As psychotherapists, we often hear the term advocacy; taking action on behalf of our clients and disadvantaged populations. When we talk about advocacy, it is important to include the African American community to the list of populations needing support. Recently, the names of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner have become part of the collective conscience of America’s race dialogue. They, and many others, stand as examples of African Americans dying while in a conflict with the police. Did they do something wrong? Were they perceived as a threat? What really happened in these cases? Sometimes their accounts are captured on video. Other times, all we are left with is hearsay. No matter the circumstance, we are all reminded that oppression exists in our society. Oppression is defined as pervasive prejudice with power. Power is then used to limit or hinder access to societal rights from those identified lacking power (Sanders, 1999). If we agree that oppression exists, then we, as therapists, must strive to educate ourselves and others on these issues and start the hard conversations about racial oppression in America.
I recall the incident that spawned the #BlackLivesMatter campaign some 3 years ago. I still feel numb every time I hear the name Trayvon Martin or see his face in an article. As the mother of two young African American boys, I recognize that they could have been Trayvon. As a person of color, the last few years have been an unforgettable reminder about the prevalence of racism, oppression, and denial that permeates our society. As a nation, we are still not talking about these issues openly. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign has highlighted a critical nerve in the American narrative. It has inspired many to speak up for civil and human rights through local and citywide protests. As psychotherapists, we have a duty to keep this conversation relevant. We are taught how important it is to advocate for the underserved and this should be no different. If you are reading this and you’re asking yourself what you can do to advocate against racism and oppression here are a few resources to help you get involved:
Illinois African American Coalition For Prevention
ILAACP is a statewide, membership-based organization that strengthens prevention systems, policies, and programs in underserved communities through cultural-relevant research, training, and advocacy.
Black Lives Matter
Active and organized protests broadening the conversation around state violence to address basic human rights and dignity.
A Knock at Midnight
There mission is to uplift, empower, and change the conditions of the black communities of America. They are committed to family advocacy, teen outreach, workforce outreach, and computer literacy.
Boys & Girls Club of America
Provides a safe place for youth to have ongoing relationships with caring, adult professionals.
Kids Off The Block
Is a multi-service program that works with “at-risk” youth in Chicago, to create a positive environment where they can be creative and cultivate skills while celebrating their accomplishments.
This organization has an African American Male Initiative for 10 – 18 year olds, amongst other programs.
Hip Hop Detox
This organization helps cancel out the negative imaging constantly fed to urban youth through media and aggressive marketing campaigns.
Whether speaking with a client or colleague, make it a point to acknowledge issues of oppression or racism that may be present. It may sound obvious, but it’s not. Advocacy can ignite change. This work may bring up uncomfortable feelings on the topic, but these challenges work towards the greater good. If we don’t challenge ourselves to explore these issues, then we are not upholding ourselves as multiculturally competent counselors. Let’s continue the conversation.