Kevin Bracey, Environmental Services Supervisor at MSK Reflects on Black History Month
Each year during the month of February, our country takes time to intentionally highlight and celebrate people and events central to the history of the United States. Initially observed in 1926 as Negro History Week, Black History Month provides us the opportunity to honor the pivotal moments and accomplishments of African Americans and compels us to contribute continually to the advancement of humanity. Celebrating Black History Month helps us be mindful of sacrifices made and progress achieved. We are all called to recognize, remember and respond.
This year, the BLAM ERN is highlighting MSK staff and the personal significance that Black History Month has for each of them.
Meet Kevin Bracey, Environmental Services Supervisor at MSK 53rd Street. Despite working long hours on the night shift, Kevin never tires of giving out blankets or greeting the family members of patients.
From 7:00 pm to 3:00 am, Mr. Bracey supervises the Environmental Services staff at 53rd street, who clean and disinfect the public space, offices, restrooms, exam rooms, and chemo units. He says his hospitality skills developed in the hotel industry have translated well to MSK.
"Patients and their families like to see someone who cares, and I try to instill that sense of caring in our staff," he says. "It's not only our job to clean patients' rooms; it's also our job to be hospitable because they're going through a tough time."
Outside of work, Mr. Bracey is the President of the Epsilon Sigma Harlem Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., a predominantly African-American national fraternity. He also takes part in a range of community volunteer and mentorship efforts, including organizing food and toy drives, coordinating neighborhood cleanups in Harlem, reading to adults in community housing projects, participating in fundraiser walks such as Relay for Life and March of Dimes, and serving as a mentor through the National Sigma Beta Club, a youth auxiliary group of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
"It's rewarding because I like to expose kids to things that I had the opportunity to be exposed to," says Mr. Bracey. "It lets them know that there are people like them who excel and that they can achieve the same thing if they stay focused."
The importance of community service was instilled in Mr. Bracey in early childhood. While growing up in Flushing, Queens, he assisted his father in patrolling the community as part of a neighborhood watch group and did service work with the Flushing Boys Club. He attended the historically black college Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina and became president of the Northern Connection Club, which consisted of a group of students from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In the club, he and other East Coast students, including the actress Jada Pinkett Smith who attended the nearby North Carolina School of Arts, came together on weekends and brief holiday breaks while in-state students went home. They would do community service projects like campus and neighborhood cleanups, take bus trips back home for winter break, or drive each other around town. "Jada used to drive me to Burger King in a brown Dodge," Mr. Bracey says with a laugh.
In 1993, he moved back to New York and worked at boutique hotels. He later became Director of Housekeeping and Management for the Marriott Marquis on 45th Street and Seventh Avenue. In 2015, Mr. Bracey, Tineka Trotman and Garnett Brooks, who were both former Marriott Marquis hotel managers, all saw opportunities to work at MSK after their friend Danny Anderson left the Marriott for MSK in 2008. They all applied and were hired in Environmental Services at different sites within two months of each other. They have remained close and often chat after service training sessions.
The Meaning of Black History Month
For Mr. Bracey, Black History Month reminds him of the impact his father made in their community. It also marks a time to celebrate his family's Southern roots — in particular, his great aunt Mary McLeod Bethune, one of America's most important educators and civil and women's rights leaders. She is best known for opening a private school for African-American girls in Daytona, Florida, called the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. In 1923, the school merged with the all-male Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida, and later became the Bethune-Cookman University. Ms. Bethune was also appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
His advice to staff is to learn as much as possible while working at MSK. "It's good to network within your building because there could be other opportunities in the hospital," he says. "Find a mentor and learn from them."