Planting the Seeds of Hope: My Advocacy Interview with a Black Lives Matter Activist

ows_144002532180502.jpgThis was my assignment for a class I just wrapped up last weekend. Thought these amazing answers were worthy of my sharing with the interviewee’s permission:

ADVOCACY INTERVIEW PAPER

Reflections on Advocacy from the Interview

Back on November 28th, 2015, I wrote the following reflections on my blog, “A Daring Existence:”

“Two things have happened in the last few weeks and after watching this video I definitely would agree that: 1) Trump, his rhetoric, and the mass amount of support he gets from conservatives prove that this is not a post-racial society and that racism, while maybe not as institutionalized as in days gone by, is nonetheless very, very present in our society.

And 2) ‘All Lives Matter’ is nothing but a masquerade to hide the ugly face of what number 1 (above) has revealed: racism, xenophobia, and dehumanization. This has been shown by the massive number of people who refuse to accept refugees into our country based solely on false information, misguided and engineered political rhetoric from the far Right, and above all, manufactured emotions from the perpetual emotion machine that is the media designed solely to instill fear and hatred.

Trump’s rhetoric is racist, hateful, xenophobic, and dangerous. It has revealed that the structures in place within our society are inherently still racist, and that racism still has deep roots within our society. Sure, we may not be lynching African Americans or what have you, but if you sincerely believe American is “post racial” then you are sadly and poorly very mistaken.”

If Whites are truly honest with ourselves, especially those of us in the mental health field then there is no way we could excuse the current political rhetoric and divisiveness as not revealing that we are indeed still a country struggling with the ghosts of our past concerning the treatment of African Americans.  If we are truly honest with ourselves we will see that our country and culture, despite making progress, is still not post-racial nor have we done the hard, vulnerable work required to have tough conversations about racism, white fragility, privilege, and systemic racism and oppression.

For my Advocacy Interview, I decided to interview an African American young lady named Michelle Horton who is an activist with Black Lives Matter, and who could offer keen insight into what it means to advocate as a young black woman, what means BLM uses that are pro-active to advocate for their cause, how BLM can address mental and emotional health, the primary concerns needing advocating for within the black community, what can non-black people do to help our brothers and sisters in black communities, what can mental health professionals do to help, and what are some barriers and social issues that oppose and oppress the black community.

Michelle reflected that “Being an advocate for an organization like BLM means to me what it meant to young black men and women joining the movements of generations before…. It also means to be involved.  And to be involved means that you care, that you have a passionate drive for a needed change” (Horton, 2016).  Michelle states clearly what advocacy really means, which is to promote change, growth, progress, and improvement of lives for an individual or group of individuals.  For me, in my more assertive, loud, zealous, and passionate inclinations, advocacy has always centered around the act, and art, of speaking out against injustice.  My dear brother, Dr. Cornel West, once said, “Justice is what love looks like in public!” Advocating, per the ACA Code of Ethics is speaking out for and taking just action “to improve the provision of services and to work toward removal of systemic barriers or obstacles that inhibit client access, growth, and development” (ACA, 2014).

Michelle had a great metaphor for how she sees being an advocate for BLM.  She wrote, “My advocacy for BLM is to plant seeds of a hope tree that I will never see. A post-racial America will not happen in my lifetime. But I will do all I can to ensure that it will happen for a future generation” (Horton, 2016).  Advocacy is the planting of the seeds of hope!  It is hope that we believe in as counselors that allows us to help clients and populations with the issues they face.  It is hope that allows us to long for and see progress with clients and populations.  It is hope that helps us believe our clients and populations will overcome.  It is hope that allows us come together as one people for one another and the betterment of life here in our country.  It is hope that helps us transform our societies.  It is hope that brings us to unite our voices together to speak out against and rectify injustice in our culture.  It is hope that allows counselors to care for and share empathy with the plight of those who are mistreated, oppressed, lack resources, and are pushed to the margins of our society due to racism, xenophobia, homophobia, heterosexism, sexism, and ignorance. Finally, it is hope that causes us to see, speak against, advocate for, and take action for those who are marginalized and oppressed.

The Interview

Answers for Advocacy Questions from Black Lives Matter activist and friend Michelle:

1) Q: What does being an advocate mean to you as a young African American Woman?

A: Being an advocate for an organization like BLM means to me what it meant to young black men and women joining the movements of generations before. It is exciting to be a part of something that charges and shakes society. It will be one of many things I can tell my future children and grandchildren, so that they too will want to be involved with changing society. It also means to be involved.  And to be involved means that you care, that you have a passionate drive for a needed change. That the norm of society is no longer acceptable and it should change to fit the “new” society.

2) Q: What are some means of advocacy you feel are vital and pro-active for the BLM movement?

A: I believe that even though often we view things differently between generations, it is important to look to our elders for guidance. We need their support more than anything because they have been through what we are going through. They had many different struggles, but they also overcame those struggles. We need the older generations to support us, so that we may seek their guidance and apply it to the adversity we face now.

For example: Dr. King’s last speech informed us that we need to use our money to fight back. If he were alive today, who would he advise us to boycott? But we still have the older generations that took part in the civil rights movement that can give us insight on what they did and how we can do the same thing… With our own little spin of course.

We also need support from other groups of diversity. (LGBTQ, other races, the religious organizations that we affiliate ourselves with like the Christian and Muslim communities.) It’s almost like saying majority rules. If we all join one side, then change will come. But if we are the only ones talking about injustice then society will see it as “they’re just crying wolf.” Or “Racism doesn’t exist anymore. They should get over slavery.” When society as a whole refuses to recognize there is a problem it will make this battle harder to win and overcome.

3) Q: As far as access to mental health resources goes, do you feel that is something African Americans and the BLM movement could speak to and address?

A: Black people as a whole are in a constant state of PTSD. I say this because the cries of our ancestors are STILL very loud in our ears. There has never been a national apology for the genocide, rape, and total dehumanization of our people. In some ways black people still face these issues.

There is so much mental illness in just my family that it is impossible to believe that it doesn’t occur in others of my race. And to some extent I blame it on the “black struggle.” Mental health/emotional healing is very important to this movement.  We need to be able to release the anger and sadness from our struggle.  And we need to be able to do it without violence. If we had access to mental health professionals who aren’t out to sustain our groans with medication we don’t need, but to actually treat us, I firmly believe it would help. But who can we trust? That is the bigger question.

4) Q: What are your top concerns within the African American community that need more advocating?

A: The most important issue we face is division. For some reason it is harder to get black people to support one another. There is always something dividing us. Like gender, colorism, consciousness, religion, sexual orientation and even down to having naturally kinked hair or chemically processed hair. This takes a huge toll on the movement, because these things keep us from focusing on the ONE agenda which is to change the societal view of Black people from dangerous animals to human beings with feelings just like everybody else in the world. If we had more people aware of what divides us, then we can focus on closing the divisions and start showing love and trust for one another.

Another deep concern of mine personally is the “church.” You hear more Pastors speaking against BLM than agreeing with it. That too causes a strong divide. Most leaders in the black community are Pastors and Ministers. And it almost seems backwards because one of the greatest advocates for the civil rights era was the church. The sermons were mostly about the trials and tribulations that black people face on a day to day basis. They wanted to be involved because their freedom of religion was being stripped from them. Their buildings were being burned down and bombed. But now, it seems almost impossible to get churches involved in the BLM movement.

I personally have a strong distaste for these kinds of leaders because they should be using their influence for the benefit of change for black people in this country. But they refuse to get on board. And some don’t want to be involved because of fear of retaliation from the government possibly. I haven’t confirmed that with any Pastors. Not even my own. But fear of retaliation has kept the black community bound before. I don’t see why it would be any different now.

5) Q: What are some things that non-African American people can do to help with the drastic issues faced by the African American community via advocacy?

A: The one thing that is most important to have from outside parties is their support. Their words stating that they agree. That they see what is happening to us, and they agree that it should be changed. Just agree that society is wrong for the way it treats black people. And speak out against it. Tell the world that it’s wrong to say “All lives matter” then turn your face away from blatant racism. To say “all lives matter” and blame a black man for carrying an illegal weapon that was found AFTER he was shot. Tell the world that it’s wrong to execute civilians on the street and refusing them to their day in court. Show the world that it’s not just us that sees the difference in treatment, and that you refuse to be a part of hiding it. Tell the truth, that you see our struggle and stand WITH us. That’s really all. If you see racism, then say something. Expose it. By doing this simple task, you show us that we aren’t alone.

6) Q:  How could professionals in the mental health field be of service to and partnered with BLM and our African American brothers and sisters?

A: I personally am not big on pharmaceutical companies because they are just out to make bank. And I don’t trust medicine where the side effects that could happen sound worse than the actual illness. But as someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety without the proper medication or counseling, I see how unfocused it can make a person.

I do believe that if there were people in the mental health professions that would volunteer to advise us of what options we have, that would be most helpful. Some people don’t seek treatment because they are unaware of the many options they actually have. And others don’t see help because they can’t afford the help. So volunteer counseling would be best. If only just to give advice on how to get help, or what specialist to see and how we could afford it.

 

As far as a partnership it would be hard to seek help from people who have their own agenda. But the more people stand with us the better. But if they were willing to aide us in not just our movement, but also behind the scenes, I wouldn’t see anything wrong with giving a review that would help their business. These days, nothing is free. We have to scratch each other’s butts sometimes.

7) Q: The ACA Code of Ethics, which guides those in the counseling profession, states in A.7.a., “When appropriate, counselors advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients?” What do you feel, at the individual and larger, societal level are some barriers or obstacles that inhibit access and the growth/development of those in the African American community?

A: This question can be answered in many ways.

Individually, a black child; whether male or female; needs more than one positive role model. Most black families are broken, and dysfunctional. Sometimes it’s a single parent home and that parent is so busy working to pay special attention to the child’s aspirations and interests. Other times it is an abusive situation. Children are often sexually abused by the parent/parents, or the single parent’s significant other, older siblings, baby sitters, or even other visiting/live-in relatives. There is also a big issue in the black community with physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. Some parents are drug and alcohol addicts. These issues and many more can make the experiences a black child has outside of home better than those in the home. These individuals need an older person who has no agenda other than to help, guide, and show love to them.

Positive role models or mentors would send positive vibes, they would speak to the good in the child, maybe even change the way they view themselves. That would give them better self esteem which is always positive. The only problem with this is most people are so selfish these days. We don’t have enough dedication for the much needed mentor programs.

On a larger scale, the list is endless. Aside from what is dished out to us by the government, there are issues within the black community that hold us back. I would more so like to discuss those issues, because the governmental issues are obvious.

One of these barriers is ignorance to how we can benefit from getting knowledge of black economics. A popular discussion among the conscious brethren is the Greenwood district in Tulsa Oklahoma. What is more popularly known as the “black wallstreet.”  The story goes that there was a mass migration into the west after the reconstruction era, and many blacks came to Tulsa Oklahoma for working opportunities. Because of segregation it put them in a separate side of town. Segregation also meant that there were certain places these people couldn’t patronize, and with the necessity to eat, bank, and have doctors, they set these things up in their own community. Greenwood had several businesses that supplied all the needs of the people in the area. A black dollar would circulate an average of 26 times before it was spent in another area. So because of segregation they were forced to buy black, which turned their little community into a middle class community. But as the story goes greenwood was burned to the ground by a bunch of angry white dudes over an accusation of a black man sexually assaulting a white woman.

I think there is plenty that the black community could learn from the existence of a thriving black community during such hard times. While I believe that segregation is a step back, I see nothing wrong with investing in black business. But once again being unfocused and uneducated strikes again. But what has shifted our focus? What changed our values? I blame rap and pop culture.

Reality tv has ruined us. All you see on BET is black people who are rich and blowing their money on nonsense. You never see their positive investments. Just the flashy and frivolous. Rap music stopped being about “fighting the power” and it changed to sending a message of having money bringing you a carefree life. And when all you have is a struggle, you will look at all these guys have and think it solves all your problems. And so what do we do during tax time. We blow it. We blow it because the rap artist got rich rapping about drugs, sex, and money, and because he’s rich he must know what stuff has value. And so we see value in what the celebrities have. Instead of saving our money and investing it to make more money, we take our $1000-$3000 tax return and get useless junk so we can look like the celebrities on tv.

Some blacks have no concept of a good investment. Or what savings even means. We often live paycheck to paycheck because we have to pass off this persona that we have it all together. That we have money to just spend and can live life to the fullest. Our values are placed in all the wrong things. But I can also blame the lack of good jobs in our communities.  Support of black owned business is also lacking. Most black owned businesses are online, but also we have the ma and pop grocery stores that are right inside our neighborhoods that we refuse to patronize not realizing the more we patronize their business the more the business can give back to the community. Meaning there would be a chance for jobs. These people are more likely to hire their own kind because not only do they know their struggle, but they also know them enough to trust that they will be faithful hard workers.

Another issue we face in the black community is the lack of faith in education. Schools that are in urban inner city areas suffer financially because of the lack of state and federal funding for these schools. Unfortunately, these schools are predominantly black. And because of the lack of funds the school district suffers. When they suffer the school administration suffers, as well as the teachers suffer.  But the students suffer the most. They won’t get the proper education they need to be accepted into the universities that surround them, which forces them into the robotic black struggle, living life just like the generations before. Poor, uneducated, and black.

There are many other barriers like the ones I mentioned. But they all only lead to a deeper problem in the black community. These barriers generate poverty, rape, gangs, violence, drug and alcohol addiction, lifetime prison sentences, teen pregnancies, welfare stereotypes, police brutality, and above all, death at far too young of age.

Conclusion

Closing remarks- just to give you insight that you may want to include in your paper.

Answering this last question was very painful and eye opening. The black experience is something so real yet it goes unnoticed. For so long our elders have been trying to open our eyes, but we ignore their signs.

But even me, in my somewhat privileged life, I wasn’t exempt from the harsh reality of being a black woman. What I will tell you about my life experiences will only give you a deeper insight as to why I have no choice but to be involved with a societal change.

I grew up in Watauga county, NC. My older sister and I were the ONLY black students in a k-8 school of 800 in the student body. Not to mention there most certainly weren’t any black teachers. Since my sister was 2 ½ years my senior we were separated by grade. So she was the only black student in her class, as I was the only one in mine and it was very hard for me to make friends. My early experiences with a teacher that was mildly, verbally abusive; lead to insecurity that I still faced into adulthood. But even with those experiences of learning that I was inferior to other students, I still thought we lived in a post racial America. It wasn’t until other students started doing racist things to my sister and I that I started to think otherwise.

One morning on the bus ride to school, my sister and I got on the bus and the kids in the back raise a rebel flag. They continued to raise it several times on the way to school. When we got there the bus driver took us to the assistant principal’s office where he made a report of the event. Then our parents were called.  Those boys only got 3 days of in-school suspension each. I was terrified to ride the bus for weeks after that.

My sister and I were the only blacks until a brief period during her 6th grade year. A set of black twin boys came to Parkway. I was told that someone put a noose on one of their desks. By the time I reached 9th grade I had seen enough racism to know better. I got into a fist fight with a boy who kept calling my friends racial slurs. In the end, I was in ISS for 3 days.

M+y father was disappointed in me for retaliating violently. We were always expected to keep calm. “Don’t retaliate” is what they always told us. I started to ask “Why shouldn’t we?” Black people have always been under constant attack in this country, from its origin right up until this very second. So why should we tell our children not to retaliate. Why should we tell them to be peaceful, to handle things without being violent? Aren’t they just as angry and bitter as we are? Being peaceful should NEVER mean to be silent. Not retaliating by just ducking our heads is no longer an option. Look at where ducking our heads has gotten us. Two racists are running for office. One blatant, the other subliminal. We do NOT live in a post racial America. It never has been. But I can’t bring a child into this world thinking that it never will be. I have to hold on to some form of hope that the world can change. And I refuse to die laying down. I need to give hope to my future children, that they could see change in their lifetime.

My advocacy for BLM is to plant seeds of a hope tree that I will never see. A post racial America will not happen in my lifetime. But I will do all I can to ensure that it will happen for a future generation.

 

Articles

  • “According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.” – African American Mental Health
  • “Despite progress made over the years, racism continues to have an impact on the mental health of Black/African Americans. Negative stereotypes and attitudes of rejection have decreased, but continue to occur with measurable, adverse consequences. Historical and contemporary instances of negative treatment have led to a mistrust of authorities, many of whom are not seen as having the best interests of Black/African Americans in mind.” – Black & African American Communities and Mental Health

 

SOURCES

 

African American Mental Health. (2016, August 12). Retrieved August 12, 2016, from http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-Americans

 

American Counseling Association (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Anderson, J. (2015, November 28). Are We a Post-racial Society? (Mini-Blog #13). Retrieved August 12, 2016, from https://thedaringadventurelife.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/are-we-a-post-racial-society-mini-blog-13-2/

 

Black & African American Communities and Mental Health. (2016, August 12). Retrieved August 12, 2016, from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/african-american-mental-health

 

 

 

 

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