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racial profiling

Racial Profiling and Our Youth

Time to Wake Up! Protecting our Black Youth from Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.” –ACLU

I grieve for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Few of us can imagine the horror that they experienced in those last moments as they were murdered by the people who took an oath to serve and protect them. I grieve and I am disgusted. I want to do something!

As a Social Worker and owner of an agency that focuses on serving and protecting our black youth, I believe that I have been sleepwalking. Most of us have. I hear stories and read accounts of young black men being stopped and handcuffed for bogus traffic stops simply because they were black. Our young black men in our community do not feel safe! They live in constant fear of being stopped by the police. Imagine, if you can, how oppressive that is. It is emotional abuse! The young black men that I work with suffer from this oppressive fear. They feel it every day as that they walk into or drive into the community.

The fear of racial profiling is traumatizing our black youth, and we must wake up and reignite the passion that will end it once and forever.

Here’s an important name: Tae-Ahn Lea. Tae-Ahn was the teenager that was stopped in June of 2019 (a year ago) and detained in handcuffs while his car was searched for 1 ½ hours for drugs. He is suing the Police Department. Here is part of that document:

“Tae-Ahn Lea is an honors graduate from Central High School. He was the homecoming king, has no criminal history and upon graduation became employed with a well-respected local car dealership. Tae-Ahn, however, also happens to be black, live in a low-income neighborhood, and drive his mother’s fairly new vehicle. He was thus the perfect target for members of the Ninth Mobile Division of the Louisville Metro Police Department who, throughout the past two years in Louisville, have employed a discriminatory, prejudicial, and illegal stop and frisk practice in which “violent crimes” units use traffic stops as a pretext for pulling over young black men driving nice cars, handcuffing them and subjecting them to abusive, racist, and intrusive searches without consent, good cause, or reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity.”

Time to wake up! Time to do something! Young black men in our community need our help! They need my help. As an agency, we will be investing time, work, and money to stop this illegal practice! We cannot do everything, but we can do something! It’s time to be a change agent! It’s time to end racial profiling!

Join us!

out of the darkness

Out of the Darkness

Hank Buckwalter, his wife, Chelsea, and Rommie and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk this past weekend at Waterfront Park.

It can be emotionally overwhelming to be in a gathering of people that are celebrating the lives and passing of their loved ones. I listened as the “Honor Beads” were given to the family members and friends of those who had taken their lives. They celebrated these beautiful humans that saw only one solution to the pain they were experiencing.

I lost a friend of 47 years this year to suicide. He was in a lot of pain. At his memorial service, an acquaintance commented, “I can’t believe Jeff took his own life.” I forgive him for his insensitivity. As much as I miss Jeff, our laughs, our High School pranks, our wonderful conversations on his deck near Hikes Point, I understand why he took his own life. He was in pain.

I struggle with the legality and morality of suicide.  Having said that, I will do everything in my clinical and personal power to prevent others from taking their own lives.

People need hope and when they lose hope

 they see very few solutions to their problems.

I wrote a blog a year ago about hope. Here is what I said:

People come to therapy because they have feelings of hopelessness. As a young therapist, I was inspired by Moltmann’s admonition, to be an instrument of hope. At the very heart of therapy is the goal of helping people find hope, because without it they cannot live. I believe that hopeful people inspire hopefulness in others. A hopeful therapist has many tools and strategies for helping people, but most important they inspire hopefulness. I believe they infect people with their hopefulness. They engage in a Therapy of Hope.

If you have thoughts of suicide, even fleeting thoughts, contact a therapist. We have included the suicide hotline number on our website. Call it and make an appointment. In Kentucky, all therapists are required to take a workshop every three years on suicide prevention. Make the call.

After the walk this past Saturday, Hank and Chelsea, and Rommie and I went to First Watch and had breakfast together. We reverently celebrated life.

Friday Waypoints- 6/14/19

What I’m Reading

“Changing Body Composition through Diet and Exercise” by Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D.

I’m actually listening to this book on Audible. I’m on the road a lot and I spend most of this time listening to books. Ormsbee writes, “Improving body composition by losing body fat and optimizing lean is not about vanity –it’s about health.”

This book is not about losing weight. It’s about decreasing the amount of body fat in your body and it’s about insuring that you do not lose muscle mass. I like this approach because I do not want to lose weight. My BMI puts me in the overweight category, but that’s because I work out and exercise regularly. I realized years ago that you begin losing muscle mass as you age and I have worked very hard to maintain and grow muscle. I “preach” to clients, “You need to work at becoming stronger as you age.” Maintaining your lean muscle mass is one way of do this. Ormsbee does a very good job explaining the basics of nutrition and puts the focus on the right things.

What Are You Listening To?

Apple Music is introducing me to new music and helping me stay in touch with my favorites. Just hit the “For You” tab on the app and you get the option of “New Music Mix,” “Favorites Mix,” and “Chill Mix.”

Don’t underestimate the power of music in your life. Recently, I’ve been utilizing the Mindfulness Meditation that encourages you to “Step in the Feeling.” This could include “stepping into the sadness. Most of us DO NOT like listening to “sad” music, but there can be something therapeutic about purposely sitting during a mindfulness session and “stepping into sadness” while listening to sad music.

Of course, listening to “happy and upbeat” music is important too! I’m listening to some past favorites right now and this music is conjuring up many memories associated with that music. Let music by thy medicine.

Families Want to Get Along

One of the reasons I love what I do is the desire that most families have to get along. They want to end the conflict. They come to me hoping that I can help and many times I can.

Raising teenagers is not easy! Teenagers are under a lot of pressure! Neither Parents not teens want to fight and when I see them years later, they scratch their heads and wonder why there was so much conflict.

This week, I witnessed a wonderful family following the “therapeutic map” that I laid out before them. I saw them all working together. And they left with smiles on their face because they saw something work. It keeps my compass pointed toward “True North.”

The Illusion of Instagram

Virginia Woolf wrote, “It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.” So it is with envy of what other people have—or, in the case of social media, what we perceive other people to have. What’s exhibited on Instagram does not always reflect real life, but it’s easy for us all, adults and teens included, to forget that fact.

Whether we realize it or not, we all curate our social media presentations more than the average art exhibition. We present a certain image to the world, whether that’s of “fun loving, free spirit” with festival pics, the “perfect mom” with beautiful family pictures and “candid” shots of kids doing adorable things, or the “happy couple” with hundreds of pictures of canoodling and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes.

What’s not shown is all the work that goes in to making these lives: the hours spent at work to afford the concert tickets, the organization of family pictures and begging, pleading, and arguing with family members to get them in to the “perfect” outfits, or the work in therapy that it took to get to a place where the couple could comfortably reach out and connect with each other.

What’s also not shown is the illusion of it all. A good friend of mine from a while back had a beautiful Facebook page, filled with pictures of her family, trips she was taking with her husband, and joyful messages of hope and inspiration. Behind the scenes, however, it was a different story: Her marriage was falling apart, she was overwhelmed as a mother, she lost her job, and had returned to destructive habits she’d battled for years. Just because something looks good, doesn’t mean it’s worth envying.

So what do we do with this knowledge? As a social worker, I’m of two minds. One is that we all could be more honest about our struggles. Instead of pretending that everything is perfect when it’s not, connect with people (in real life!) who might be able to make a difference in improving things. The other is that we sometimes need to exercise the option of turning away from our devices to help us with our envy of what (we think) other people have.

Musings of a True Norther – How I Found My True North

You may or may not a fan of Jane Fonda, but she did a Ted Talk a few years ago that challenged people in there 60s to contemplate their lives. I am in my 60s and I took her challenge seriously. She divides out a person’s life into 3 acts.

  • The first act is from birth to 30. That is the period of becoming an adult.
  • The second act is from 30 to 60 and during this period we raise our children and work.
  • The last act is from 60 to death. One of the life goals during this act is to contemplate: How did I get here? Or, how did I get to be the person I am? What were the influences that made me the person that I am?

Or, how did I find my True North?

If you have any interest in being the person that you wish to be, or the person who has found their True North, consider some of the things that influenced me and helped me find my True North:

  • I followed my heart. I have always loved helping people and teaching them. I experimented with various things, but I dreamed about being a Family Therapist because I loved solving family problems. I have also loved working with young adults, that is to say, teenagers. I loved being a teenager and I believe that this should be the prerequisite for working with teenagers. Following my heart has led me to my True North.
  • I followed the voices of others. I remember as a teenager hearing a mentor of mine exclaim that you should never do the thing that you are passionate about as a profession. It took me a decade to unlearn that advice. I have come to believe that the truth is that you should follow your passions and pursue them as a vocation. So, not everything that you hear is helpful in finding your True North. Then there are those people that say things that inspire you to follow your heart. One such person was John Gilespie. It was in 1995 and I was in my last semester of my Master’s in Social Work degree. John was a friend and fellow student. As I talked to him about what I had been dreaming, he said, “Mark, I can hear the passion and excitement in your voice when you talk about being a Family Therapist.” I have never forgotten those words.
  • I nurtured and fed my curiosity.I have always been a curious person. Every time I get presented with a new problem or a new intervention, and I seek to know as much as I can about them. I cannot tell you the number of books that I have read. Reading is a way of sorting through the dreams of others. It helped me to find my way, to find my True North. Seeking knowledge and reading books is like holding a lamp over a map. It gives you the lay of the land that others have traveled. Reading gives you a direction to live, or helps you find your True North.
  • I acted on my dreams. You cannot find your True North if you do not act on your dreams. It means taking risks, working hard, and planning and organizing. It means surrounding yourself with people that can help you find True North. People do not find their True North by themselves. I did not find mine by myself. I have been successful at finding my True North because I have been successful at finding people that I care about, that also share my dreams. Acting on my dreams means sharing my dream with others and inviting them to be part of those dreams.

There is no “one way” to finding your True North. In fact, there are many ways. I’ve shared mine. I hope that this has inspired you to reflect on your journey in pursuit of your True North.

The Unpopular Notion of Self-Denial

We live in a land of plenty: food, drink, and comfort. There are some in our country that lack these things. I am touched by those locked in homelessness and those without food and shelter, but that does not describe most of us. We live in a country marked by opulence and decadence, a culture that indulges in pleasure.

As we continue our study of “The Guide to the Good Life,” by William Irvine, we consider the Third Stoic Technique of Self-Denial. This may not be a popular practice, but it is one that has the potential to lead us to peace and tranquility.

The Stoics believed that accumulating fame and fortune rarely if ever contributed to the Good Life. They believed that happiness did not come from getting the things that we desire, but rather, from learning to desire the things that we already possess. We learn to desire the things that we possess by periodically denying ourselves of them.

“We accomplish this,” writes Irvine, “by allowing ourselves to become hungry or thirsty, even though water and food are at hand, and we might sleep on a hard bed even though a soft one is available.” When we do this, Irvin asserts that we receive three benefits: 1) It will harden us against any misfortune that might befall us, 2) We will grow confident that we can handle any discomfort that might befall us, and 3) It will help us appreciate what we already have.

In other words, Self-Denial helps us grow!! It is when we periodically deny ourselves of the things that we desire and possess, that we learn the value of our things and the value of life.

What are some ways that I practice this technique? I fast by temporarily depriving myself of food. I skip breakfast most days and on others, I skip breakfast and lunch. It is not often, but I restrict the sugar that I eat. Practicing these restrictions helps me appreciate the sweets and the meals that I missed.

I often strap on a 40 to 60 lb. pack and hike into a forest and sleep on a 1 ½ inch pad in the cold of Fall and Winter. I endure the cold, the weight of the pack, and the burning quads as I climb in and out of the canyons and valleys. My heart is pounding in my chest and my breaths are deep. It is punishing.

I have ridden my bicycle across the state of Indiana in one day. It was my 55th birthday and I remember my father’s response: “That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” It was punishing as well. And I only say that it was punishing because of the temporary pain and suffering that I experienced during the ride. Afterwards, nothing can compare to the joy and satisfaction of showering and laying my head down on my pillow.

This past Spring, I hiked in and out of the Grand Canyon twice: 26 miles and over 22,000 feet of elevation. It was exhausting. It was challenging. And yes, it hurt. The first hike out was through a blizzard with snow and 40-50 mile an hour winds. But the exhilaration that followed taught me to appreciate the warmth and the comfort of shelter.  

These are just a few of the things that I do to deprive myself of the creature comforts that I’ve become accustomed.

What are some of the things that you do?

I have many friends that practice Lent by fasting or restricting other material possessions or activities in their lives. This is usually for a period of 40 days once a year. I’m certain that they experience joy when they re-introduce the food or activity into their lives. They have a newfound appreciation for these things. Imagine if the practice of Lent was more often.

Self-Denial doesn’t sound like a remedy for an exotic illness or an intervention that will sell a lot of books, but I believe that it is this very practice that will bring peace and tranquility to your life. Self-Denial softens us, and hardens us. It awakens us, and quiets us; sharpens our senses and then soothes them. It costs us nothing, but when practiced regularly, helps us find satisfaction.

Desert Therapy

7:00 AM, November 13, 2018, EC-1 (Elephant Canyon –Campsite 1), Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There is nothing like the silence of the desert. This very cold morning (20 degrees) is only interrupted by the quiet hiss of the Whisperlite-butane stove heating my morning coffee.

It was cold last night. I had almost all of my cold weather gear on (Expedition this and Expedition that), and bundled up in my 12-degree sleeping bag. I awoke with frozen condensation on the inside of my tent. As I write this, I’m sitting on my 1 lb Helinox chair while the sun is rising.

As I gaze on the canyon walls, the cedars, the dry stream bed, I have a sense that I’m better than most people, but no, rather luckier than most people. Very few eyes, relatively speaking, have witnessed a morning like this, in this place. This place is only for those that are willing to pay the toll. And the toll for this place was a 4-mile hike with 60 lbs. on my back, scrambling in and out of canyons and over slip rock.

As I witnessed this new day in the desert canyon, I remembered that I had carried Edward Abbey’s book “Desert Solitaire,” with me, not the paperback, but the digital copy in my kindle.

And so, I spent the morning soaking up the sun and browsing Abbey’s work.

“Wilderness” he wrote,” is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

Abbey wrote his autobiography after spending two seasons in the late 1950’s as a park ranger in Arches National Park. He fell in love with the canyons and the desert. It became part of him.

“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need—if only we had the eyes to see.”

The wilderness changed him and it changes anyone willing to spend time in it.

It can heal you.

I had come here for healing. Not because of the people and things in my life. But because I needed to become a better person for the people and things in my life: to be a better counselor, a better partner, a better parent, and most importantly, a better human. The water was boiling. The sun was warming me now. It felt wonderful!

Friday Waypoints- 11/30/18

Lessons from my Clients

Solomon (not his real name) reminded me that my efforts and the efforts of the team of people in his life are not in vain.

Solomon is a 26-year old young man, who watched his mother murdered in front of him when he was around 5 years old. She was beaten to death by a jealous boyfriend. Solomon bounced around in what has been called “foster-care drift” for the rest of his childhood. He was sexually abused by the two grown sons of one foster parent. He didn’t finish High School and spent 4 ½ years in jail and prison until they asked me to work with him a couple of years ago. His Case Manager, Abby, from Centerstone has been in court on every occasion and he’s now off probation. He had no ID and no Birth Certificate in order to get an ID. He was denied disability despite his Intellectual Disability. I could go on and on. I helped him order a Birth Certificate from Illinois and we got his ID. Abby has insured that he had a place to live and food every week and TARC tickets to get around town. Chris, from Centerstone is a Job Coach and has a job lined up for him. Mr. Williams from Goodwill is helping Solomon get his GED. Mr. Williams, noticed that Solomon has missed a couple of classes and called Solomon to make sure he didn’t miss any more.

I’ve seen him grow during these past two years. Really, I’ve seen him grow up.

We’ve become his family. Maybe the parents that he didn’t have. We care about him. I pick him up and we talk. I take him to Sunergos Coffee and get him a “fancy drink.”

It’s one of his favorite places.

Mine too!

Book I’m Reading

I continue to study, “A Guide to the Good Life,” by William Irvine. I decided that this would be my Holiday gift to family and friends.

The second Stoic Technique that Irvine shares is “The Dichotomy of Control.” The essence of this technique involves figuring out how much control you have over people, places, and things and then setting goals in your life that reflect the control that you have over those things. As an example, if you decide to play Tennis, it would be helpful to set goals that do not frustrate you and take away your tranquility. “Playing tennis” is an activity that you have some control, but not complete control (sooner or later you’re going to lose).

Instead of setting the unrealistic “external” goal of winning, Irvine suggests that you set an “internal” goal such as: To improve your tennis skills over the course of the next year. You have some control over that.

I encourage you to join me and study the book and begin practicing the Stoic Techniques that lead to the Good Life! More techniques are coming!!!

 

Photo by emme deme designs

True North Health

The Therapy of Hope

Throughout our history, humans have gone through many times of despair. Families have lost hope. At times, people have felt and feel hopeless. I don’t want to sound like a downer, but all of us, at times, have wondered if it’s worth it. We have contemplated giving up on a relationship, a teenage son or daughter, a job, and yes, ourselves.

I have taken many courses throughout my life, and I’ve read many books, but none affected me as much as “A Theology of Hope,” by J. Moltmann. In it he writes,

Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”

People come to therapy because they have feelings of hopelessness. As a young therapist, I was inspired by Moltmann’s declaration, to be an instrument of hope. At the very heart of therapy is the goal of helping people find hope, because without it they cannot live.

I believe that hopeful people inspire hopefulness in others. A hopeful therapist has many tools and strategies for helping people, but most important they inspire hopefulness. I believe they infect people with their hopefulness. They engage in a Therapy of Hope.

I have often advised that, when people leave their therapy sessions with a therapist, and they do not feel more hopeful, that they should seek out another therapist. It doesn’t matter how many letters they have after their names or books on their shelves, what you need is more hope. Thankfully, there are many, many clinicians that are able to give you this most basic gift.