During my youth, I had no idea that I was the expert of my story and that I, and I alone, held the rights to how it was/is told. As I grew older (coincidentally, also the title of my favorite poem by Langston Hughes), I found my voice and learned to embrace and boldly share my narrative. Using my voice was once challenging for me, but it has become progressively easier with each group I speak to because I have come to know my purpose and wholeheartedly believe in the message I am communicating.
In my final message as your president, I must pay homage to my family, mentors, friends and colleagues who continuously provided encouragement that empowered me and strengthened my resolve. A very special shout out to Dr. Ann Shillingford, my partner and my love; my beautiful and energetic daughter, Summer Joy, who is the muse for the work that I do; and my stepson, Justin, a Black man who I am out here in these streets fighting for every day. Thank you for giving me grace and allowing me the opportunity to serve the American Counseling Association in this capacity this year.
Thank you to my first mentors — my mom, Joyce, and my dad, Sylvester, and sisters Brenda and Karen — for nurturing my strong Black identity and helping me become me. You all gave me the permission and, at times, the energy to give my all to a worthy mission I was born to undertake within a profession that I love.
To my mentors from the ranks of the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development who saw me before I even knew who I was or could be within this incredible profession we call counseling: You nurtured me and allowed me to develop into the counselor and leader that I have become today. You saw my hunger and fed me. You helped me find home in a profession that did not always embolden or illuminate the brilliance that so many of us have within.
What can I say about the mentors to whom I bestowed presidential citations this year at our phenomenal conference in Atlanta? I am blessed from your tutelage and by the gifts you have sown into me along the way.
Finally, I must give a special shoutout to each of my Artificial Intelligence, Black Male Experience, Cultural Encounters 2.0, and Gender Equity task force chairs, subcommittee co-chairs and members. You all did your thang! I am so proud of the phenomenal effort you extended to these important endeavors and all that each of you did to make our counseling profession better and more accountable. Excellence does not happen in a vacuum. I would be remiss to not also give major props to my friend and forever CEO Richard Yep, the consummate professional in and out of trying times. His presence will be missed. Also, thanks to the many ACA staff members such as Jonathan Rollins (an editorial genius by the way), Brandi, Lynn, Brian, Angela, Amy, Julie, Karen, Althea (plus former staff members Theresa, Robin, Dave and Natasha) and all the rest — there are too many to name. I love you all. Each helped me showcase Black Excellence in leadership throughout this entire year of phenomenality.
In my first From the President column, I shared that we all learn and grow the most as people when we open ourselves to embrace our multiple intersectionalities. It is my belief that when we touch, intercede and are informed by each other’s worldviews and life experiences, we find the better versions of ourselves. This happens when we do the self-reflective work, truly learning about ourselves in the process and what we really stand for in life. Through this self-exploration, we learn to truly love one another because on this journey we are able to find self-love within. This is still my earnest belief today, just as I wrote 11 months ago: When we touch each other’s lives, let our imaginations flow, ask ourselves what it is that we can do and then spring into action, we can accomplish anything. Yes, We Can. It only takes unswerving determination.
In that first column, I wrote that I believe the journey provides access to transformative change. I implore us as a counseling community to seriously get to the root of our societal problems. We must start turning our very brave, difficult dialogues about ethnicity and culture into ACTION. I stand with you. If it is fear that is stopping us, let’s collectively move past that and break the chains that bind. As I step away from serving as your president, I will continue to open doors to important dialogues and promise to walk with you as we, the members of ACA, take up the mantle, decenter whiteness, dismantle institutional barriers and mandate systemic change within our homes and societies.
My message last July ended by stating that together, we must move beyond simply talking about diversity and inclusion and actually create and implement a sustainable pathway to achieving them — a masterful plan that creates a beautifully woven cultural fabric that is truly representative of our communities. I was able to travel internationally as well as to many states and speak to many counselors at myriad conferences, sharing this message of hope. It was in these spaces where I learned that I was not the only one embracing this ideology.
So, as I requested during my many speaking engagements, let’s move past the feel-good moment where we are inspired by a message and empower each other to get out and do the work. Link arms with me and help me to break down these walls that have been blocking our progress. Together, let’s demand a just world where each of us gets to be our whole, unapologetic selves in spaces where we were once denied. As Martin Luther King Jr. boldly stated, “The time is always right to do what is right.” #ShakeItUp and #TapSomeoneIn.
Yes, I am still shaking it up and tapping you all in to this heart work. Hotep! It’s go time! Thank you all for this opportunity to serve you as the 70th president of ACA.