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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma employee Valinda Jones

Employee Spotlight: Trailblazer Valinda Jones Reflects on the Meaning of Juneteenth

Valinda Jones didn’t set out to be a trailblazer, but it's a title that has been bestowed upon her.

Jones has been with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma for more than a decade. As a senior manager of clinical operations, Jones describes her responsibilities as “making sure the nursing staff has the tools they need to do their jobs and processes are in place to support the needs of our members."

After her promotion to a management role, Jones was told she was the first Black nursing manager for BCBSOK. Prior to joining the team, Jones had the same distinction at a long-established hospital in Tulsa. 

For Jones, those distinctions are somewhat bittersweet.

“It’s been a lot of firsts,” she says. “On one hand, it’s an honor to be in this role and represent not just nursing, but African Americans in nursing. But it’s a little disappointing there haven’t been other ones before me.”

Jones, also a founding member of the Eastern Oklahoma Black Nurses Association, adds, “It’s good to see people in roles who look like you. I think it gives people the knowledge. I love developing nurses of any color. If they go into leadership roles, I like to help them with that.”

Jones comes from a lineage of trailblazers. Her father was one of the first Black police officers in Oklahoma City. Her mother was a teacher when Oklahoma City schools were integrated in the early 1970s.

Jones and her family have also faced racial inequities and discrimination, particularly involving voting. Jones says the first time her father went to vote, he was asked to pay a fee. Her grandfather was once asked to accurately guess how many beans were in a jar to vote, a nearly impossible task.

Given her background, Jones recognizes the historical significance of Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19. The holiday commemorates the arrival of Union soldiers June 19, 1865, at Galveston Bay, Texas. They declared more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Referred to by many as our nation’s second independence day, Juneteenth did not become a federal holiday until 2021. Jones says while many are still unfamiliar with the event, it is important for people to educate themselves about Juneteenth.

“What’s important is for people to understand Juneteenth is a celebration, but it also marks a time in our history that created a lot of sorrow for a lot of people,” she says. “What I talk to the people about is can you imagine the joy when they first learned they were no longer somebody else’s property? But even when they were free, there were a lot of hard times because they were on their own, they had no money and many of them were trying to reconnect with family because they had been separated for many years.”

BCBSOK was the wellness sponsor of the Tulsa Juneteenth celebration, one of the largest such observances in the United States. Jones says she is proud of her company’s involvement in the event.

“I love working for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma,” she says. “One of the reasons is because our employees are so active in the community and, as a company, we’re very supportive of organizations and events. I think that willingness to support entities is important as an insurance company that we’re willing to support everyone in our community.”

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association