whether expressing creativity through painting, music, theatre, photography, dance, or poetry, the arts provide a platform for cultural expression,” she says. “The arts bring out the passion in people.”  

Finding art in the everyday 

The influence of the arts on Georgette’s life extends beyond family ties. By connecting quality analysis with artistic expression, she’s introduced a unique mindset to her team. 

“Being creative has helped me be more open-minded about decisions and embrace different ways of doing things,” she reflects.

“I try to nurture my creativity when developing training material for a support team that I lead each year.” 

Sheila Wofford: thinking outside the box 

Sheila Wofford, legal-privacy assistant

A legal-privacy assistant, Sheila knows what it means to bring creative ideas to the table. It’s a skill she’s honed over her 23-year career with BlueCross and one that plays a starring role in her other gig: acting and filmmaking.  

“Each year, the BlueCross Privacy team brainstorms ideas for Privacy Awareness Day,” Sheila says. “It’s a chance to be creative while we work together. We all share input on how to make a big impact on employees and create a fun, educational event.” 

Off the clock, Sheila stretches her skills as an actress, writer, director, producer and filmmaker, and even owns her own production company – Live to Inspire Productions

“My creative side has taught me how to work as a team with other people that wouldn’t normally be in my circle,” she says. “Depending on one another to get the job done is an incredible feeling.”  

‘A powerful force for social change’ 

Sheila caught the acting bug early. After school, you’d find her and her friends outside re-enacting episodes of favorite series like “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and “Fame.”  

“Watching ’70s TV shows inspired me to become an actress,” Sheila says. “And this creative passion has been part of my entire life.” 

Today, Sheila is part of creative communities in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and beyond. She’s appeared in “Meet the Browns,” “Doctor Who: The Forgotten Doctor,” “Homicide Hunters” and many other productions. She’s also written and directed two award-winning films (“Michael Valentine” and “Treasure”) and appeared in several stage productions at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.  

“Art plays a major role in the African American community and has been a powerful force for change,” Sheila says.  “My favorite stage play is ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ by Lorraine Hansberry. It’s about the resilience of a Black family in the 1950s and their struggles to follow their dreams at a time when people were not treated equally based on gender and race. They persevered brilliantly.” 

To her colleagues at BlueCross, Sheila shares offers a piece of creative advice. 

“Keep being your true, authentic selves,” she says. “We see you and appreciate your hard work.”

“Use your skills every day to make life better for your team and our members. Our creative minds think outside the box – don’t be afraid to share those ideas.” 

About Franca Afolabi, Corporate Communications Intern

A photo of the authorFranca is a recent graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with an MA in mass communication. She joined the BlueCross corporate communications team as an intern in the summer of 2023.

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