A Letter from the Outgoing Chair: Fanning the Flames to Ignite a Brighter Future

January 20, 2021

Today, I watched the first woman and the first woman of color take the oath of office to lead the United States of America as Vice President. And as I joined millions of people across our nation who were celebrating this monumental achievement, I was reminded of what great things can be achieved when we have a vision for what the future can be and we act on it.

The Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity came together because of a shared vision, a desire to identify solutions to overcome obstacles and put the time and energy into action. In 2012, our founding members, Dr. Arameh Anvarizadeh, Dr. Cristina Reyes Smith, Stacy Wilson, D’Andre Holland, Nadine Kwebetchou and myself discussed the barriers to achieving equity in our profession. Our mutual respect for one another and passion for sharing the joy of occupation led us to develop a presentation about our pathways to occupational therapy at the 2013 AOTA Annual Conference. We shared our message about the value of diversity, the need for inclusion, and the urgency with which we must dismantle systems that oppress. We heard the voices of practitioners, students and educators eager to be involved and to learn more. We heard from students who felt isolated and practitioners who were not represented. Since then we have done everything we can to make sure we hear all of your voices, your ideas for making change, and the obstacles you have come up against throughout your occupational therapy experience.

COTAD’s mission has evolved over the years, and I am so proud of how far we have come, how much the organization has grown and the absolutely incredible efforts of our community. I am humbled to be a part of COTAD, and most of all, to have grown as a professional and a person alongside these incredible people. I am inspired by the honesty, passion, and genuine devotion to a brighter tomorrow that I have heard from our occupational therapy community. I am also continually driven to act when I see the myriad opportunities we must do better and do more to serve our students, our clients, and our communities.

Serving as the Chair for COTAD from our inception until 2020 has taught me many things about leadership, friendship, and hope. Most of all, I have learned that I only know what I know. No matter how much we learn and how much experience we have, we can’t ever know exactly what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Therefore, we must always do our best to build a table that has a spot open for others’ experiences and voices that we have not yet heard. We must always do our very best to treat everyone as valuable contributors and continue to listen in even in moments when we feel that we have already heard enough. It is a hard ask, to make the extra effort in the moments when you least want to, but it is this extra effort that will lead to meaningful, sustainable change. Everyone can be a leader for change, whether it is in a visible leadership position, or as a role model in your place of work or education. Leadership is not about having a powerful title – it is the ability to influence those around you. When you display kindness, empathy, or give an extra minute to listen to a voice that has been left out- you are a leader. The leaders I have had the honor to get to know, and call my COTAD family, are the ones leading and being this extra effort. Everyone in COTAD is a leader.

It is because of phenomenal leaders, mentors and friends that we have reached this momentous growth in COTAD. None of this would have been possible without the vision and inspiration from Dr. Cristina Reyes Smith. Cristina submitted our first abstract and provided me with the mentorship to continue COTAD’s work. As we continued to make progress, Stacy Wilson led the charge for publishing our efforts so the OT community could read about our work. Nadine Kwebetchou and Adam Pearson provided us with critical insight how to grow and establish our organization. Jordan Skowronski and Lauren Jones built the foundation of many of our initiatives. I cannot say thank you enough to these individuals, and the many others who have donated their time and expertise to COTAD over the years. It is now with absolute joy that I pass the torch on to Dr. Arameh Anvarizadeh as the incoming Chair to COTAD and Dr. Stephanie Lancaster as Vice-Chair.

Dr. Anvarizadeh has served as an incredible Vice-Chair and irreplaceable friend for many years, tirelessly advocating for COTAD at every opportunity and giving a voice to so many in our profession. Under Dr. Anvarizadeh’s leadership, COTAD Chapters evolved from an idea to a thriving nationwide, and nearly international, community of emerging student leaders. We are sure to see a cadre of occupational therapy providers that have been influenced by the exceptional mentorship that Dr. Anvarizadeh has provided in the years to come. Dr. Stephanie Lancaster has also been a critical part of COTAD for the past several years, helping develop our online presence and providing leadership and direction to all of our initiatives. Drs. Anvarizadeh and Lancaster are the energy behind the IGNITE! Series, which has provided a platform for so many important conversations this year. If you have not had the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend listening to the recordings available on our YouTube channel (or better yet, registering to attend the upcoming series!).

As I look towards the future, I am emboldened by the enthusiasm that we have seen in 2020 for delving into difficult conversations and I am reassured that this fire that has been ignited will not die out. Fires burn most brightly when many flames unite together. And so, it is with fervent optimism that I know we will meet the occupational needs of society through inclusive and equitable practice by driving policy, research and education in occupational therapy to deconstruct systems that have held us back and limited our ability to provide client centered care.

We’ve lit the flame, don’t let it go out.

Catherine R. Hoyt, PhD, OTD, OTR/L

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