S. Kent Butler, ACA’s 70th president

In the Black community, we have folks who will check us and keep us informed, not only about what we say but also about what we do. Truth be told, it starts out in the homes where we are raised. For Black kids, more often than not, this is done to keep us safe from harm. It was done by our mothers and grandmothers, our fathers and grandfathers — whoever raised us. Even our siblings took on this role at times. Because, believe me, everyone needs a person in their life who will tell them that the outfit they are attempting to wear ain’t the one. “Go back in the house and change! You are not going out in public with me like that!”

I wonder at times who checks the other intersectionalities among us, especially for bad behavior, mistreatment of people, lack of self-awareness — a whole host of things. Who’s checking you, boo? And if they are, are you listening? Does it make you consider changing your thoughts and actions?

Let me tell you about “The Talk” that Black caregivers have with their children, especially their sons, regarding interactions with law enforcement. And before you open your mouth to say, “We have that talk too,” just let me tell you, it ain’t the same talk. Far from it in most cases. Our talks are directly linked to life and death. It’s about the Black mother having to lay her son to rest and how excruciating that reality is for the rest of her life. It’s about enslaved children being sold away from their parents. Our talks are weighed down and rooted in a whole lot of history.

In leadership, I often wonder who’s holding whom accountable. Especially when I see outrageously bad behavior enacted within the ivory tower, in the business world and even inside of our counseling associations. Who is pulling folks aside for that heart-to-heart that speaks directly to the impact of their actions on others? Who is dismantling efforts to conspire and collude and helping to halt negative talk going on behind someone’s back? “Yes, we see YOU, and YOU really need to STOP!”

My goal here is twofold: to bring some perspective and expose bad behavior, and to speak for the many who have felt pressured or bullied by the actions of mission-filled individuals. Sometimes this borders on — or surpasses — unethical behavior. Often it involves a campaign of destruction motivated by self-gain. 

So, I ask again, who’s checking you? If the answer is “no one,” find a mentor or close confidant who will be brutally open and honest with you. Perhaps ask a Black mom or dad, but be forewarned and prepared for the lesson. They are gonna teach you some things.

Here are some questions to consider when you think you might be going off the rails.

Who is in my accountability group? Will they tell me the truth when my verbal communications and actions harm others? Do I trust them to hold me accountable with love, compassion and guidance? 

How do others experience my use of power? Am I open to feedback and change (the same way we hope our clients are)? How might I listen more intently and take time to solicit constructive feedback from others?

How can I demonstrate more cultural humility in my relationships? Whom am I failing? Where and why do I fall short along my journey? What might I do to improve?

Our counselor education programs are designed to gatekeep and ward off such bad behaviors, to help ensure that future practitioners, counselor educators and leaders never do any harm. So, some questions beg to be asked: Where did we go wrong? Who are the adults in the room, and who is doing the actual checking? Why are inappropriate behaviors still so pervasive in the world? 

It’s time to take back that narrative and begin to “call folks in.” A very wise mentor of mine would say that some among us need to be reeled in and lured right into a “tough love” conversation to help set them straight. These are important dialogues. I definitely have a few folks I need to put in check from time to time. #ShakeItUp and #TapSomeoneIn.


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