The board of directors for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette (PPCW) recently elected small-business owner Sita Symonette as its new chair.
A practicing acupuncturist who owns Black Pearl Acupuncture, Symonette served as a board member since 2012 and as vice chair since 2015. She is the first Black woman to hold the position of board chair.
Symonette, who identifies as queer, earned a bachelor's degree in biological psychology from Western Washington University, before completing her master's degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine from Oregon College of Oriental Medicine.
Symonette spoke to The Skanner from her home in Vancouver, Wash., which she shares with her wife Lai-Lani and their seven-month old daughter.
The Skanner News: You’ve served on the Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette board since 2012. What made you initially want to join the board?
Sita Symonette: I’m a big supporter of women’s rights and equitable health care, and I think Planned Parenthood does a good job of making sure people from all walks of life can have accessible, affordable, high quality reproductive healthcare. And it’s not just reproductive care nowadays. We just started offering primary care in the form of wellness checks, as well as cancer screening services.
As the owner of Black Pearl Acupuncture, I wanted to represent alternative and whole body wellness care on the board. I also tend to have the honor of having a lot of communities of color seek me out – being a person of color who practices acupuncture – which is not that common in the Portland metro area. And I know it’s important for persons of color to be in places of leadership within healthcare services, so that’s why I wanted to join.
TSN: Does the current vulnerable state of federal healthcare in America concern you on the future of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette?
SS: I think health care is always changing and we’re in a time where health care is changing rapidly. I feel that in the Columbia Willamette area we are in a very lucky spot with a lot of support from our community. But the threat of defunding is something we don’t take lightly.
Our slogan is “Care No Matter What” and I think that is really true, whether you have commercial insurance or no insurance. So now, more than ever, it’s important that we keep our doors open. Depending on what happens on the federal level, our services are going to probably be needed more than ever.
TSN: How does Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette work to address disparities in racial and ethnically diverse communities?
SS: I think we are doing a better job, but there’s definitely still work for us to do to have stronger relationships with communities of color. One of the areas I work with, in particular, is equity and inclusion.
We have gone from having three board members (out of 19) being people of color, to almost half our board.
They represent the Native American, Latino, Black, Asian and LGBTQ communities. So that was the part I thought was important – making sure that more of the communities we serve have a voice on the board and have access to those services.
Since I’ve been on the board I created and hired for the position of Director of Equity and Inclusion, which Sirius Bonner currently holds.
TSN: During your tenure on the board, Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette has made strides in increasing equity and inclusion, as you mentioned, as well as providing transgender hormone provision at select health centers. What do you see as your major focus areas in your new role moving forward?
SS: As board chair, the focus area is the whole organization, and that’s a lot of moving parts. One of the areas that we’re really excited about is telemedicine, which we just launched. So we’re going to be able to better meet the needs of people in rural and coastal areas that we haven’t been able to access in the past. That’s also part of our equity and inclusive work, making sure we can bring services to those areas.
As well, continuing to make sure that equity, inclusion and diversity are integrated into who we are – and not just something that we do. I think the team at PPCW is really working hard to make sure that that happens. Also, providing transgender care at our health centers in Northeast Portland and Salem is amazing and it shows again that we’re walking the walk of inclusion to reach the people we need to care for.