Recently, I visited with a friend whose neighborhood has become more urban and densely populated than when she began living there decades ago. Sitting in her living room, we talked about our children, careers, and other things we have in common. Toward the end of our talk, my friend noted that she found the stillness of her neighborhood comforting because it offered an escape from the “busyness” of the city. She asked me if I found the cars going by and the sounds from nearby construction distracting. Her question surprised me because I hadn’t noticed the noise until she mentioned them. Having grown up in a very urban city (Washington DC), the sounds of city life are ambient to me - they are there but I don’t even notice them.
The visit with my friend led me to reflect on how we ascribe meaning to personal and shared experiences. Those reflections frame this week’s blog. In 2005, a few colleagues and I wrote an article about our experiences as professional counselors and Counselor Educators who are women of color. We are a diverse group of scholars who not only share passion for the counseling profession but also draw strength from heritage and cultural experiences as African American and Black women. The article’s title, “Having Our Say,” was a nod to the incredible lives and autobiography of sisters Sarah and Anne Delany, two African American women who overcame racism and sexism to establish careers in dentistry and education in the early twentieth century. Much like the Delaney sisters’ biography, our article called out the implicit and explicit stereotypes that contextualized some aspects of our professional experiences but primarily focused on the cultural strengths and resilience strategies that anchored us in our work and service. Following the Delaney sisters’ lead, we wrote to harness the power of our collective voice to frame, speak, and share our narratives.
Eleven years has gone by since my colleagues and I ‘had our say.’ We’ve remained close and professionally, become tenured, earned promotions, and some have taken the path to higher education administration. Personally, we’ve cheered our individual and families’ milestones and of course, connected at the annual ACA national and regional conferences. For the narrative and voice that we shared, there are many other people who do not have the opportunity to write for a professional journal or have colleagues who validate concerns about how power and privilege can invalidate an individual’s or group’s experiences. One person’s question “Is it just me?” quickly morphs into a collective “You too?!” and still further into “Let me tell you how I managed this…” Our conversations over the years have amplified the ambient sounds of hopes, dreams, and even frustrations; these and continued “courageous conversations” remind me that hearing is not listening and sometimes, it is most difficult for us to listen to ourselves and others as we engage in life’s “busyness.” Here’s to those quiet, still, and brave moments in living rooms, at conferences, or writing professional articles, when we have the courage to amplify our hopes, dreams, and our frustrations with others whom we believe we share common ground and with those with whom we are building bridges to consensus.
Dr. Rhonda M. Bryant is a student affairs administrator and a counselor educator In these roles, she provides advocacy and counseling services in K-12, college/university, and community settings.