S. Kent Butler, ACA’s 70th president

I believe any individual with a child wants similar things for them as they develop into young adults. All things being equal, no one should be denied that desire to want the best of everything for the children they raise. To that end, inclusion just may be every young person’s desire when it comes to day-to-day interactions with the world. Being one in the number in many ways supports the development of sense of self as they discover who they are in relation to others. This is a phenomenon that runs throughout every developmental stage. 

The world is supposed to be a safe space, where as children and adolescents, we begin to develop into global citizens. In actuality, we are really heading into the unknown. Sadly, some might find the navigation of life to be a daunting task; this undertaking is especially unnerving for young minds still finding their place in the world, and this pretty much stands as a historical truth for African American youth. 

Mentoring. Mentorship may come in various shapes, methods and sizes. The provision of mentoring services is a powerful resource — one counselors may utilize in their efforts to support African American youth. Viable mentoring programs have been found to nurture educational ambitions, develop and increase self-efficacy, and enhance the leadership qualities of mentees. Counselors are uniquely positioned to strategically establish and strengthen mentoring connections.

Empowerment. To further enhance the self-esteem and sense of belongingness felt by African American youth, counselors should always empower them, ensuring they are positively held accountable and are fully aware of the ramifications surrounding the life decisions that they make.

Multiculturally competent counselors have an opportunity to work with African American youth, who are often left hanging in the balance awaiting quality counseling services. By stepping up to the plate as culturally responsive practitioners who also serve as social justice advocates, we can help provide extraordinary pathways to success, empowering and effectively navigating African American children through an ever-evolving world that has failed them historically. In doing so, we can ultimately help them to relieve myriad life stressors.

I once served as a panelist for a mentorship platform designed to reach approximately 150 disadvantaged male youth. During the question-and-answer period, one of the young men, knowing my role as a university professor, asked me the often-profound “what would you tell your younger self” question. I was quick to respond to his probe that I would tell myself it was OK to be Black and to love myself unconditionally. This is a sentiment I truly believe in and try to embrace daily in my own life. 

As we continued the conversation, the attendees essentially asked how I did that — how did I tackle negativity when it came my way? In answer, I made a gesture with the fingers of my right hand to portray that I was sweeping something off my left shoulder. I then went on to say that I didn’t allow things to weigh on me. Turning it over, as it were.

To be perfectly candid, it has taken me a moment to get here, but I can honestly say that my present self is not willing to tolerate “mess”! I don’t have time for stress in my life. I have long been a laid-back kind of guy. While it remains true that sometimes when issues come up I might respond with a strong or negative immediate reaction, I expect better. Typically, and with some quickness, I try to put the issue into perspective — reframing it actually helps. I do my best to not belabor the point. 

My mother often gave me that counsel when I was growing up, especially when I would get into what seemed to be a no-win argument with my older sister. Way before a certain animated movie made the phrase popular, my mom would say, “Let it go.” She was essentially saying, “You know how your sister is. Why put yourself through this?” In retrospect, I have little doubt that is the same consult she gave to my sister. Hmmm, I’ll have to ponder that. My mom, a counselor. Who knew?

Present day, when the moment calls for a bit more than an internal inspection/reinspection and if a counselor is not available, I reach out to my wife, one of my sisters or one of my best friends to help bring me back to mellow. Floating something past them or just being able to get something off my chest often leads to a certain clarity and a sounder perspective from which to operate. They provide me with guidance and help to keep me grounded.

When making important decisions (especially in the workplace), I ask myself some important questions:

  • What is the positive that I can take from this situation? 
  • What do I truly need to say to my colleague, my friend, etc.?
  • What is a rational way to come at this issue?
  • Is it worth the stress? (To which my response is frequently “no” … so I just walk away.)

Moving forward, I own that which is mine and gladly hand the rest over to the various someone elses who provided them in the first place. I refuse to carry their baggage. 

Early in my life, I used to sweat the small stuff. Then I got wiser. I matured and realized that the only person I was hurting by fretting over things was myself. With this change of mindset, my physical and mental health improved, mainly because I was no longer being burdened by the stress. 

I have personally seen what stress can do to people in my own life. Case in point, my father suffered complications from a stroke that physically encumbered his entire being for over 20 years. I vowed that would not be my pathway. In fact, the blueprint I have for my life is to live every day to the fullest. I am the one who matters, and only I can preserve the sanctity of my space — especially because when I give it over to someone else, they tend to mishandle it. 

Another de-stressor for me is music. Give me contemporary jazz, gospel or R&B, and I can almost immediately be returned to my comfort zone. Poignant songs — like a tune from back in the day or a tried-and-true gospel standard — often center me. In fact, that happened as I was writing this piece. An oldie but goodie played loudly in my head, reminding me in true fashion of just what it is I need to do with any and all problems. (Those who are curious can search online for “Jesus Can Work It Out” as performed by Dr. Charles G. Hayes and the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir.)

Too blessed to be stressed! We all need to be! Especially our children! Learn to turn it over …

#ShakeItUp and #TapSomeoneIn.


Note: I adapted and repurposed this column from an article that I wrote for the December 2018 newsletter of the Florida Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development. The FAMCD leadership graciously granted me permission to use it here.

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