For many people in the United States, August traditionally means a month of hot days filled with swimming in neighborhood pools, going on bike rides, heading to the beach or lake, and attending friendly outdoor gatherings. And as the month winds down, excitement typically grows at the thought of getting ready to head back to school.
But this August looks quite different. Simply stated, we are in the midst of what many are calling a double pandemic. We are simultaneously confronting the appalling swell of racism and trauma that has gripped our country, and ongoing sadness and anxiety related to COVID-19.
Let me start by mentioning the recent protests and the importance of establishing awareness as a first step in achieving anti-racism. It is not my objective to rehash all of the horrific events surrounding the murders of many Black men and women today and throughout our history. It is my intent to use the leadership platform entrusted to me to help make a difference and to inspire all of us to want to make a difference and a better world for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).
Counselors, it is our time in so many ways to step up to the plate. If I have learned anything from my colleagues and the events of this past year, it is to not be afraid to speak up. Au contraire, silence and complacency are deadly.
How can we speak up? To get started, here are five ways:
- Acknowledge that there are changes needed for BIPOC.
- Embrace change by prompting conversations about racial injustice.
- Volunteer at your university, school or place of work to help engage all faculty or staff in intentional efforts to increase, recruit and promote marginalized and excluded staff across all positions.
- Take on a leadership role to begin the process of initiating change (this will require planning, accountability and commitment of resources).
- Eliminate microaggressions by increasing knowledge through counseling and counseling programs, training, mentoring and group work.
Each one of us is responsible not only for ourselves but for one another too. What have you done? What will you do? How will you hold yourself and others accountable and measure your progress? Next year, as the time approaches for me to pass the baton to our next ACA president, I will share with you my progress.
Now, turning to COVID-19. It’s been more than a century since the Spanish flu infected an estimated 500 million people (then one-third of the world’s population), resulting in at least 50 million deaths. Medicine has come so far since then, but not far enough. While we await “the vaccine” for COVID-19, counselors are being called upon in all areas: mental health, school, rehabilitation, career and employment. Children have been pulled out of schools. Unemployment is at its highest levels since the Great Depression. Individuals and families are in anguish over the loss of loved ones, jobs and just the way life “used to be.” We are grieving across the globe.
As we confront and embrace these challenges, I have never been more proud to be a counselor. We possess the needed competencies as counselors and now are being called upon to help our clients, one another and our country through this double pandemic. I am humbled by and deeply grateful for the role we will play in this healing.