Black History Month and the Center
“Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.” ― George Washington Carver
February 2021 – We are surrounded by reminders that February is Black History Month. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how communities of color have contributed to our understanding of what it means to be human so that we might maintain justice as a core value.
I begin my reflection with a favorite quote from George Washington Carver. Many know pieces of his inspirational story. I came to appreciate him and be inspired by his legacy through my many years working at Simpson College, which accepted him after his being rejected by other institutions because of the color of his skin. The above quote drives me and informs my understanding of leadership. My interpretation is that we have all received gifts from our maker and we have a responsibility to leave the world a little better than we found it.
On a micro level, what does that mean for the Center?
Our mission is to walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing, and to live a fulfilling life.
Note that we meet people where they are and that we walk alongside them through counseling and education as we explore together how one navigates the path to the fullness of life. There is an inherent mutuality in that exploration. It’s not as though our staff have it all together and we are kind enough to deign to help others. That feels like a whacky power dynamic. Instead, we walk together as we seek hope through a healing process that soothes the pain we all share. As our accrediting agency, the Solihten Institute, puts it, we do so as we “Respect, value, and affirm the sacred dignity of each person.”
Lots of big words in the above paragraphs. How does all that work as we commemorate Black History Month?
Looking at our world, nation and city, we recognize that there is much work to be done in order for all people to experience justice, hope, respect, dignity and healing. George Washington Carver understood that and made it his life’s work to go beyond the rhetoric and never be satisfied.
The tragic death of George Floyd in 2020 led to a seismic reaction that shook all levels of our culture. 8 minutes and 46 seconds became a symbol that cried out for us all to reflect on where we are with issues of race, what gifts are at our disposal for change, and to make something of it and never be satisfied.
The response of our staff was to set up a number of goals on how we might use our gifts to face the issues of diversity and inclusion which require our attention as an organization. Among the initiatives that have resulted from our efforts thus far:
- We received an outstanding training from Kayla Bell-Consolver, LMHC. She helped us to explore the roots and history of racism from a trauma-centered perspective. Her insights inform the work of our therapists as they work with clients from communities of color who may have suffered from such systemic trauma.
- Through some work with an outside consultant, Nate Harris, LISW, we began a process of exploration on the work we need to do in order to be more hospitable to communities of color at all levels of our organization.
- An immediate reaction to the training and consultation was to set up a diversity, equity and inclusion committee to keep these issues in front of us well beyond the crisis caused by the death of Georg Floyd and so many others.
- Billie Wade and Terri Speirs took the lead and set up a book club to help us explore the history of racism and how we might join in anti-racist efforts.
- Diversity has become one of the central objectives for our strategy as we face the future. What this means on a concrete level is that the people we serve align with the demographics of Central Iowa. There are too few places like us that provide services to as many as we can regardless of their ability to pay. In order to achieve this goal, we also need to diversify our board and staff so that the voices of communities of color are represented at all levels of our organization, particularly when it comes to decision-making. Please refer good candidates who are passionate about mental health as we work to achieve these goals.
Gratefully, this is not just the work of the Center, it is work we all have to do. We’re grateful for partners like NAMI, who advocate for such change in the area of mental health. NAMI provides a number of resources that might be helpful to others should you like to pass them along: https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Black-African-American.
We seek partnerships with other mental health organizations in order to achieve our lofty equity and inclusion goals. I am eager to have conversations with anyone who wants to walk with us in these efforts.
Black History Month reminds us that such work is impossible in isolation. It takes a community effort. As so many leaders in the Civil Right Movement remind us, this is also holy work dependent upon redemption that is beyond human effort. As another inspirational favorite of mine, Anne Lamott puts it in Traveling Mercies:
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
My hope is that this month will remind us that we have much work yet to do as we explore the path to hope and healing together and that grace continues to move us to the place where all will be satisfied. Thank you for all you do to make our work possible!
more from Jim’s blog: www.dmpcc.org/Jim