010: Tasha Blackmon

Aug 17, 2020

Tasha Blackmon

Tasha Blackmon, President/CEO of Cherry Health, is a dynamic leader bringing her experience to ensure patients in her own community receive the highest quality of care. She has knack for remodeling and still holds a high school track record. We share this inspiring conversation with Tasha on WGVU's Powerful Women Let's Talk.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support local programs like Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:

>> Produced by women about women powerful women, let's talk is a series of interviews with women who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live.

>> I’m Shelley Irwin. Today's powerful woman Tasha Blackmon is a dynamic leader bringing more than 20 years of business operations experience to ensure patients in her own community receive the highest quality of care. … president and CEO of cherry health , Michigan's largest federally qualified Health Center has her leading numerous development projects like skilled renovations and expansion projects but don't worry we will talk about her avocation as well her spare time hobbies so welcome to powerful women, let's talk Tasha Blackmon. Hi Tasha!


>> Hello Shelley, I'm so happy to be here.

>>I’m going to go straight to the avocation part, what's a hobby of yours?

>>You know probably my most exciting hobby is home improvement.

>>We’ll get to that because your favorite dessert is your mother's homemade caramel cake so I trust you often eat dessert first.

>>Oh my gosh you know, sometimes I only eat dessert.

>>Alright let’s get to the vocation part. Congratulations on your success thus far. Grand Rapids born and raised now leading, giving back to Grand Rapids. So what has been the career journey of Tasha Blackman?


>>You know it’s interesting, I started off at Michigan State University as a premed major and that was primarily because of my parents, teachers they all said “you know you’re really great at science, so you should be a doctor”. So I kinda headed down that trajectory and then realized after a shadowing experience with a physician, that I really wasn't interested in being an doctor so I took some time off of school and started to explore my own passion.


That is when I realize that business was  kind of the area that I wanted to to move into and I thought that I would honor the education that my parents helped me to achieve with my you know intuitive business sense and that's how health care administration happened.

So my my first job out of college ,I was there for 10 years.

I moved up in that particular job until a chance meeting with Chris Shea the former executive director of Cherry Health and learned all of the great things that the organization was doing at the time and could not believe that there was an organization like that in my own community.

So I wanted to hear more, learn how I could become involved ,started off as a donor and donating to the organization and 6 positions later here, I am.

>> 6 positions later.

>>And you work with doctors so that's good as well.


>>Tasha how to lead…How do you lead?

>>You know, I am a servant leader I put the needs of the staff and the patients before my own I lead with passion, I lead by example, I would say I also lead with love and hope as guiding forces for me and I'm one of those people I am hopeful I always see the glass as half-full always that's my perspective on life in general, so I would say that there's a a tinge of transformational leadership in me,


where you know, of course I want to motivate and inspire the staff to innovate and inspire staff to reach their fullest potential, but I would say my dominant leadership style is that I'm a servant leader.

>> Finding your own voice, how do we find our own voice?


>> You know finding your own voice it takes trial and error, it takes experience.

It takes wise counsel from people you trust, it takes being self-aware and self-awareness  is not an easy thing I think most people believe that they are self-aware but they're really not. So I think about emotional intelligence when it comes to that it, self-acceptance ,accepting who you are in knowing that you are enough and I would say it also takes courage.

It takes courage to own your own voice.

When you are on a journey of becoming your authentic self I think it's much easier to engender confidence in those situations so and and I think it it helps you to own your own voice over time, but I think that most people grow into their own voice maybe have to make a couple mistakes to get there, but ultimately I think all of us continue to to evolve in that space.

I don't think you ever kind of get there because my hope is that your voice changes and evolves over time.

>>Let's bring community into our conversation where does community play its role professionally and then personally with you?

>>Oh yes, so from a professional standpoint, the community has been fiercely supportive of Cherry health not just during COVID but but before COVID as well and they understand that the services we provide impact over 80% of the population in Grand Rapids.

So we serve 80% of the low-income individuals in the community and I think that the work that we've been able to do as an independent organization sets the stage for our patients not having severe complications from COVID and what I mean by that is so many of our patients face chronic diseases like diabetes hypertension, you name it they experience it.

But our team works so diligently to stabilize individuals in their chronic diseases so that if they are impacted by COVID they're not  dying from COVID and in fact the rate of death in our community with historically marginalized populations underserved populations is so much lower than many of the other communities and I attribute it to the care that organizations like cherry health provide folks but I also have been able to see the collaborative spirit in this community shine during COVID that I mean we have come together, everyone has put their

personal agendas aside and i think that we all just want to care for our community in the best way possible, I feel that in in some ways we reached an ideal community collective during COVID I really do I mean just the impact that we've been able to together from the city to the county to the hospital systems.

I just I think it's been an amazing display of teamwork.

>>You're only human, how do you get away? How do you get away from it all or do you?

>>You know I because my passion for serving the underserved really is in alignment with my personal values, the lines are blurred you know, you know what I mean so although I don't necessarily get away from it what I would say is the job  is really not a burden , I mean it's a it's a passion of mine. So I welcome the visits to the grocery store run into someone who is a patient or somebody who knows a patient.

So I think that my life is embraced by folks that have received help at cherry health and I again I welcome it and love it, I would say in addition to that that I probably could do a better job with self-care the way I take care of myself ,out of the way.

I fill myself up and I fill my heart up, by caring for others that's just who I am so that is part of my self-care.

>>And that homemade caramel cake.

>> Yes, yes, yes, yes.

>>Now let me go back to this hobby that you mentioned.


>>Is remodeling a kitchen on your own and I quote you “it’s the best-selling point of the home”, are you up for hire?

>> You know, it's it's funny when you’re in a high stress job when you're in in a job that requires you to be thinking vertically, laterally all over the place to be able to focus your efforts in one area is refreshing so it was funny, my best friend who was also my real estate broker at the time you know she kind of came through the home did a diagnostic and said these are some of things you really need to address in the home and I said well I think I can do the kitchen, myself I watched videos I’m sure I can do it.

And what was funny was , so over the next 4 weeks, I'm working on the kitchen, right, she's calling me she lives in the Detroit area and she finally comes to the House she's with her husband and she says just be nice as we're walking into the House because I'm sure he's going to have to redo everything she just you know did  and she walks in the House and I think her jaw hit the floor, I mean I think that I am a student, I’m a perpetual learner and um I just watched videos and did what I saw so yeah, the it was the best selling point of our home.

>>Nice, I’m sure it sold on the first visit. Who inspired, who inspires you and why is it important to find a role model?

>> You know I would say that my parents inspire me my parents were teenage parents and they had such high hopes and dreams for all of their children so you know when I see our patients at cherry health I really see my parents in their eyes, so it really fuels my passion to make sure that they have the best care possible.

So I would say I am inspired by my my my parents and generally by under dogs, people that you discount I’m a person that loves when an underdog wins, you know because

I just have hope that you know everybody has something good inside of them and part of my my goal as a leader  as a mentor to other young women is to pull that out of people to help them realize their greatness because there are times when you know we as women, even, you might see greatness and you say wow that person is awesome but how often do we actually say to the person you are amazing and these are some of the characteristics that I think will carry you far.

and then have a substantive conversation with them about where some of the areas from a professional standpoint that you want to work on and then help them to to build those skills so have been fortunate enough to really support young women and young men in our community in building the skills that they need to be great leaders.

>> Let me take you back to high school a skill that you had or have, you the track record of Ottawa Hills High School, the 3rd leg of a relay so we're going jogging today my friend.

>> We should do that sometime. You know what was interesting about that is I was never a great athlete.

So I was not excited about track and field, I was a cheerleader and our cheerleading coach basically said hey if you're going to be a cheerleader you need to remain active all year round and I think on the one hand he kept us fit on the other hand I think he kept us out of trouble so that was her requirement and I think that for me it was an issue a sheer will and determination

that got me to the place where I was on kind of like the star track team and you know had performed well, but I would not even at that point had describe myself as an athlete it’s that sheer will and determination that I think has carried me throughout my life really.

>>Tasha, how do we move forward when everyone is telling us our idea won't work?

>>You know, that's interesting that you would ask that question because during the pandemic there was a lot of that right, you know it it was an unsettling time you didn't know what the next hour let alone the next day was going to bring so I think when you're in a situation where everyone is telling you that your idea won't work the first thing you need to do is seek to understand understand from their perspective why the idea won't work.


I think that that is the first step to do because maybe there's a blind spot that you're missing so I always invite my team, hey are we missing something I think that the other piece is once we determine whether a missing something let's say they still are not in agreement, I then shift the question to what can we do to make this work. so often times shifting the conversation to what can be done, what barriers need to be removed for this to work.

It really ignites innovation ignites ,you , new ideas, it also ignites a level of tension that produces in my opinion, the best product, you know, so I think some of our ideas that we've come up with at cherry health we’re an , by the way for federally qualified health centers across the state and across the country, some of our best ideas have come out of situations where we didn't agree initially

>>What's an ideal Saturday with your family?

>>You know an ideal Saturday with the family would be going out to dinner in COVID times you know obviously you're not doing that might be a picnic outside with the kids or it might be something as simple as sitting around our kitchen Island talking about the latest pop culture, you know video or maybe watching them do Tik Tok or you know just talking about what their future plans are so really just spending time enjoying the family I also love HGTV so.

>> Oh, okay.

>>You know it goes back to that home improvement bug that I have it so my husband and I you know will at HGTV or I'm really embarrassed to say this when I could be on family feud so I think we graduated to that age group where you watch game shows from time to time so again thoughtless entertainment sometimes I need that.

>> Let us know when the Blackmon family is on, speaking of families surviving thank goodness.. a cyclone while honeymooning in Fiji and more trauma ,stranded on a small boat were you with your best friend J!

>>Yes, amazing, so we've had some adventures.

I've been fortunate to be able to travel quite extensively and  the situation where we were stuck on a small boat in Turks and Caicos we were actually rescued by the vice premier which would be equivalent to the vice president rescuing us which was an experience in of itself I’ll save that for a later time, but  great great experience and then with the Cyclone that my husband and I were in we we got off the plane and the rental car,

agents said hey did the pilot on the plane say anything to you as you were getting off the plane and we were like welcomed to Fiji , nothing else other than that .. you could see this was at middle of the day and you can see that it just became dark and she said a cyclone is supposed to hit within the next 24 hours.

So we had a wonderful dinner that night, called our family tell them how much we love them enjoyed our evening together went to sleep peacefully.

I mean very peacefully because I believe that.

>>That was your honeymoon there, Tasha.

>>There ya go, but I believe that hey whatever is going to happen is going to happen and the we woke up the next morning to sunshine.

>>Would you share a motto or recommendation of a good book?

>>Absolutely civil living in two communities.

The practices that sustain in us by Christine poll is a book that I would recommend it does come from a faith based perspective so that's important share, but it is full of just eloquent beautiful one-liners that resonate with me so well, one of the quotes that she says in the book is something along the lines of “living in as light makes us so that we never have to be afraid of the unknown” so I, when people have asked me are you fearful of COVID? I've never experienced fear, not even one time I had never been fearful this entire time I feel that we are called as medical practitioners to serve the underserved and you know I think that the courageous efforts of the team just made it so that I was never afraid I was always hopeful, I'll put it that way so when you live in as light you never have to fear the unknown.

>>Thanks to you.

President CEO Cherry Health Tasha Blackmon. And thank you for listening to this edition powerful women, let's talk I’m Shelley Irwin.

>>Thank you.

>> Produced by women about women, these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live want to hear more powerful women, let's talk get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts please rate and subscribe powerful women, let's talk is produced by WGVU you at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.