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A Look Back: International Black Men’s Liberation Work

Participation by black men in the International Re-evaluation Counseling Communities continues to make progress. A key to the growth and development of black men in RC is the consistency of opportunities for us to meet, think, strategize, and discharge about our lives.

Each year more and more RC teachers and leaders are making connections with black men and introducing us to RC theory, practice, and Communities. This is critical work in the growth and retention of black men in RC. We must all work in partnership to ensure that each RC Area and Region becomes a good place for every member—a place that is attractive to a diverse group of people and where popularly held, negative, and harmful ideas and images of people are not rehearsed or imitated, but contradicted.

I began my Co-Counseling journey about twenty-five years ago. Many black men had been in—and in and out—of the Communities before I ever even heard of RC. This is a story of a part of the history of black men in RC.

Much of the history is a story of allies. The majority of black men in RC Communities did not learn about RC from other black men but from some interested and thoughtful ally who wanted us to get a chance to have this tool. You can ask the black men in your Community to tell you the stories of their introduction to RC. There is much that we can learn about love, commitment, Community development, and eliminating racism simply by hearing these stories and understanding the strategies and effort that so many people put in to thinking about us. I certainly know how resistant I was to taking RC seriously, for the first three years. Had it not been for the persistent effort of Larry, my first teacher, I don’t think I would be doing this work today. And when I say doing this work, I don’t just mean leading in RC. I also mean that I likely would not have the full, big, and proud life that I enjoy today had I not gotten the chance to do the healing work of RC.

Larry and I no longer live in the same part of the United States. I hadn’t seen him in many years until quite recently when I got to attend a workshop that he organized. It was so much fun to see him and to thank him for the gift he gave me. I also got a chance to listen to his side of the tale. I knew what I knew from my perspective, but I had no idea how much work (strategizing, discharging, facing difficult feelings, asking for help, and so on) that he had had to do in order to pursue and keep me in the Community. Wow!

In addition to asking the black men in RC to tell their stories, I also encourage the allies who brought us along to tell theirs. It was a good learning experience for me, as well as a huge display of love.

I suspect that each person who is in RC today can trace their entry into the Community to the effort of some Co-Counselor who likes, loves, and wants them to have a great life. In that sense, this story of Community building is the same for most groups. What I am working to understand is the peculiar and individual strategies that have made RC attractive, accessible, and a good resource for black men.

When I first began Co-Counseling there were no men of color in my Region. I did not meet another black man in RC for nearly three years, not until I attended my first Black Liberation and Community Development (BLCD) workshop. Walking into an RC workshop and seeing black men was awesome. I hadn’t let myself feel how much I missed the presence of black men in my RC life until I got a chance to meet and connect with these guys. From that point on I knew I never wanted to be without my brothers in this project. Although there were only seven men at the workshop, to me it felt like millions. We were from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Trinidad. We were young adults and older men. We were of different economic, faith, and sexual backgrounds and identities. We were diverse and we were connected. It was powerful. That first BLCD was the place that offered the contradictions that made the practical use of the tool real for me. The sessions that I got to have at that workshop stand as a marker in how profound the process is and why RC was good for me as a black man.

KEY ALLIES

I began to want more and to seek more for myself and for more black men. There are four people who stand out for me as key allies in the work of making RC a home for black men.

Harvey Jackins is, of course, at the top of that list. His vision, wisdom, strength, and courage, alongside his passion for us made him an amazing ally. As counselor he was quick to remind us of the truth about ourselves as good, intelligent, beautiful, and, most of all, innocent creatures. As the leader of the project he was committed to figuring out how to get and keep black men in RC. As a relatively inexperienced Co-Counselor, I was not invited to the Wygelian* leaders’ part of BLCD for my first couple of years. I arrived each year at BLCD just as Harvey was finishing his work with the black leaders. I could always tell that this time was important for those that attended, that the work he did with them made space for those of us who joined the group for the next section. When I began attending the Wygelian section with Harvey, I got to really see his dedication to black men.

Harvey appointed a team of black men to develop a plan for increasing black men’s participation in RC. This “Black Men’s Commission” was led by Charles Young with six men gathered around him to think about us. The group met from time to time to think and discharge and was in regular contact with Harvey.

In 1989, the Black Men’s Commission organized a weekend workshop for a small group of black men to be led by Charlie Kreiner, then the RC International Liberation Reference Person for Men, another person on my list of allies. Each of the men invited had attended men’s workshops that Charlie had led in their Regions, and they were usually the only black man there. Though we each found these workshops useful, we also longed to have time at men’s workshops when we weren’t the only black man attending. The workshop was planned for the last weekend in July for Charlie and the twelve black men who were invited. However, BLCD 1989 was held the last week in June and at this gathering a record number of black men (about thirty-five) attended. When this new group of black men learned that there would be a workshop for black men, they all wanted to attend. Since most of the new guys had never met Charlie, the members of the Commission thought that they might get confused by a black men’s workshop being led by a white man. We consulted with Harvey and Barbara Love, International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People (and of course she is on the list of most significant allies to black men). They understood our concern. We proposed that Barbara co-lead the workshop with Charlie since all of these new men knew her from BLCD. Barbara thought that I was ready and should lead the workshop and directed me to do so. (Back then, I didn’t argue with Barbara.)

When we called Charlie to tell him what we were thinking, he supported this plan. In a month, I would lead my first weekend workshop, a national workshop for black men. With the members of the Commission as the organizing and planning team, we moved forward. We invited Charlie to lead a daylong workshop with the leadership team the day before the workshop. Not only did he do that, but he came to the weekend workshop as an ally to me. He remained in my room the entire weekend, making himself available for counseling or consultation as I needed. Break time, late nights, and early mornings, I got one-way counseling from Charlie throughout the weekend. He was a tremendous resource to me, and the workshop was powerful.

Even though I had not led a weekend workshop before this, I, too, believed I was ready. Harvey, Charlie, and Barbara had prepared black men to take this work on for ourselves. Harvey’s support by means of the Commission and the many men’s workshops that I had been to with Charlie were the perfect complement to the real training ground for black men’s liberation through BLCD.

Barbara once told me that she was committed to BLCD being a place in the world where black men could be treated well and feel good about ourselves. She understood that for black men, who have been targeted for destruction in virtually every environment in which we live, it is difficult and seemingly impossible to hold on to an accurate picture of who we are. She told me that even if we have no other place in our lives to go, we will have BLCD.

Every black liberation workshop included some serious focus on black men’s liberation. In the beginning, it seemed that the ways and amount of hurt that we have endured as black men made it necessary for our allies to lead the fight for our re-emergence. There were daylong workshops preceding BLCD for several years, and one of those was always for black men. Barbara led classes and topic groups and counseled dozens of men each year about our lives. Those black men’s panels at BLCD were some of the most powerful and profound counseling I have ever seen. BLCD became the most reliable place for black men to get the kind of counseling that would move us forward as leaders in RC. It was there, more so than any other RC workshop, where black men could truly explore the depths of our complex identities. Absent was the guardedness that often accompanies us when we are in the super minority status that we occupy at most RC workshops. BLCD was the living contradiction to our distresses, which made it possible for us to discharge some of the most painful, chronic, and old material (distresses) that we carried.

Black men’s work (like most men’s work in RC) moved slowly for a long time. For several years there was not much activity focusing on men’s work. The only time we met as black men was at the annual BLCD workshop. Then Tim Jackins, the next on the ally list, began steering us in the current direction.

Following Harvey’s death, Tim assumed the position of International Reference Person. In addition to all of the duties associated with that job, he also began working to reinvigorate men’s work throughout RC. Tim led the International black men’s workshops for the next several years. After a few workshops he asked me to co-lead one with him, and then he “handed off” the responsibility for continuing the leadership of these workshops to me. This has developed into the International Black Men’s Workshop, which has met bi-annually for the past ten years. Although Tim no longer leads the workshop, he still functions as the key RC men’s leader and plays a major role in continuing to think about the development of black men in RC.

There is a solid block of black men who are committed to using, teaching, and leading RC. This Wygelian group meets from time to time to think and discharge together. Our most recent meeting was held in Seattle, Washington, USA. Tim spent a weekend with us. He counseled us, helped us get to know him and each other better, and helped point us in the direction we are currently in. This was one of the most helpful acts for the black men’s leadership team. As time and resource allows, we will likely invite other RC leaders to spend time with us as we work to broaden our participation in the Communities.

The fast-paced revolving door which for so long seemed to describe the in-and-out participation of black men in RC has slowed down considerably, resulting in a critical mass of us who have gotten enough resource to come all the way into the room. We are no longer acting as outsiders. Indeed, a number of black men have been able to fully embrace and claim this project for ourselves. There are now black men in RC who learned about this from other black men. In January 2010 the International Black Men’s Workshop added a fundamentals class to the agenda, modeled after BLCD. We continue to stretch and grow, and more black men than ever are assuming responsibility for leading. I am proud of who we are, pleased with what we do, and delighted to be in partnership with so many great human beings.

This list of Harvey, Charlie, Barbara, and Tim is not meant to suggest that they are the only RC leaders who have invested in the lives and liberation of black men in RC. Hardly! The love, time, counseling, and other resources of many people have made a huge impact on our growth. This growth has not been accidental. It has occurred because of the intention and actions of a committed bunch.

Each black man who has been counseled, taught, and supported financially to get this tool knows that someone helped him to get here. Thanks for being our allies!

Rudy Nickens
Regional Reference Person
St. Louis, Missouri, USA


* Wygelian is an RC-invented term for the various constituencies of people—women, Gay people, young people, elders, disabled people, people of color, and so on.


Last modified: 2017-05-07 06:35:41+00