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Yesterday, January 20, 2020 marked the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday! Many of you had the day off of school, work, or other responsibilities. Whether you took a few moments or hours, I hope that you reflected, took action, or volunteered during this time. I hope that you will be inspired by the courageous, persistent and strong non-violent movement that Dr. King and so many before me gave their lives for.

In preparing for this blog post, I read through some of Dr. King’s interviews from the late 1950’s. Many things stood out to me, particularly the different ways that the black community and their allies pursued racial justice. In this blog series, I’d like to first take a look at their approach and encourage you to consider the ways that you are approaching issues of injustice. Then, I’d like to offer practical ways to remain hopeful, resilient, and emotionally healthy along the way. Please know that this short blog cannot possibly capture all of the teachings of the Civil Rights Movement; this is merely one counselors attempt to pay honor & respect.

Different Approaches for Pursuing Justice

Love & Nonviolence

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference advocated for a non-violent pursuit of integration (not just desegregation), equality, and the uplifting of the black identity. They were inspired by their Christian belief that love has the power to transform. Dr. King spent a great deal of time defining that love.

Black Power

Some pursued justice with a vigor that some perceived as more “militant” chanting the slogan “Black Power.” In his conversation with the 68th Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly from March 25, 1068, Dr. King highlights the strength of the Black Power movement. In it, the movement sought political and economic power within the black community. Furthermore it sought a:

Psychological pursuit of manhood

This is desperately needed in the black community, because for all too many years, black people have been ashamed of themselves. All too many black people have been ashamed of their heritage, and all too many have had a deep sense of inferiority. Something needed to take place to cause the black man not to be ashamed of himself, not to be ashamed of his color, (and) not to be ashamed of his heritage (Dr. King).

He notes that the black power pursuit of separation may, in part, be due to leadership power that was taken away from blacks once they integrated. It’s important to note that he ultimately felt that while separation for a time is helpful, integration with shared power is the goal.

Freedom of Exhaustion

Lastly, he spoke of those within the black community who were perceived by others as “apathetic.” He honored the difficulty that it was for some to take the same type of action he was taking. He acknowledged the threat to one’s life, livelihood, and insecurity/inferiority as a black person. He recognized that there were some who chose a, “freedom of exhaustion,” because they had to live under an oppressive system for so long. As a means of survival they adapted. From a psychological perspective, I see this as self-protective or a defense mechanism when certain situations are out of your control.

What Approach Are You Taking Today?

As we move now into a space of personal reflection, I want to pose a few questions for you to ponder on:

  • What values are influencing the way you pursue justice? Perhaps you identify with the Black Power movement or possibly continuing with a spirit of Love as a central component.
  • Does your approach leave space for anger, grief and love to be in the same space at the same time?
  • Does your approach include other people’s struggles for equality?
    How has your identity been shaped based on the color of your skin, educational status, class, gender, citizenship status, language that you speak, family or neighborhood that you grew up in? How might that be informing the approach that you are (or aren’t) taking?
  • Did you learn that you were more accepted if you blended in? Was your natural hair celebrated as a thing of beauty? What steps do you need to take to honor your heritage/culture/race/ancestors? Check out my blog posts that describe my own journey with my racial identity.  
  • Are you hiding from your identity, from your story? Lecrae, a Christian rapper, encourages everyone to not run from your identity, but towards acceptance so that you can be transformed. Check out this video of his.
  • Are you telling your story? One client reflected to me that history is captured in our “content.” Whether you are capturing your story in writing, on a social media platform, podcasts, or other creative mediums, your story matters. So tell it!
  • Would you like to take more action and aren’t sure how? Check out these podcasts and websites of groups that are making a difference:

Truth’s Table Podcast
Jude 3 Project Podcast
https://www.blacklivesmatterchicago.com/
https://www.naacp.org/

Are you weary or tired of the fight? Stay tuned for my next post that offers practical steps towards healing. If you’d like to have someone be present to hear your story, identify your narrative, and help you to feel empowered, it would be my honor to do so! Call today!

Written by therapist Pamela Larkin

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