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Volume 53, Number 4 Fall 2020
Notes from the President
Written by Bianca L. Guzmán, California State University, Los Angeles
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~Rumi
Last night at about 11:30 PM there was a 4.6-point earthquake whose epicenter was the city of El Monte, in Los Angeles County, California. I live 4 miles from this epicenter. My first reaction was to call my mother to make sure she was okay. What she said to me was this “hija la tierra esta ardiendo de dolor” as a rough translation she said the earth is burning with pain. Her words have stuck with me as I think about how to move forward as a responsible human being.
How do we move forward during a time of such great worldwide turmoil? Politically our country is in dire need of reform. How can we continue to ignore the brutal treatment and killings of our Black community members? How do we dismantle structural racism that has been deliberately constructed to keep out communities of color?
These structures are so embedded and pervasive in our society that when a pandemic arrives we see that large cities where there are large groups of people of color become the places where COVID-19 spreads more rapidly and has more devastating consequences. For example, California, the state where I live, has become the leading state in the nation with the most COVID-19 cases (LA Times, 2020). In the county of Los Angeles, Blacks and Latinx individuals are contracting and dying of COVID-19 at a rate three times higher than of our white communities. If all healthcare and social services were of equal access and quality, why would this issue arise?
Within our own organization, we find ourselves at a great time of crisis and opportunity. As many of you know, members of African descent (as described in the letter: African, Caribbean, and Black) put forth an open call letter demanding that SCRA as an organization take action against anti-Blackness, white supremacy and oppressive acts/behaviors. (See full letter here: https://www.scra27.org/files/8915/9735/2183/SCRA_CALL_TO_ACTION_ON_ANTI-BLACKNESS.pdf)
This letter outlined four demands which are:
When I heard and read these demands I took time to understand and acknowledge that SCRA needs to work in better ways so that all of our members feel that our community is a place of refuge. The demands seem reasonable and appropriate given the history that SCRA has had in upholding racist structures that continue to favor a white middle class academic society. As an immigrant Latinx woman who has been part of this organization since graduate school, I have felt and experienced my share of racism, discrimination and humiliation in this organization; that said, I do not purport to understand what Black members have felt.
I also left the organization to see if I could find another professional home. Every time I went to another professional organization, I observed that they too had many of the same issues that SCRA has related to racism, discrimination and the fear of allowing individuals of color to have positions of power in the organization. What was always missing for me in these other organizations was the values and the people that I knew in SCRA. There are so many individuals that I have known over the years that continue to be my colleagues, friends and mentors who belong to SCRA. I also felt a deep need to continue to connect with the people of color in the organization that could relate and advise me about how to move forward in my professional and academic roles.
For me the earning of my degree was such a prideful moment; the accomplishment was so difficult and part of what my family felt was the obtaining of a piece of the American dream. I like other immigrants have always felt the full weight of my community upon me as I make professional decisions. I wanted a professional home that was something that was established, honorable and worthy of my time.
I believe that the members of SCRA do believe in social justice and a movement to liberation. My thought about this has not changed. I returned to SCRA because the people I care about are here. I was elected president. Then the pandemic hit and everything in our world changed. As humans we began to see that the earth indeed was radiating, burning and hurting from the centuries of mistreatment, killings and prohibited opportunities that we continue inflicting on our Black community members. In the summer of 2020, I was no longer president-elect, I was president. By this point the country was speaking up about the injustices committed against Black men and women by the police. As never before we witnessed a grass-roots mass social media campaign centering on police brutality and the brutal killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many other Black individuals. Suddenly, perhaps in part by the peaceful protests that occurred, the re-framing of the way our society thinks about the police became possible. Many cities across the country began to talk about how dollars could be re-allotted to community services instead of expanding police budgets. These events and many others encouraged me to think about what SCRA could do.
As an organization it seemed plausible that we could deem my presidential year the year dedicated to Black Lives. I wanted and continue to want to make a difference. I also realize that SCRA is a volunteer-driven non-profit based organization with an executive committee making decisions. In my mind I always want to move at lightning speed. I also realize that we have a governing board and decisions and implementing sustainable change take time.
One of the things that I thought I could do as president was to turn to my SCRA colleagues, friends and sisters for advice. Talking with these women made me quickly realize that the APA convention could be a platform where we could discuss the issues occurring in our reality, primarily the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s anti-Blackness campaign which some of them termed the 1619 pandemic. This led to us creating a panel discussion entitled “Subverting white supremacy, Centering Black Lives Amidst Two Public Health Crisis: Anti-Black Racism and COVID-19.” Although many of our members may have not attended APA, we made the video available for everyone to view (link: https://vimeo.com/442572845/e3f60d3e71). This panel was made up of seven women of color who are community psychologists. They are: Ireri Bernal, Khanh Dinh, Yvette Flores, Jesica Fernandez, Laura Kohn-Wood, Rhonda Lewis, and Pamela Martin. Susan Torres-Harding, president at the time, and I moderated and these amazing women shared insights with us about what it is like to be intersectional Black, Asian and Latinx women in the field. We also had a talk-back session in which many of our SCRA members attended, and we all shared in community. There were so many lessons from these panel discussions. What I took away was that, as difficult as it is to be a woman, faculty member and/or practitioner in the field, we felt a personal responsibility to the next generation to continue to struggle and make a difference.
In addition to this panel, the executive committee of SCRA has embarked on many activities related to the addressing the open letter we received from our Black members. We as a body drafted an extensive document detailing how we could respond to the demands. We also put all the information related to the call for action, the EC’s response, and related activities on the SCRA website that you can reference here: https://www.scra27.org/resources/call-action/. This response did include the following proposed actions (among others):
This plan was a starting place; as a member-driven organization, the leadership team was eager to receive feedback and improvements from our members. We realized we needed to review the sections of the plan with the membership in a clear, open and transparent manner. Therefore, we set up a series of information sessions to discuss that plan that would be done over Zoom, inviting the whole membership to participate. So far, we have completed one session that primarily dealt with item number 1: leveraging conference space and, more specifically, a discussion about our Biennial Conference. All the feedback and related information can be found at https://www.scra27.org/resources/call-action/. Moreover, the executive committee did embark on a self-assessment and we are still in the process of evaluating what we have learned. We are also committed to hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant(s) to assist us in refining and carrying out the action plan.
Finally, I return to Rumi’s quote and continuing to understand its meaning and application. The wound is indeed where we need to be in order for the light to hit us so that we may continue to move through and process our own pain as an organization. As president, I want to reiterate that I hear, acknowledge, and want to move SCRA so we are closer to embodying our principles surrounding social change, diversity, empowerment, etc. We cannot fulfill these principles unless we examine and implement the aforementioned proposed actions.
As a final word, I find mindful meditation a powerful way to manage my life and pain. I have been certified in mindful meditation, and, as a humble contribution, I continue to offer weekly meditations which I announce via the SCRA listserv. I invite you to join me and others, in brief community. Lastly, I look forward to growing opportunities for learning and healing, as an individual and as part of this society, throughout my presidential term.
Bianca L. Guzmán
California State University, Los Angeles
LA Times (2020). Accessed at: https://www.latimes.com/projects/california-coronavirus-cases-tracking-outbreak/