The year 2020 is certain to go down as memorable from many perspectives. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced the scramble to get this horrific disease under control; the struggle to understand and find the balance between personal rights and preventive efforts taken for the good of all; the reopening, pausing and closing back down of businesses and life as we once knew them to be; and, now, the race to find a vaccine.
In the midst of the pandemic, we realized there is no vaccine for racism. We witnessed large-scale protests against police brutality on Black Americans and heard growing calls to eradicate racism in the United States. This has become a central focus across the country and, in fact, many parts of the world.
The American Counseling Association released a statement on May 18, after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery but before the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Our initial statement acknowledged the traumatic impact of racially motivated violence and implicit bias characterized by excessive force and negligence. It went on to say that ACA stood in solidarity with counselors serving and supporting those directly and indirectly affected by instances of violent or negligent policing. It also urged ACA members and all counselors to engage in professional action — such as clinical practice, community outreach, research, advocacy and education — to support the wellness of individuals and communities that face violent or negligent policing.
However, after the killing of George Floyd, the ACA Governing Council realized that it needed to do much more. A special writing group was assembled, composed of subject matter experts and those with lived experience, to craft the words that the association adopted as a guiding light for what it would (and will) do moving forward. The work of the writing group, after discussion and unanimous adoption by the ACA Governing Council, was posted June 22.
During the meeting at which the anti-racism statement was adopted, the Governing Council also committed to creating an action plan because, while words are important, change does not occur without action. Since late June, ACA’s Anti-racism Action Plan Task Force has met each week to discuss, deliberate and reach consensus on actions that ACA will take in the weeks, months and years to come. The plan that is taking shape looks outward at society, but it also looks inward at ACA as an organization and at the institutions that frame the preparation, accreditation, certification and licensure of the counseling profession.
Some will say, “What took you so long?” I understand that question because institutionalized racism and discrimination have existed in our society, and even in the profession, for many years. Being one who values optimism, my response is, whatever had to happen, has happened. This is our moment to right the wrongs and to provide a pathway that leads to a more open, receptive, welcoming and respectful society. It is reasonable to dwell on why things did not happen sooner, but my point is that we need as much energy, engagement and participation as we can muster right now if we are to fully realize the role we play in ridding both the counseling profession and our society of racism, discrimination and harm to people.
I have fewer years ahead of me as your CEO than I have behind me. However, my commitment to our membership, our leadership and our staff is that we will continue to explore, research, discuss and develop actions that will carry out the intent of what our Governing Council included in its anti-racism statement.
As trite as it may sound, we are at a crossroads. We can choose to look back and wonder what took so long, or we can look forward and recommit ourselves to advocating for a more just, more open and less racially discriminatory society. ACA wants to be your partner in this endeavor. We want you, we need you, and we will not be successful without you. I’m interested in leveraging the power of our 53,000-plus members to make real, systemic changes. Are you in?