I was half a world away, literally, when nine innocent people were gunned down and killed during their Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. As part of the planning team for the ACA-Asia Pacific Counseling Conference, I was in Singapore on that dark day in June. But, with the Internet and social media being what they are, I was as horrified as many others by what I read and watched in the hours and days that followed.
The following individuals had their lives taken by a young man whom they had welcomed into their Bible study: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. They ranged in age from 26 to 87. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old shooter, later said that he almost didn’t go through with his plan because everyone at the Bible study had been so nice to him.
Among the victims were a state senator, a librarian, a speech therapist, members of the clergy and one of our own — Myra Thompson, who had worked as a professional school counselor.
I call attention to their names, just as I would ask you to remember four other names: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. These four girls, ages 11 to 14, were the victims of another race-based hate crime, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, which took place 52 years ago, on Sept. 15.
I ask you to remember all of these victims, not to generate outrage but to encourage us to redouble our efforts to do whatever we can to improve our communities. Everyone, in his or her own way, both personally and professionally, can have a profound effect on the way our society will evolve.
Professional counselors are at the epicenter of helping others to heal through the good work that all of you do, each and every day, with millions of adults, adolescents, families, couples and children. I am honored to work for an organization that represents more than 56,000 caring people who are also such dedicated helping professionals. When we think about the horror of what happened earlier this summer in Charleston or back to events such as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, it can put us into the mind frame of “what’s the difference?” But I encourage you to think, “How can I make a difference?”
Being the best possible professional counselor or counselor educator you can be requires a great deal of time, dedication, practice and experience. Although ACA doesn’t possess all the answers, we do have some resources, and I hope you will let me know what else we can do on your behalf. In addition, engage with your colleagues through ACA Connect or as part of an ACA division or interest network.
Professional counseling can be the linchpin in efforts to avert senseless tragedies, just as it can help people work toward a more open, just, caring and respectful society. Working with diverse populations in an increasingly multicultural and cross-cultural society is bound to present challenges. But listening to, caring for and facilitating greater understanding among groups is a wonderful start. When I think about the best candidates to meet this challenge, I need only to look as far as the ACA member database. Making a difference does begin with you.