Black Liberation and Community Development for this Millennium 

Barbara Love, International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People

Black Liberation and Community Development (BLCD) has become the organizing vehicle for our efforts to share the theory and tools of Re-evaluation Counseling (RC) with black people throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of the world. There are specific and particular activities occurring throughout Africa, led by Melphy Sakupwanya, who has been the Regional Reference Person (RRP) for Africa, and who is now joined by Apprentice RRPs Wanjiku Kironyo in Kenya and Bafana Matsebula in Swaziland.

While we do not have any good count of the numbers of black people who have been exposed to the theory and practice of RC, the numbers of black people who are currently using the theory and tools of RC, or the numbers of black people who are presently engaged in some way in the International Re-evaluation Counseling Communities (IRCC), we do know that the numbers have grown dramatically in the past two-and-a-half decades. The numbers grow steadily and continually. BLCD has made a huge difference, both in the capacity of the RC Communities to provide a place of safety for black people and in the capacity of black people to successfully negotiate the RC Communities. Through BLCD, we have put some stuffing in the revolving door of black people coming into and immediately leaving RC. My tenure in RC spans the last thirty-six years. Between Reggie Sapp, Selina Davis, Mike White, Suzanne Lipsky, and others, there have been black people in the RC Communities for at least the last forty-plus years.

During the last twenty-six years, the form and structure of BLCD have continued to change. Twenty-one black people met with Harvey Jackins1 in Chicago in 1985, the first national gathering after I became ILRP for African-Heritage People (this gathering included Rachel Noble, Segkoma Kgama, Mike White, Lillie Allen, David Uzzell, Elizabeth Scully, Delilah Marrow, Joyce Duncan, and myself). We met with Harvey for a number of years while the numbers steadily grew until about 1990, when we decided to have a separate Wygelian leaders’ meeting2 led by Harvey, and a teachers’ and leaders’ meeting, which I led. The first Wygelian leaders’ meeting was kept at twenty-one (for old times’ sake) and the teachers’ and leaders’ meeting numbered fifty-five. Our numbers continued to grow. Fifty-five of us attended Harvey’s last Wygelian leaders’ meeting in the late 1990s. There were two hundred and five people at the teachers’ and leaders’ meeting that year. In the meantime, Harvey had persuaded Rachel Noble to lead a fundamentals class at BLCD, and this became a good way to bring new black people into RC. We decided to experiment with different structures to make sure that every participant at BLCD had good access to the theory as well as opportunities to practice being counselor and client. We instituted a series of ongoing classes and a “pioneers” class in addition to the leaders and fundamentals classes.

This structure provided several key advantages. Members of the leadership team—which also grew steadily over this period of time—led these class series and got a marvelous leadership development opportunity. Each class had a teacher and a mixed gender pair of assistants except the ongoing classes, which were sometimes gender specific. By the time we decided to reorganize BLCD into a Regional structure, we had seasoned leaders prepared to lead the Regional workshops and experienced leaders ready to assist in those Regional workshops.

In 2004, in consultation with Tim Jackins, the current International Reference Person (IRP), we decided to reorganize BLCD into an alternating Regional/International structure. This meant that the International gathering of all black Co-Counselors in one place and at one time would occur every three years. Black Co-Counselors would meet in Regional gatherings in the intervening two years. We met in the Regional BLCDs in 2005/6 and 2008/9. The International gatherings were held in 2004 and 2007. In 2010, we meet again in the International BLCD for Twenty-Ten Double Twice (described on pages 78-80). The Regions included (1) West Coast North America, (2) Midwest and Midsouth USA, (3) East Coast North America, (4) Caribbean, and (5) Europe.


Through all this development, we have learned much about building community and organizing to share the theory and tools of RC with black people. We learned about the treasure of building teams of leaders and the significance of tiers of classes. One person cannot think all the thinking that needs to happen in a gathering of black people. We are diverse and our needs are varied. Teaching RC is like any good teaching practice that operates on principles of meet, match, stretch, and miss. In every group, some of the people and their needs are going to be met some of the time, matched some of the time, and stretched some of the time. In any given group, some people will be missed, in each of these areas, some of the time.

While these principles operate in any learning situation, we felt that we could not afford to miss any of the black people coming to BLCD. Many black people are supported by their local RC Communities to attend BLCD with the hope they will get a good understanding of the theory, and have their best opportunity to practice RC in a safe place with support from people grounded in a similar life experience. We could not afford to let anyone fall through the cracks. Having several people thinking about the workshop as a whole and about particular constituencies of people at BLCD became our best strategy to ensure a successful BLCD experience for all of our participants. Having tiers of classes became our best strategy to most closely meet and match the experience levels and growth needs of BLCD participants. Constituency work became an integral part of the BLCD experience.

For many years, Virginia Blackburn led a team of women thinking about black women’s liberation. Njoki Kamau, Jenene Cook, Nikki Stewart, and others carry on this work. Rudy Nickens, Luke Daniels, Granville Braxton and Amir Femi, among others, pushed forward with black men’s liberation work. (See Rudy Nickens’ piece on black men’s liberation following this article.) The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, Transgender, and Formerly caucus continues to work on Gay liberation issues. Horace Williams and Jackie Kane have led colleagues’ work, and Dottie Curry has worked on elders, class, and money issues. Davita Shanklin-Flowers, Valerie Jiggetts, Corina Peila, and Jennifer Van Dorn kept BLCD thinking well about young people and now push us on liberation work for young adults. Black family work, with Lillian Jones and Winnie Cooper, and now with Fela Barclift and others, continues to grow. Mixed-heritage work and skin-color work have proceeded, and Granville Braxton has provided leadership on discharging rage and terror.

Through all of this, we have continued to think about how to support black people to sustain their participation in the RC Communities back home, and how to maintain a sense of community while we are apart. We have missed the International gatherings during the Regional BLCD years, but recognize this opportunity to use BLCD to build momentum locally.

Our understanding of internalized racism, the varied ways that it manifests in our lives and relationships, and how to better contradict and discharge it has grown by leaps and bounds. Our counseling of each other gets better and better, and our ability to use the resource of our thinking and our relationships with each other, as clients, is huge. We have a solid Community of people who remain connected to each other throughout the year, even as we look forward to seeing each other at BLCD in July. This has proven the best ever contradiction to distress.


In the recent period of time, Tim has encouraged us to discharge on two directions that have proven enormously useful: (1) Discharging “feeling bad about ourselves,” and (2) fighting for ourselves by going back and getting the little one (our young selves). Many of us have had huge sessions where we have discharged feelings of early powerlessness, and uncovered early circumstances that sunk us in distresses that kept us from remembering our beauty, our goodness, and our strength. Accounts in Present Time describing some of those sessions are useful to read.

Discharging early decisions: We know the value of discharging on the early memories of the distresses that cling to us. We know that whenever we face a difficulty in present time, it is rooted in some distress, some rigid pattern of behavior that is connected to an experience of hurt that did not get a chance to heal when we were very young people. We have found a variety of strategies, directions, and commitments that enable us to work on the early hurts. One direction that has proven enormously useful has been to identify decisions that we made as very young people to help us face the circumstances around us, and to now discharge those decisions. We are committed to discharging all of those early decisions, including the ones that appear to be positive.

We want to unmake/discharge all early decisions, because it is now time for us to reclaim the ability to make decisions in present time and to trust that these decisions will be just right for the situations that we now face.

When we live by decisions that we made as a child, even decisions that appear to be positive decisions, this robs us of our capacity to think in present time, to flexibly respond to the world around us, and to make decisions based on this fresh, flexible thinking. Indeed, we might make a decision that is just like the decision we made as a child, but it is a fresh decision, based on the specifics of the present situation. When we live by decisions made long ago, we put our lives in the hands of the young person who was making decisions based on what was true twenty, thirty, forty, or sixty years ago.

I made many decisions as a young person that seem perfectly correct to me in the present time. I decided that hitting young people was wrong and that, when I got old enough, I would interrupt it whenever I saw it. I decided that one human hurting another human for any reason was wrong and I would interrupt it whenever I could. I decided that the fear that everyone around me wore was too hard to watch, and so I would never be fearful. I decided to trust my own thinking—always—and never substitute another’s thinking for my own. All of these decisions still seem just right to me. At the same time, I recognize that I made these decisions as an infant and as a one-year-old. I have decided that as a sixty-four-year-old I should be in charge of my life, and that it is high time to stop letting my life be run by a one-year-old who never saw the world that I currently live in. I, therefore, agree that I will identify and fully discharge every decision that I made as a young person, decisions I made to help me face the world she had to navigate.

Discharging victim status: The first Africans in modern history to become residents of the Americas arrived as either indentured servants or as involuntary unpaid servants for life. In the United States, this position lasted nearly four hundred years. It was followed by a hundred years of “Jim Crow,” a period of legally mandated second-class status. In the present time, our identity as African-heritage people is an unfailing predictor of higher levels of poverty, higher infant mortality rates, higher rates of school failure, higher levels of crowded and deteriorating housing conditions, higher levels of unemployment, higher levels of involvement with the criminal justice system, and higher rates of incarceration for the same offenses as members of other groups. These indicators help us understand why we have so consistently and conscientiously clung to the identity of victim. Legally mandated powerlessness over many generations has been hard to dispute and has left many of us so deeply entrenched in the victim position that it is hard to see the possibility of another position. Indeed, it is a bold and extraordinary proposition to declare that we African-heritage people are not victims and need never take that position again. Yet, this is our direction and commitment for this millennium: Victims no more.

The victim position has persistently been presented to us as our only option, and we have occupied the position as our right, by force of historical circumstance. We even sometimes begrudge space to other people who want to stand in the victim position. It has been hard for us to notice and follow the path of those among us who have refused the victim position. Despite our Black History Month recitations of those who, because of the notoriety of their achievements, we recognize as standing outside the victim position, we have identified ourselves as victims of history, of the present societal arrangements. We have allowed ourselves to believe that Dr. Drew, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King were exceptions, somehow not like us and the masses of ordinary black people. While reciting their achievements, we have failed to notice the legions of black people in our midst who also refused the victim position and claimed lives of empowered participation. In the coming days, months, years, and decades, we commit to remembering that we, too, are powerful, brilliant, beautiful, loving, connected, and completely good.

Giving up struggle: Whatever we train our minds to do is what our minds will reach to do, automatically. Whatever pattern has been imprinted on our consciousness—that will be the pattern that plays out in our lives. When we get in our vehicles on a Saturday morning with the intention to go to the park, then let our minds wander as we drive, we sometimes find ourselves in front of the office, not remembering quite how we got there. Without firm direction and guidance, our mind follows the patterns that have been programmed into it. The very real circumstances of the lives of many black people have been filled with enough problems, difficulties, and limitations to program our minds to believe that they are inevitable. Pervasive, contemporary racism obscures the reality that struggle is an “imposter” sent by an oppressive society to make it appear that struggle is our only option.

Persistent discharge will lead to the recognition that struggle is an imposter and usurper. We have many options available to us in every situation we face. The training to think that we have no other option is part of what helps to keep racism in place. Believing the lie of the inevitability of struggle robs us of our capacity to think creatively about potential options. We have all had moments when, through a flash of insight, we figured out how to solve what appeared, at first glance, to be an impossible problem. The apparent inevitability of struggle has forced us to think of these occasions of brilliance as isolated instances and kept us from sewing them together into a seamless thread in our lives.

We promise that in the days, weeks, months, years, and decades ahead, that we will always remember our brilliance, our wisdom, our power, and our strength.

Putting our attention away from distress: We commit that we will put our attention on the future that we want, rather than rehearsing the past that we don’t want, and discharge every piece of hurt that keeps our attention mired down in old distress.

Imagine a pair of orange flip flops with a bow at the place where the straps meet. Put one flip flop in a space marked front to represent what we want. Put one flip flop in the opposite direction in a space marked back to represent what we do not want. Now decide where you want to put your attention. Before you make your decision, recall the farmer’s principle: Whatever is given water, food, and sunshine is what will grow. (Understand that water, food, and sunshine represent your attention). Now decide where you want to put your attention: space number one representing what you want, or space number two representing what you don’t want. Make your decision knowing that wherever you put your attention, that space will grow. Also remember the peculiarity of the farmer’s principle. You have to specifically direct water, food, and sunshine toward flowers in order for them to grow, while weeds seem to grow of their own accord. Weeds won’t stay the way that you left them, but they will take any water, food, and sunshine that is not specifically applied to something else and appropriate it for their own growth. Distress is like that. It will appropriate any attention that is not specifically directed toward your re-emergence and apply it toward the growth of your distress. The oppressive society insures the availability of plenty of fertilizer to feed your distress.

Notice, also, and discharge what might get in the way of your putting your attention on what you truly want. Are you afraid that you will get what you asked for and still not be happy? Are you worried that you will get what you asked for and discover that wasn’t what you really wanted after all? What if you discover that you really wanted something else? Remember that this is the best problem of all to have. Accomplishments are to be built on, not stood on. Go on to the next thing that you want, and remember that you can have the life that you can imagine, as long as you are willing to discharge your way to it.

1 Harvey Jackins was the founder and first International Reference Person of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities.
2 A Wygelian leaders’ meeting is a meeting of the leaders of a particular constituency. It follows a format that encourages individual initiative.

Last modified: 2014-09-17 18:08:37+00