Building a People of Color Community

Harvey proposed many years ago that each one of us can build a world community around ourselves. This has long been an inspiration to me. When I first heard it I decided that as a person of Arab heritage I wanted to build a community that was at least half people of color-—something that I hadn’t seen before in RC. I am pleased to say that today this Community is a reality and growing steadily on the east side of Los Angeles County, California, USA. Although we still have more work to do, the space and safety for a diverse group of people of color to discharge, re-emerge, and take on leadership is noticed and commented on by many. I’d like to share some of the thinking and decisions that were important in making this happen.

One of my first decisions was to spend a least half my time and attention with people of color—in my life, in my Co-Counseling relationships, at workshops, and so on.

If I had only a few relationships with people of color I would spend half my resources with those few people, while continuing to reach out for more relationships. I eventually noticed that even this decision was not enough—white people still continued to predominate. Spending more than half of my resources with people of color seemed necessary to build the community I wanted.

I found a solid friend—an African American—and introduced him to Co-Counseling.

Horace Williams1 and I have been close friends and Co-Counselors for over twenty-five years, and that relationship has been a strong foundation for our Community. It was useful to have a close ally who didn’t struggle with shyness as much as I did, who already had strong leadership skills, and who had been working for liberation for many years. As an African American with a history growing out of the civil rights movement, Horacewas often readily trusted by people of color. This was a key contradiction to internalized racism, which has sometimes created difficulties in my leadership as a light-skinned, mixed heritage Arab American. Persistently counseling each other on internalized racism has been crucial in our outreach to the African American and Latina/o communities and others.

Spending time to develop an ongoing relationship with a white ally who could be a resource to other white Co-Counselors helped me have the time to focus on classes for people of color.

Teaching a monthly teachers’ and leaders’ class and having occasional sessions with class members helped me stay in touch with the broader mixed Community.

One of our goals has been to have relaxed high expectations of the people we were teaching and leading. In practice we have emphasized “relaxed.”

Our Community looks a little experimental in some ways, with people leading who might not be considered leaders in other Regions. Harvey encouraged Communities to give people a chance to try leading without having to jump through too many hoops and would often give permission for people to lead that local leadership had not. We are taking the time to work with people where they are rather than where they “should” be. We do think about our teachers and leaders to make sure that they can model the basics well and that they aren’t going to mislead people too much. Gradually we are working towards greater rigor.

In my classes for people of color I summarize key information in a handout for each class. We spend time reviewing the handout together, sharing experiences, and giving each person a turn to discharge on the topic.

Most of the class time is spent discharging, and people can choose their counselor.

The classes are ongoing and open to new students at any time.

Keeping the class small helps me give better attention to each person’s needs in learning RC and keeping it useful for experienced Co-Counselors.

I have new people review a handout with a list of important ideas in Co-Counseling before starting the class so they have some familiarity with the basics. The class discussions and frequent short discharge turns often help people learn the theory in practice very quickly.

The class meets twice a month, and I think the shortened time commitment reduces the pressure people may feel about time and other issues. There is a support group for people of color that meets in between class meetings and most people attend it also.

An important part of building our Community has been working with people of color who don’t choose to participate in organized RC activities.

The information has often come out naturally in the course of our friendships and there have been some significant successes in people learning to practice pieces of Co-Counseling, use it, and communicate it to others in their lives, even though they have never been to an RC group.

I have de-emphasized the distinction between “inside” and “outside” RC. Reaching out to raised-poor and working-class people and breaking class barriers has been important also in reaching people of color.

Besides building a local Area and Region, Horace and I have reached out to build connections and share information internationally.

Horace has developed good relationships with several people in Uganda and Malawi. I have made some contact with relatives in Argentina, do phone time with Co-Counselors in El Salvador and Israel/Palestine, help with Spanish translation, serve as an informal English consultant for people translating The List into Japanese, and have edited two issues of Working for a Living. Recently Horace brought three raised-poor and working-class young adult African American men from his class to Rudy Nickens’2 Black Men’s workshop. They loved the workshop and the workshop loved them. We could see clearly that the slow, step-by-step work we have done here makes a difference far beyond our neighborhoods.

Harvey said that the way we learned Co-Counseling is not the only way to learn it, that we can find our own ways of teaching and building RC Communities. I appreciate the support we’ve received to do this from local allies and the International Communities. It doesn’t always look perfect as we make mistakes and learn, but there is room to discharge, think, and grow, and the satisfactions are many.

Victor Nicassio
Los Angeles, California, USA

1 Horace Williams is an RC teacher and Regional Reference Person, in Los Angeles, California, USA.
2 Rudy Nickens is an RC teacher and Regional Reference Person in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00