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The
Community
Psychologist

Volume 54, Number 3 Summer 2021

From the President

Notes from the President

Written by Bianca L. Guzmán, Rhonda K. Lewis and Pamela P. Martin

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As I complete my term as president I cannot help but think about what I along with the officers and the executive committee, and all the committees, councils and task forces have accomplished during such a historic year in the United States and around the world. I continue to be amazed that in some capacity we all kept working on our assigned tasks for SCRA despite the COVID-19 and racial reckoning pandemics. As a nation we are still in the center of vaccinating the country while other countries like India continue to struggle with death and despair as COVID-19 continues to rapidly kill vulnerable populations. This circumstance is not to imply that as a country we have health care covered for vulnerable populations. On the contrary, too many Black people and people of color have received poor healthcare access and delivery including information and access to COVID-19 vaccinations. Many of our Black community members and people of color have died at disproportionally large rates in comparison to our white counterparts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also do not have racism, white supremacy, and structural violence covered and yet as community psychologists we continue to stand for racial justice and social change. 

I believe that now is an especially important time for all of us to take extra care of our own psychological/mental health and wellbeing. As I think of how to make sense of all of this and continue to function and create, I am reminded of a mediation exercise that I particularly love. In this exercise you as the participant are asked to think of a mountain. Once you have a vision of that mountain in your mind’s eye you are asked to think of how that mountain despite changes in the earth or changes in the seasons the mountain just keeps standing steady in place and rooted to the earth, unmoving. This idea of just standing in place despite anything is powerful. This practice is what I have attempted to do as president. I keep standing for what I believe is the right thing to do even when it may not be popular. And in this standing some changes occurred. 

One of the changes that occurred is that we hired a new executive director. After a long process we hired Dr. Amber Kelly. I could not be more thrilled as I know Amber has great enthusiasm and dedication to SCRA. Amber has quickly become the center of all of the tasks that we are completing as an organization. She came in and began her tenure with hosting virtual welcome meet and greets so that our members could chat with her and she has a well thought out plan to make sure our members feel included and acknowledged. One of the strategies in this plan is to host quarterly welcome sessions that will focus on welcoming our new members that will also include some entertainment. Amber has become a key player and thinker in every arena that we are managing as a society. For example, she stepped up as soon as she came in and began to heavily support whatever needed to be done to have a great first virtual biennial conference. Amber is just like a mountain; she continues to stand for what she believes is the right thing to do. I am happy she is here. I know we will see the impact of her work for many years to come. Welcome Amber. 

Another change that is in the process of happening is that we are in the final stages of hiring a diversity, equity, inclusion and access consultant group. The hiring of this consultant group has been a long and slow process and we are almost there. We anticipate that this consultant group will assist us in reviewing the call to action on anti-Blackness and the executive committee’s response to the call to action and provide a plan/feedback about how we can move forward and address many of the issues raised by the call to action. We also anticipate that this consultant group will assist us in getting us into a space where we can begin to articulate a theory of change that we can agree upon so that we may build a new strategic plan for the society.  Finally, we also anticipate that this consultant group will assist us in developing a more comprehensive implementation plan to address racism and white supremacy in all areas of our society including leadership roles, transparency and how we implement community psychology in teaching and practice. 

Moreover, last year as Susan Torres-Harding completed her presidential year and I began mine we decided to use the 2020 American Psychological Association (APA) SCRA presidential address platform to have a panel of women of color address how two public health crises: Anti-Black Racism and COVID-19 was impacting their professional and personal lives as community psychologist.  And change occurred. The Division 27 2020 Presidential Address was transformed to a panel that was called "Subverting White supremacy, centering Black lives amidst two public health crises: Anti-Black racism and COVID19." 

(Watch here: https://vimeo.com/442572845/e3f60d3e71) This format was a change from previous years where the president typically uses this space to give a final address as a solo event. Therefore, the address became a panel of seven women of color and Susan Torres-Harding and I served as moderators. The women that participated were: Ireri Bernal, Khanh Dinh, Yvette Flores, Jesica Fernández, Laura Kohn-Wood, Rhonda K. Lewis, and Pamela P. Martin. During the APA conference we also had a talk-back live session on our main SCRA Zoom line where members could come and ask questions and make comments about the panel. This event was well attended and is available for viewing here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rKTjZfEo6SSpxyyfb7uHeOk3cd9W891C/view?usp=sharing

This panel was a catalyst for several of the women on the panel to continue to seek ways to make SCRA more accountable to addressing racism and white supremacy in teaching, research and practice. The following section is an accounting of what occurred when these nine women (including Susan Torres-Harding and myself) decided to continue the conversations raised at these events. 

Following the panel, we felt that there was more to address and more that we could do to continue the conversations we had started. The pandemics kept raging in 2020 and things continued to be bleak in the early part of 2021 as the two pandemics slowly settled across the globe underscoring racial discord and disparities. We understand that the subjection of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) for centuries represents the continuous pandemic that has allowed many nations to avoid freedom, liberty, and justice for all individuals especially in the United States.  The COVID-19 pandemic involves a once-in-a-lifetime virus outbreak that spread rapidly across the globe. Both pandemics highlighted BIPOC hostilities maligning Asian communities as well as numerous police killings of individuals from Black and Brown communities such as Andrew Brown, Mario Gonzalez, Adam Toledo. and Daunte Wright.  All of these individuals were killed by police in the United States either during or immediately after the George Floyd trial. And throughout all this period of time, we continued to hurt, suffer and think of what we could do as BIPOC community psychologists. 

We frequently say that community psychologists are trained to understand historical contexts influencing contemporary challenges to figure a way to make change. In our conversations the thought that we are living a Sankofa moment emerged.  According to Belgrave and Allison (2019), Sankofa, derived from the Akan people of West Africa and is defined as looking back before moving forward.  As community psychologists, we need to utilize previous inflection points across the globe representing our past to comprehend our present and ensure our future.  Moreover, our current moment of protests needs to be informed by the failures and successes of our previous protests.  For instance, how can community psychologists look to the passing of the 1964 Voting Rights Act during the Civil Rights Movement to inform us about securing access to the ballot box for BIPOC communities, low socio-economic communities in rural and urban areas, and college students?  How can community psychologists look to previous Civil Rights Organizations such as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the late shero Ida B. Wells Barnett that chronicled the lynching of African Americans to the current police shooting of Black and Brown citizens?  How can we look to the Japanese internment camps to prevent hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders due to the promotion of racist coronavirus speech?  How can we look at previous generations of immigrants such as Irish, Italians, etc. who were stigmatized when they arrived in the United States, noting similarities to current immigrants seeking the American Dream at the southern border coming from some Central and South American countries?  How can we look to previous White allies and co-conspirators during three historical periods (i.e., enslavement, segregation, and Civil Rights Movement) to engage as allies or co-conspirators to tackle current societal challenges facing BIPOC communities globally?  How can we look at global White supremacist systems and dismantle these systems through research to make a more just society?   

All these conversations and questions led us to think that history is what is written, not what is true. As we grappled with this, we understood that one of the ways that we could create an impact in our field was to develop a special issue in our two main journals Journal of Community Psychology (JCP) and American Journal of Community Psychology (AJCP) to memorialize the topics that continue to press heavily on our personal and professional lives. Rhonda Lewis as one of the associate editors of JCP approached the Editor Dr. Michael Blank about featuring a special issue on COVID-19 and Vulnerable Populations. We submitted a proposal and it was approved and the call went out and the first round of abstracts have been submitted. In reading the abstracts we discovered that the pandemic has unearthed multiple problems such as houselessness, domestic violence, racism, violence which is intensified by the impact of COVID-19. We discovered that there is inequity in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution to BIPOC populations. We believe the COVID-19 has exposed several inequalities in the community. Thus, community psychology and allied fields can use our collective knowledge and expertise to solve these problems together. We are confident that using an ecological, intersectional, and multi-dimensional approach will allow the field to advance. We are excited about the special issue and the knowledge and innovation that will be gained. 

Recently, we announced a Call for Papers for a Special Issue of AJCP titled "Racial reckoning, resistance, and the revolution: A call to community psychology to move forward.  Pamela Martin contacted Dr. Nicole Allen, AJCP Editor to discuss the possibility of a special issue and as is evidenced Dr. Allen agreed and approved our proposal. We hope all of these efforts will allow our division to reflect on the past to move us forward as a collective creating social change across the globe – completing the Sankofa moment.   


References

Belgrave, F. Z., & Allison, K. W. (2019). African American psychology: From Africa to America. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.