Happy Birthday, Fred Hampton, Maywood’s Son; Part I: Beginnings

© Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

Escaping the American South wasn’t easy for many African Americans who fled North during the Great Migration.  In her stunning, award-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the myriad ways White Southerners tried to prevent Blacks from leaving the land White people called Dixie.  In some Southern towns, trains headed North were not even allowed to stop; and, in others, Blacks were literally dragged off Northbound trains they had already boarded.  Many Blacks had to devise dramatic escapes—reminiscent of enslaved people whose brilliant ventures involved subterfuge and daring, and who mostly moved under cover of night.  Although these brave men and women were “fling[ing]” themselves North in search of “the warmth of other suns,” as writer Richard Wright has written, they could not have known that Northern cities and streets would be, in many ways, as mean and treacherous to their children as Southern life had been to them.

Francis Hampton came up from tiny Haynesville, Louisiana. He had lived in suburban Argo and Blue Island before settling his family down in Maywood, Illinois.  His wife, Iberia Hampton, who babysat Emmett Till, the Chicago teen whose savage death at the hands of White Southerners in Money, Mississippi helped launch the civil rights movement, was a courageous union steward at Corn Products Refining Company.  Many believe their son, Fred, inherited her incandescent spirit that longed and quested for justice.  Frances Hampton was quiet and, seemingly, somewhat shy, but he had valiantly served in World War II before working at the same company as his wife.  The Hamptons’ children, William (Bill) and Delores (Dee Dee), along with their brother, Fred (born on August 30, 1948), attended Irving Elementary School right across the street.

In the 1960s when Fred was organizing at Proviso East High School and the NAACP in Maywood and later in Chicago, the streets of Northern cities were rife with Black poverty, inequality, squalor, and economic disinvestment.  Northern ghettos were brutal, harsh, and depressing areas where Black parents were in constant fights for equitable educational opportunities for their children, good jobs with fair pay for themselves, decent, habitable housing for their families that were not rat-infested, and basic city services—like proper garbage pickup and disposal.  Meanwhile, they were also paying higher prices, or what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called a “Negro tax,” on food—that was often stale and substandard—and basic necessities.  Co-existing alongside normalized discrimination and inequality was racist police brutality and corruption in Black communities, which created a consciousness that caused many activists and scholars to view the police as occupying forces whose job was containment rather than service and protection.  Into this tragic, painful, and violent abyss, that government officials refused to properly remedy for these long-suffering tax paying citizens, stepped the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.* 

It is hard to understate the attractiveness of the Black Panthers.  They were young, beautiful, uncompromising, problem-solvers and bold critical thinkers whose demand was rooted in dignity and justice.  Their “survival programs,” which included feeding hungry school children all over the country and providing free medical services for people with no, or substandard, insurance, as well as their articulate call for respect for members of the Black community, was exhilarating to many people in those downtrodden neighborhoods.  

Led by the indomitable spirit of their patron saint, the late Malcolm X, whose brilliance and commitment to the liberation of Black people was undeniable, the Panthers were prepared to lay down their lives for the fair treatment of Black people.  Like the great Fannie Lou Hamer, who had told the Democratic Party leadership on national television in 1964, that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” the Panthers were driven to action.  They helped renters who were being unjustly evicted (something that was not uncommon), they showed up at schools where Black children were being mistreated, and, from the beginning, they appeared where Black people were being harassed by the police.  

In fact, the Panthers began in 1966 in Oakland, California with co-founders, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, evoking pride and awe in Black citizens when they arrived on the scenes of police aggression with their command and recitation of the law and their demand for a showing of legally required probable cause for police action.  By 1968, in Chicago, Fred Hampton’s brilliant activism, community organizing, oratory skill, and stunning talent for building coalitions across racial lines (based on his concept of a “Rainbow Coalition”) was deeply admired. 


Learn more about Maywood, Illinois’ own Fred Hampton, in this the 50th year after his death, in Part II of this article, on Saturday, September 7th, the day of the official “One Book, One Proviso” book launch at Afriware Books in the Eisenhower Tower at 1701 South 1st Avenue, Suite 400, Maywood, Illinois 60153.  The event starts at 3:30 pm.  (Maywood sits in Proviso Township in Illinois.)  We are reading Black Against Empire:  The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.

*The original name of the Party was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. 

Common Ground?

by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

I realized Hillary Clinton would not be president about three months ago.  When I dared utter that revelation — which seemed preposterous at the time — my friends were aghast.  So, I stopped  prognosticating publicly.  Instead, I began to brace myself for the devastation that would occur when many smart people, who could not fathom a Donald J. Trump victory, would have to accept the cold hard reality that he would be their president.

My belief was premised on several things — one of which was that President Barack Obama, with his brilliant message of “Hope and Change” was supposed to be just that.  For many people, he was not.  Let me say from the outset that I love Barack, his impressive wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls.  I waged many a tough argument in favor of his candidacy from the very beginning.  (My disputants were often Black, because, in 2008, many Black people did not believe a Black man stood a “ghost of a chance” at winning the presidency.  In fact, many Black people were solidly behind Hillary until Iowa happened.)  So, if you are looking for a screed against Obama, you must look elsewhere.  This is simply one assessment of what went wrong for those who thought Hillary would be their president. 

“Hope and change” meant different things to different people. In the Black community, many of us thought we would see some real progress toward criminal justice reforms because so many Black families have been brutalized by a prison industrial complex that has been like a dragnet for Black people, and that is inherently and undeniably racist.  Racial disparities exist at every crossroad of the criminal “justice” system, from who gets arrested and charged to who draws the longest sentences and the death penalty. We also thought we would see a perceptible investment in education in the inner-cities where far too many of our children attend schools that feature an educational experience so inferior to others that no credible person even argues the point anymore.  We thought we would see a major decrease in Black unemployment and underemployment.  While we were not expecting miracles, we thought we would see something that looked like advancement toward real racial equality.  We did not see those things. 

But let’s be honest.  Many Whites and Hispanics voted for Barack Obama because they sought “hope and change,” too.  The George W. Bush years left Americans exhausted in so many ways that they wanted clear and unambiguous change.  People of all races who voted for President Obama thought they would see a decrease in the stupefying graft and corruption in Washington, D.C. and on Wall Street.  They thought they would see more investment in the economic well-being of the average American citizen and in the communities, as well as a definite swift kick aimed at any titan of Wall Street who was engaged in crookedness.  They thought they would see better paying jobs and a better America.  They did not.  We also wanted to see the beginning of demilitarization in Iraq and Afghanistan. We did get some of that, but our veterans still suffer, and that’s despite the fact that Obama and the first lady are huge advocates for veterans.  So, we watched with “shock and awe” as the crooks on Wall Street got away, and as the Obama administration hired some of the “same ole” Washington people who simply reified the things we were trying to eradicate.

Most of all, we watched with horror as the Republicans rallied to cripple our president before he could even get started.  So, it must be said that many of the things we wished for were torpedoed from the very start by a viciously recalcitrant Republican caucus that simply outright refused to work with our duly elected president.  Why some of those people are not viewed as traitorous by the American people is one to ponder, isn’t it?  No fair-minded person can overlook the bad behavior of the Republicans even as our nation was in grave peril, because when Obama took over from Bush not only were we lurching toward a modern day Great Depression, but the whole global economy was unstable and insecure. 

The Republicans’ outrageousness must never be forgotten.  They sought to fight Obama, seemingly, on every turn and for no good reason.  Something as simple and as needed as repairing our national infrastructure with a major long term funding bill was a major fight until the end of last year, and even then the bill that passed was not the amount for which Obama had asked.  For the president, infrastructure meant investment in grids and the digital space, as well as roads, rails, and waterways. Although some infrastructure dollars were in Obama’s first term stimulus package, even that passed with strong Republican opposition.  So, the legislative “deplorables” have been in full swing from the start.  Anything that would make Obama look like the smart, unflappable, and caring president he is seemed automatically slated for failure.  The fact that Obama accomplished as much as he did is a testament to his decency and steely resolve to get at least some things done for the American people in spite of his antagonists.

But make no mistake about it.  Barack Obama did not go to Washington to “blow it up.”  The hope and change he discussed was not nearly the hope and change we wanted.  Obama is the statesman who went to Washington to save the union, much like his presidential ideal, Abraham Lincoln.  He saved the economy, instituted universal health care — an idea that goes back, at least, to President Theodore Roosevelt — and made some consumer financial reforms.  Jobs growth has been documented, but it has not been nearly enough — especially in some communities.  In a culture still riven with racial discrimination, the questions are:  Who is getting what jobs and are the jobs people are getting sustainable?  In other words, who is getting the good jobs?

That the Obama Administration did not bring the hope and change many of us wanted to see is not a knock on Obama, because, probably, the truth is he never signed up for the hope and change we all wanted to see.  I remember, when he ran for office the first time, people said he was like a Rorschach test.  It was said that people saw what they wanted to see in him.  But it is clear now that he did not go to Washington to “shake it up,” as much as he went there to try to reform something that could not be reformed.  That said, he will go down in history as a great president, because he did manage to clean up the mess he inherited from George W. Bush.  Yet, the disappointment left by the hope for real change in Washington and on Wall Street, and in the everyday lives of average American citizens, created a huge political vacuum.

It left a wide entryway for a charlatan to exploit — a wide lane for a con man to maneuver.  Donald Trump popped up first to appeal to the “deplorables,” the most base, vile, racist, bigoted, misogynistic, and disgusting members of the citizenry.  Then he insidiously took over the minds of the White people who, while not exactly deplorables, nevertheless, were not too ashamed to cast their lot with a loathsome personality who promised to blow up Washington and clean up the corruption in Washington, D.C. as he went about “Mak[ing] America Great Again.”  The slogan was a racist dog whistle they could live with if it meant some of their economic needs could get met.  Then he fished for the White people who have not really decided that they are not racists.  They don’t want to be called racists, but they kinda believe that important jobs should be in the hands of White people.  Next, he came for the White people who will adamantly deny that they are “racist,” but who, nevertheless, feel they are not making it at the economic level they think they should be, and that the prospects for their children are not good.  So, in the hopes that here was someone who would finally blow up Washington and the status quo, they inched toward Trump and simply refused to take his despicable, uninformed rantings seriously.  Finally, he came for the truly exasperated and  dispossessed Blacks who saw the hope they had invested in the material and social change they believed Obama would bring go up in smoke, mirrors, and illusion — after all, they have been waiting and hoping for change for so long.

So, Trump’s lies, racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, secrecy, sophistry, contradictions, vulgarities, and extreme crudeness was supposed to be the antidote to “political correctness” and to a failed Washington that could not be cleaned up by President Obama.  The fact that Trump was shockingly ignorant about important domestic and international issues, had no coherent policy on anything, and simply spewed forth wild, empty rhetoric about building a wall that Mexico would pay for, placing a moratorium on Muslims entering the country, and other foolishness was cast off as too foolish to believe by some, even as it was met with a resounding “Yes!” by the deplorables.  People who touted him as a great businessman who will bring good jobs for all of us were undaunted by the fact that Trump is himself a failed businessman (six bankruptcies), who, as President Obama correctly pointed out, likes to “sla[p] his name on” things he did not build.  He is the king of licensing his name, because he has conned people into believing that his name means something.  The fact that his daddy was rich to begin with never seemed to matter, as he told people how great he is.  The barrage of lies he spewed forth became overwhelming enough that some who voted for him just tuned the lies out, sure that he could not be as hideous as he seemed if he was going to “drain the swamp.”

The fact that he ran against Hillary Clinton, “the most qualified person to ever run for president,” actually helped him.  The ultimate Washington insider, Hillary, has been a first lady for a state and for the nation, a senator, and a secretary of state.  What many people did not fully grasp is that she has been hated by a faction of White America for a long, long time.  (This is true even though she has been a perennial on the American Gallup list of the most admired women in the world.)  I learned firsthand how much the Clintons are hated in the south when I took a job and lived in Alabama for five years.  I was astonished every time I witnessed White male associates turn beet red, tremble with rage, and practically foam at the mouth as they “explained” to me how “corrupt” the Clintons allegedly are and how much they “hate” the Clintons.  And I have always maintained that Hillary would lose the White woman vote.  (That’s another article!)  Many of these people have hated the Clintons since before they went to Washington; the hatred extended back to their days in Arkansas. 

When Obama ran for president in 2008, he traveled to Huntsville, Alabama.  Outside of a fundraiser, a White man stood behind him with a sign that read, “Anybody but Hillary, even you.”  It was hilarious at the time, but I have thought about that often as I watched the presidency slip away from her this time.  So, I was well aware of just how visceral and deeply rooted the hatred toward the Clintons is in parts of the South, and I knew she would get absolutely nothing from that part of the country.  And with the media in the tank for Trump, because of the ratings revenue they feel he generates for them, ultimately, it became clear that his billions of dollars of free advertising, coupled with the media’s failure to press him, really press him, and debunk his lies, would push him over the top.  (The media never went after him with the awesome might they leveled toward Barack Obama and his wife when he first ran for president.)

Now, consider that I have not even broached the misogyny Hillary faced on the campaign trail, the media’s fixation on her private email server, the Republicans’ scandalous moves to suppress the Black vote (the election was rigged — in Trump’s favor), or the legitimate policy differences that people have with Hillary.  Also, I have not touched on the anger that people in the Black community feel because of the devastating three strikes legislation that went down under her husband’s presidency, or the ways in which the Clintons interacted with then Senator Obama when she ran against him.  Clinton made some very unfortunate statements including implying that one of the reasons she did not drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination, when it was clear that she could not win, was because something might happen to Obama late in the primary as was the case with Robert Kennedy in 1968.  That was appalling. Then there is the “trust” problem Hillary has with the American people. Hillary needed to overcome that problem much more effectively.  So, for all the aforementioned reasons, plus “Wikileaks” and alleged Russian cyber hacking, I watched, without a great deal of disbelief, as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin slipped away from her. 

In fact, the only state that did surprise me was the White state of Iowa, the state that put the wind at Obama’s back in 2008 with a pivotal victory.  It rather stunned me that they voted for Trump this time.  I just wish that, before throwing in the towel and electing a grossly unprepared candidate like Trump, we as Americans had forced Barack Obama, a man of real substance and a former community organizer who really does understand that there is real pain on the ground, to be the president we wanted and needed.  But that would have taken the unqualified support of White people who should have demanded that the deplorables in Congress get behind our president.  It is alright to vigorously debate and disagree with policy issues, but we should have never allowed Congress to disagree just to be disagreeable  We gave President Obama a mandate and then we fell to the side and shook our collective heads in disgust while he battled.

It has to be said, to “good” White people, that, perhaps, you got sidetracked, once again by race and media antics.  The goodness you saw in Barack Obama was real, but you allowed race to enter into the picture the way it always does.  In fact, some of it was stoked by Hillary Clinton, who, during the 2008 primary, famously implied at one point that the “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans” from certain states would vote for her.  Many people felt she was “race-baiting,” and some Blacks felt she was subtly implying that Blacks, who have worked the hardest, for the longest period of time, for the least amount of money, don’t work hard.  Others felt she meant that, perhaps, Barack Obama did not understand economic hardship endured by working class Whites.   

Research in social psychology has taught us that when people have “superordinate goals,” they can usually work together for the common good.  Yet, race and vile racist stereotypes are always used effectively by those who have a stake in continually dividing the electorate even when we share superordinate goals.  We had the right man, with the right heart, the right conscience, and the right brilliant and compassionate wife by his side, yet Americans blew it because race won over again.

So, where do we go from here?  Well, we can take solace in the fact that more people voted for Hillary than for Trump.  With respect to Trump, I have no idea if he really came to Washington to root out some of the cancer that is deeply embedded in Washington.  This is so because we really do not know what this man believes, or if he believes anything at all.  He was not properly vetted.  It seems clear that he is not a radical right wing Republican, but news of his appointment of Steve Bannon, of Breitbart News, to be his senior advisor and chief strategist, and of his nomination of Jeff Sessions for US Attorney General, is nothing short of frightening.  Is Trump just a cheap opportunist who will say and do anything for fame, fortune, and applause?  Or is he a full blown racist?  Is he as misogynistic as many think? Is he a religious bigot?  Is he completely intolerant of, and resistant to, other people’s truths?  Is he crazy?  What do we really know?

I think Black people and all Americans of goodwill need to fortify and make demands.  We cannot retreat.  Everything we should have pressed for under Obama needs to be pressed for now.  If Trump is smart, he will disavow  and strongly rebuke all the dormant hate he has summonsed— immediately and unequivocally; and he will use Obama’s playbook and do some of the things Obama tried to do.  He will enhance “Obamacare” and force Republicans to make it work; and he will work tirelessly to get this economy booming some kind of way to create jobs and opportunity.  If he is true to himself, he will abandon silly ideas about Roe v. Wade and he will not try to tamper with people’s reproductive rights or with any of their civil liberties, for Trump is no real Republican and is on record as being far more tolerant and moderate than he pretends. 

Trump needs to push for fair and compassionate comprehensive immigration reform because everybody knows it is necessary, and because the issue is causing entirely too much fear and discord among the populace.  He also needs to address the obscene cost of public education and the exorbitant student loans that hamstring college graduates.  If he wants to be as fantastic as he thinks he is, he needs to turn his attention to the inner-cities and invest in them, including public schools.  If he really wants to be a good president he will dispense with the ghoulish Rudy Guliani’s odious “stop and frisk” nonsense and work to repair the unconscionable inequalities in the criminal justice system.  If he wants to be transformational, he will advance racial justice, because that is the continuing malignancy that consistently erupts to destroy our faith in each other. 

Like it or not, Donald Trump is the president-elect.  So, we had better prepare to fight for what we know is right.  I don’t believe that everyone who voted for Trump is a virulent racist; in fact, he received more Black male votes than Mitt Romney, and he got a decent share from Latinos considering his charged rhetoric against Mexicans.  I believe that many of the people who voted for him did so with the idea that, as a person without a political pedigree, perhaps he won’t be stymied by the ways of Washington.  The problem is that the usual gang of gruesome “has beens” are already lined up near him, along with an additional scary assortment of characters with odd ideas.  Trump is so needy, because he does not know anything useful for the job he is undertaking, that he, likely, can be easily co-opted in any direction.

So, the people have to take a stand.  We need to work for and hope for the best.  Struggle is nothing new for Black people.  Our task is to do what we have always done, and that is set the standards for decency and justice.  As a people, we are known to do great things.  So, in the spirit of Frederick Douglass (who advised Lincoln), Ida B. Wells (who lobbied President William McKinley), Mary McLeod Bethune (who counseled FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt), and Booker T. Washington (who advised Theodore Roosevelt), we need to help guide this president toward sane and humane policies for the sake of this country.  “Good” White people need to do likewise. 

Updated November 24 at 1:45 CST:  Decided to take the line about Former Klansman and Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black out of this piece.  Although he did side with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on some cases, his history is complicated, so, on second thought, I decided to delete the reference to him.

Psychological AIDS

(c) by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

Yesterday, I came home from work and went to bed early – very early. My mind was tired from the events that had transpired at work and I realized that I needed rest. At the counseling center where I work, I had just participated in the testing and evaluation of a pretty little brown-skinned 12-year-old girl who was having academic problems. We had had many little conversations in between subtests and after we concluded the testing process, while waited for her mom, she had informed me that she only likes “light-skinned people.” She looked up at me and said, quite shyly, “and… White people.”

All of this came about because she had demanded to know if my “boyfriend” was “light-skinned or dark-skinned.” When I asked if it mattered, she had let me have it. In her scathing critique, she made it clear that dark-skinned people were… well, worthless. My mind began careening: “Here we go again. Here is yet another Black child whose mind has already been infected with the mythology and madness this culture foists upon one Black and Brown person after another. She is infected with the mythology concerning beauty promoted by white supremacy.”

My mind took flight, the trajectory was dizzying. I went in every direction trying to determine the most effective way to address this child. I had so much to say, and my many thoughts danced around in every corner of my mind. I know, of course, that when children articulate this type of nonsense, a lot of it emanates right in their homes where they have already been traumatized by bizarre comments like, “Bring your Black a__ in the house,” or “Get in here outta that sun, you already Black enough.” These types of utterances represent the more innocuous coded messages, but they are unmistakable. The parent is conveying to the child that there is something fundamentally wrong with being Black. The more aggressive and low-down messages come more direct: “Look, don’t go get no real Black one,” the mother says to her son. Or, “Come here, let me deal with that nappy head; I wish you had good hair;” or “Act your age, not your color.”

That, or course, does not even begin to address the myriad ways many Black parents communicate to their darker-skinned children that lighter-skinned, or better yet, white children are preferred and of greater value. The ways in which some Black adults lavish sun-kissed praise on light-skinned and white children is, frankly, sick. I remember going to a holiday get-together at the home of a friend whose mother had the temporary care and custody of a little White foster child whose own parents did not want her. There were Black children who were members of that family at the party, but you would have never known it. All the attention went to little “Megan.” My heart churned in pain as I looked into the sad, almost desperate eyes, of the beautiful little Black children who, ignored, sat silently as they inhaled the love and attention that little Megan received. Get her some juice; get her a small piece of cake; oh, look, I bought Megan a cute little dress; oh, let me comb her little blonde hair; oh, I promised Megan I would bake her some chocolate chip cookies; oh, my goodness, she sneezed, turn the heat up…

When one of the little Black boys, sensing it was okay, asked for a piece of cake, his request was met with a venomous tirade about how he knew better than to eat cake before dinner. One little girl, obviously perplexed and tormented, sidled up to me and asked if I thought her hair was pretty. The behavior of the adults was in a word, disordered. So, much for holiday cheer, I thought, as I made my apologies for having to leave to my shocked hostess and, ah… “friends.” My heart ached for those little Black children and my anger toward the Black adults had reached the zone of rage. I was uncomfortable with this pathetic display and I knew, intuitively, that it was time for me to leave, before I made someone else share my discomfort.

But back to my little examinee at the counseling center: As I struggled to regain my composure, I recognized that I was in a delicate situation. I was not there to preach to this child, and she was not intellectually prepared to receive my comments and ideas on the matter, anyway. Yet, as a responsible woman of African descent, I could not allow such blatant self-hatred to continue brewing and ravaging this child without an attempt to at least prick some area of her consciousness. This was all the more so because this child truly liked me. She had asked me over and over if she could go home with me. She had said if I were her teacher she would like school! (Bless her heart, she probably could sense that I truly valued her.)

I remembered that my little examinee had told me that she liked basketball, specifically Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal. So, I parried:

“I thought you said you like Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.” Satisfied, I smiled.

But she countered, swiftly I might add, “I like they basketball, I don’t like them. They ugly.”

“Wow.” I thought. “Little sister is serious.”

Exasperated, I had to play my trump card.

“What about your mother? She’s dark-skinned. She’s pretty. You don’t like her either?

The little girl blanched… but just for a moment, and then she recovered.

“That’s different. I’m talking about boys. I don’t like dark-skinned boys.”

Having never seen her father, I gambled, “Is your father dark-skinned?”

“Naw, he light.”

And she lit up as she gushed, “His whole family is light. And my grandmother was Indian with long pretty hair. Ooooh, I used to love combing her hair. It was so long.”

I asked her about her Indian grandmother, even though I already understood that her “long hair” exempted her from being disparaged even though, indubitably, she was probably “dark.” Then, although I didn’t want to, I asked her if she liked herself, because she was not “light.” Shocked for a second, she began to laugh, and then, as if I were both physiologically and metaphorically blind, she said, arms outstretched as an offer of proof, “I’m light.” She could not believe that I did not comprehend her as light-skinned.

I gazed at her — tried to hold it back, but decided that I needed to say it. I gently lectured her, in age appropriate language and as diplomatically as I knew how, on the folly inherent in liking people because they are light or white, and how ridiculous and self-defeating it is to dislike someone because s/he is dark. I concluded by informing her that some of the best-looking, smartest, most talented, gifted and creative people on the face of the planet are, in fact, Black – and many are dark in complexion.

I thought about this pretty little brown-skinned child as I drove home that evening and I thought about her as I bathed and got ready for bed. It was 6:30 pm when I sat on the side of my bed, and then it came to me. This system of mental domination and annihilation that we as a people have been subjected to is like psychological AIDS. It has shut down our intellectual immunity — our ability to defend ourselves from the lies of this culture. The fact that this syndrome is acquired is especially salient, too, for Black children do not come into this world hating themselves. No, they come in strong-minded and strong-willed and then the system grabs them with the complicity of their already infected parents…


Copyrighted material, by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod.  Excerpted from an essay entitled, “Psychological AIDS,” from the upcoming book, “Surviving, Healing and Evolving: Essays of Love, Compassion, Healing and Affirmation for Black People,” by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod.  Dr. Sherrod is a lawyer and a licensed psychologist.

Note:  The excerpt from my essay above describes events that took place before this year.

Black Woman: Don’t You Know Who You Are? “Fighting Shirley Chisholm”

Women’s History March, 2016

One can take it for granted that the Black women featured, for Women’s History Month, on this healing blog, faced racism, discrimination, sexism, poverty and unwarranted criticism on a grand scale — on top of all the other stressors that human beings face. The women featured also exemplify our trademark “SHE” understanding, wherein “SHE” is an acronym for “Surviving, Healing and Evolving,” just as we might imagine that each of these women survived (some kind of hell), healed (to some degree, over and over) and evolved (or re-invented herself — perhaps many times). So, every time you see the word “SHE” capitalized when reading about a featured African American Sister Woman Queen of Victory, think about what it must have taken for her to survive, let alone heal and maintain the Spirit necessary to evolve (that is, to continue growing and becoming greater and greater). We, too, must elevate our survival skills, heal ourselves over and over, and evolve into our greatness!

SHE (Surviving, Healing and Evolving) is a registered trademark.

“Fighting Shirley Chisholm:”
America’s First Black Congresswoman

(c) by Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

“One of the most dismaying aspects of politics and public
life in America today is the increasingly closed nature of the
entire political process, particularly at the highest level.”
Shirley Chisholm, The Good Fight, 1973

FIRST. She was the first; and, boy, do we need a courageous, independent public servant like her today. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, served up the blueprint for the type of dynamic leadership the American electorate desperately needs today. She did not engage in the vile, bigoted, personal petty politics that are so common today, just as she eschewed simplemindedness and greed. Instead, SHE focused like a laser on the problems bedeviling the American people. (Are you listening Hillary and Bernie?) SHE was a woman of integrity intent on delivering solutions for the people.

Born Shirley Anita St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York in 1924 — just five years before the start of the Great Depression — Shirley Chisholm was first elected to Congress in 1968, the same year the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In the 1920s, both of Shirley’s parents had been among the many West Indians who had sought to leave stultifying poverty behind by immigrating to New York.  They met while both were in pursuit of the “American Dream.”

The family struggled financially, but Shirley was a stellar student. On scholarship at Brooklyn College, she explored many avenues for expression, before she received her degree, with honors, in sociology. (Subsequently, her minor in Spanish would allow her to communicate with Hispanic constituents as she campaigned and governed.) Professionally, she worked as an educator, a director of daycare centers, and as an educational consultant for the city of New York. She also earned a master’s degree in early childhood education from Columbia University, the Ivy League institution that conferred Barack Obama’s undergraduate degree.

In 1964, SHE became only the second Black woman to serve in the New York state legislature. While there, the bills she sponsored reflected her activist passions — protecting the rights of black people, women and the poor, as well as promoting educational initiatives. She insured employment insurance coverage for (disproportionately Black) domestic workers, insisted that female teachers not lose their tenure while absent on maternity leave, and worked to secure financial aid for poor college students. With a solid legislative foundation to stand on, SHE ran for Congress.

“Ladies and Gentlemen … this is fighting Shirley Chisholm coming through,” she would often say as she campaigned for congress. She was also fond of saying she was “unbought and unbossed,” which was to become the title of her 1970 autobiography that every serious student of politics should read. Describing her district, Shirley wrote, “My Twelfth Congressional District of Brooklyn is mostly composed of poor neighborhoods with all the problems of poverty in an aggravated form: slum housing, high unemployment, too few medical services, high crime rate, neglected schools — the whole list. About 69% of my people are Black and Puerto Rican. The rest are Jewish, Polish, Ukranian and Italian. Speaking for them at this moment in history is a great responsibility because they have been unrepresented and ignored for so long, and their needs are so many and so urgent.” Once in office, the congresswoman would fight anyone, including members of the Democratic party leadership, if SHE perceived that person as underperforming in his or her obligation to fight for the people. She called herself “the people’s candidate,” and she was intent on “focus[ing] attention on the nation’s problems.”

Unwilling to wait her turn before asserting herself, as was expected of all newbies, Shirley’s first speech as a freshman legislator on the floor of the United States Congress, in 1969, was a powerful meditation against the war in Vietnam. In so agitating, she picked up where Dr. King, a fierce opponent of the War, had left off when he was assassinated in 1968. Further, she channeled the language of the great Sojourner Truth,* when she noted that she would refuse to vote for any defense appropriation “until the time comes when our values and priorities have been turned right-side up again” [italics added].

Unable to apprehend why she should be assigned to the Committee on Agriculture when SHE represented an urban district, Shirley objected to that appointment. Noting that there “are a lot more veterans in my district than trees,” she accepted a re-assignment to the Veteran’s Affairs Committee. In 1971, she obtained a seat on the Committee on Education and Labor, before becoming the second woman, and the first Black woman, to serve on the powerful Rules Committee (1977). She also worked on the Committee on Organization Study and Review (the Hansen Committee) which reformed the manner in which committee chairman selections were made. Always seeking ways to assert collective power, SHE was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus (1971) and the Congressional Women’s Caucus (1977).

Shirley was at the forefront of the women’s movement in the 1960s and 70s. Although SHE recognized that the odds against her were “hopeless” when SHE ran for president in 1972, in her opinion her candidacy was about the “refusal to accept the status quo,” which, of course, dictated that Blacks, all women and the poor were to be subjugated. Like President Barack Obama after her, SHE had been a community activist and had a profound understanding of the need for systemic change. In her book, The Good Fight, Shirley said, “I ran for the Presidency in order to crack a little more of the ice which in recent years has congealed to nearly immobilize our political system and demoralize people.”

And run she did. Battling virulent racism, injurious sexism (in the White, Black, and Hispanic communities), and operating with very little money, Shirley Chisholm, nevertheless, appeared on 12 primary ballots and garnered 152 delegate votes (or 10% of the total) at the Democratic National Convention. As if emphasizing the point that we need statesmen and women like her today, SHE ran for president speaking out on gun control, police brutality, poverty, income inequality, and what we now call the prison industrial complex — the system that has unfairly decimated many areas of the black community. Manifesting an unshakeable belief in justice and equality, fueled by electrifying fearlessness, by the time she finished, everybody knew “Fighting Shirley Chisholm.” A 1974 American Gallop Poll found that she was tied with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India as the 6th most admired woman in the world [emphasis added].

Shirley Chisholm left congress in 1983, formed the National Political Congress of Black Women and taught in South Hadley, Massachusetts at Mt. Holyoke College, one of the prestigious Seven Sisters Colleges. She also campaigned for her political heir, Jesse Jackson, when he ran for president in 1984 and 1988. She declined President Bill Clinton’s nomination for U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica, but continued to write and lecture until, having fought the good fight, she died on January 1, 2005.

“Fighting Shirley Chisholm”

Shirley Chisholm said she wanted to be remembered not as the first Black congresswoman or the first woman to run for president, but as a woman who “dared to be myself.” She said when people remembered her she wanted them “…to say Shirley Chisholm had guts.” In 2015, as he, posthumously, awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, President Obama said, “…I’m proud to say it — Shirley Chisholm had guts.”

So, let us meditate on having the guts to be our authentic selves, for that is when we win. When we allow people to falsify our consciousness, setting us off on a chase for something that we may not even want, we lose. When we don’t have the courage to use our gifts, it causes an erosion of our spirit and it diminishes our power. So, fight “the good fight” to use your gifts and talents, even if you have to fight yourself! That’s just a part of the healing. Shirley certainly summonsed up the strength to fight and do what others said she couldn’t do, and we are all the better for it! Just ask her other political heir — the President.

“I will fight until I can’t fight anymore. I don’t mind the challenge.”

Shirley Chisholm

**In a famous speech, the great abolitionist and suffragette, Sojourner Truth is reported to have said,  “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

Updated:  March 3, 2016

Walking With A Panther: It’s Raining Revolution

Copyright by Rhonda Sherrod

“I was born in a bourgeois community and had some of the better things in life, but I found that there were more people starving than there were people eating, more people that didn’t have clothes than did have clothes, and I just happened to be one of the few. So I decided that I wouldn’t stop doing what I’m doing until all those people are free.” Fred Hampton

“Because revolutionary theories are based on historical analysis, one must study. One must understand one’s history and one must make the correct historical analysis. At the correct moment, you make your historical leap and carry the struggle forward.” Stokely Carmichael

“…[What the Black Panther Party did] was to show how the Black man’s territory has never outlived the frontier state and is still the land of undefined laws; and that arbitrary violence in this territory often comes not from roving outlaws but from those charged with the enforcement of the law. Inclined to disregard the rights of Black citizens, they break the law under the guise of defending it. The [Black Panther Party] made of the police, then, the symbol of uniformed and armed lawlessness…”

And in arming [themselves] and their brothers against the world, [the Black Panther Party] emphasized a disciplined adherence to existing law. In fact, [the BPP] patrol member traveled equipped not only with a gun, but also with a law book.”

Erik Erikson, psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist

“Moreover, a recent poll indicates that approximately 25 per cent of the Black population has a great respect for the BPP including 43 per cent of Blacks under twenty-one years of age.”

J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI (1968)

What does it mean to be a revolutionary in America when one is born Black? What does it mean to be a revolutionary when one looks around and finds that the life choices for Black people are truncated by racism, discrimination, hatred, ignorance, ugliness, blight, and sterile options that fail to satisfy a race of people so brilliantly made, so stunningly talented, and so infinitely complex that it manages to produce magic in the midst of misery? What does it mean to be a revolutionary when one lives in a land that is still sick with the brainless belief that Black lives are easily, and even eagerly, dispensable because they are inherently inferior? What does it mean to be a revolutionary when one recognizes that Black people have to make meaning out of life even as that life is drenched and mired in pain caused by conditions Black people did not create? What does it mean to look around and see everyone enjoying the fruits of your people’s labor, creativity and perspicacity while you are simultaneously locked out of the land of plenty that you created? What does it mean to apprehend the truth even when lies abound — corrosive, virulent lies that stultify your life’s chances? Audacious lies… that threaten your life? Inventive lies… that serve to contain you in spaces that dim your spirit? Baffling lies… that communicate to you that in order for you to survive, you have to dance when there is no music and laugh at things that are not funny? What does it mean to fight for the true liberation of a people when the educational systems throughout the world are really set up to promote action and thought that supports white supremacy?

That describes the crackling atmosphere — dense with danger, anger, sorrow and death – out of which the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was formed.


Fred Hampton’s life and death are instructive. He lived life to make every minute count, as he quested for justice, peace, equality and understanding among the races — equality for Black people on every level, not just socially, but economically, too. He was the first one to dream of, and popularize the idea of, a “Rainbow Coalition” where justice for all meant… well, justice for ALL. And because he perceived the truth and stood in the light, his death was perceived by your government as a necessity — a planned atrocity that should be studied by all who say they meditate on freedom, fairness and democracy. How can we, the people, let a government that supposedly represents us commit a calculated, cold-blooded crime of spectacular proportions like they did with Fred Hampton? He was a brilliant kid with a lot to offer, but “they” saw him as a potential “messiah” who could command and mobilize people; and “they” found it frightening because that army of people would be in the focused pursuit of justice. Justice. Why does the thought of justice scare so many White people? It is a very simple question about a rather simple concept.

What happened to Fred Hampton must never happen again, and the only way we can keep it from happening again is by keeping our eyes on the actions and activities of all government officials — federal, state, county, and municipal. We must never allow something like what happened to Fred to happen again. His life and death present a textbook example of why the people who framed the Constitution insisted on a free press, thereby enabling it to be a watchdog over government. When we fail to hold government accountable, anything might happen: Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Kathyn Johnston. James Chaney. Michael Schwerner. Andrew Goodman. Iraq. Grenada. Vietnam. Kent State. Jackson State… Fred Hampton

Fred was taken away from us. In a harrowing manner. Much too soon. He was my hometown hero. This was a young man who did more to help others in his short 21-year lifespan than most people will do, even if allowed their three score and ten, or more. He was murdered in the prime of his life, he was just beginning; and we will never know what he, and the people who followed him and believed in his vision, could have accomplished had the federal, county, and city “law enforcement” apparatus not killed him.


It seems that I have been aware of Fred Hampton all of my life. In Maywood, Illinois where I grew up, Fred is legendary. Among many people in the legal profession that I entered, Fred is an icon and a symbol for constitutional scholars and legal practitioners — a symbol for how right-minded citizens must stand sentry and monitor the behavior of government agents, including the police.

When I was in law school, I learned that Fred’s memory is seared into the minds of freedom loving people all over the country, and even the world. But I also know, that, thanks to a smear propaganda campaign, there are two competing images of Fred in the culture. The honest assessment is positive, and the negative portrayal is designed to cast him in a disapproving light.

Two experiences I had with Fred’s memory illustrate my point. When I was 18-years-old, and home from college for Christmas break, I finally went out on a date with a guy who had been trying to date me since high school. As we traveled in his car to a movie theatre, I was talking about Fred — lauding him for his brilliance and decrying his brutal assassination. All of a sudden, my date interjected, “Fred Hampton! That gang-banger. I can’t believe you think he is a hero. Are you kidding me? I…”

“Take me home,” I hissed, outraged.

“What?” My date suddenly sobered up. “Wha… What do you mean — take you home?” he said, his voice cracking.

“I said, Take. Me. Home.” I was incensed.

“But, I…I…I don’t understand,” my date sputtered. “Why? Why do I have to take you home?”

“If you don’t have sense enough to be able to tell the difference between a revolutionary freedom fighter, an international icon who died so that we might live freely… well.. I don’t know what to tell you,” I lamented, shaking my head for emphasis. “I just want you to take me home right now.”

“But, I don’t understand,” he wailed again.

“Just take me home,” I uttered between clenched teeth. “I am not in the mood to go to the movies now, especially with you.”

I swiveled my head toward the side window, as I sat in the passenger’s seat, refusing to look at or even talk to my “date” as he pleaded for me to continue on this long awaited outing. Finally, acknowledging my annoyance, he turned the car around and proceeded back to my home.


Fast forward a few years and I am a first year law student at a perennial top twenty law school that admits students from all over the country — really smart, well read, well-educated students.

It is a Saturday night during my freshlaw year and I am throwing a little get together. It is my first. Feeling quite grown up, I bustled about the apartment trying to set just the right tone and the perfect ambiance for an evening with some of the most righteous Black scholars at the law school. Music: Jazz — Coltrane, Miles, Duke, and Ella to be specific; food: finger sandwiches, cheese and a variety of tasty crackers and chips; and since I was and am a teetotaler, I let one of my friends select the wine for the evening.

The doorbell rang and a crush of students tumbled into my nicely arranged apartment.

“Where did you get that poster!” exclaimed my new friend from California, a UCLA grad. I turned and realized he was staring at a poster of my hometown hero. It was a beautiful picture of Fred Hampton with his famous words, “You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” The other quote on the poster said something like, “You can run the freedom fighter around the world, but you can’t stop the fight for freedom.”

“Wow,” another student chimed in. “That’s an incredible poster.” By now, the rest of the students had spotted the poster and were equally enthralled.

Sensing the Zeitgeist of the evening, regally, I held forth.

“Oh, Fred?” I asked, slyly, with a toss of the head. “He’s from my hometown. Yup! He’s my hometown hero. We were very close.”

Now, truth be told, I was a very young girl when Fred was assassinated. My few interactions with Fred were brief and minor, but no matter!

“We used to walk down the street together,” I embellished, “5th Avenue — it’s one of the main corridors in the town we grew up in. There is a swimming pool named after him…

“You really knew Fred Hampton?” another student ventured, in awe.

“Pay attention!” I snapped. “I didn’t say I knew Fred. I said we were close.”

Swiveling my head, imperially now, I duly noted that the rest of the students were looking at the interrupter, aghast at his gaffe.

So, I continued…

“Yes, there is a pool named after Fred in Maywood. As I was saying, We used to walk down the street together hand in hand,” I added. “He was schooling me on how to make sure that the power stays in the hands of the people, you understand? I was an acolyte learning that power belongs to the people in a democratic society.”

And so, it went. The students, mouths agape, listened to me carry on about Fred and his life as a revolutionary, a Panther, a freedom-fighter. I preened about the living room as I orated about this “natural born leader” who loved the people so much that he died for them. In fact, he was, as he put it, high on the people…

Later that evening, as I was cleaning up and delightedly reflecting on a swell evening, I looked up at the wall to smile at Fred only to discover that he was gone. Stunned, I blinked to be sure, he was not there. I rushed over to the spot where my poster had been hanging, looked around the area, thinking he had fallen, and realized that he was really gone. Someone had lifted my poster!

The next week in school, I figured since I was in law school learning great courtroom tactics and techniques, I would dope out who had been the culprit. So, I proceeded to interrogate everyone and came up empty. No one would confess. I never got my poster back; apparently, somebody in the group loved Fred as much as I do.


So, there are two competing narratives about Fred. The distorted one, foisted on the public by the powers that be in an attempt to justify the brutality of his death, casts him as a gang-banger, an incorrigible up to no good. The accurate narrative portrays Fred as the sensitive, brilliant, innovative, justice-loving, hard-working community organizer that he was.

We are more than 45 years removed from Fred’s senseless death, a horrific, mind- boggling moment in time that should have destroyed any innocent view that anyone had about “law enforcement.” His death revealed a sickening plot wherein the federal, county, and city government participated in a deliberate political hit. They killed this charismatic leader because he had the audacity to declare, and act on, his intention to protect the Black community from all unjust intrusions, including those enacted by the police. In an era wherein police brutality was rampant in the Black community, the Black Panthers’ rhetoric was strong and clear. Police brutality would not be tolerated. It is a sad fact that we are still struggling with the same problem today because, throughout history, no one has listened.

Fred, like his fellow Panthers, understood that the Black community was under siege. Black people’s tax dollars were being used to pay for people dressed in uniforms, and carrying awesome power to routinely beat, “trump up” charges on, and sometimes even kill Black people for the flimsiest of reasons… or for no reason at all. More to the point, Fred recognized that, in far too many instances, the police were simply serving as occupying forces that were there to protect White folks’ property and not to serve and protect Black people. (Many tenements were owned by White “slum lords,” and many stores were owned by Whites, too.) The Panthers had read people like Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois. As young as he was, Fred “got it;” he understood. Because the police are clothed in respectability, many of them were, and still are, getting away with mayhem in the Black community, and Fred knew it.

Fred Hampton was born in Chicago on August 30,1948. His family had lived in Argo and Blue Island, before moving to Maywood where he attended Irving Elementary School. His mom, Iberia Hampton, had known Emmett Till’s babysitter, so she had helped babysit Emmett from time to time. Chicagoan Emmett Till’s name exploded onto the cultural landscape when, at 14 in 1955, he was viciously tortured, shot, and cast into the Tallahatchie River by southern racists when he was visiting relatives in or near Money, Mississippi. His corpse, once recovered, was hideously mutilated, and his mother, Mamie Till, decided on an open casket viewing and funeral, in defiance of the State of Mississippi, that shocked the world as it bore witness to the raw savagery of state sanctioned racism.

Many people say that Till’s death provided the spark that ignited the engine for the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s. What Iberia did not know was that her beloved youngest son would die a very public death at the hands of the state apparatus, and that his death would spark a revolution in politics in Chicago that would culminate with the election of the city’s first Black mayor.


The above writing is excerpted from an essay about Illinois Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton from the upcoming book entitled,  Surviving, Healing and Evolving:  Essays of Love, Compassion, Healing and Affirmation for Black People.


Teaching Scalia about History, Diversity and Physics

copyright by
Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

I taught a “diverse populations” counseling course in the graduate psychology department at a historically black university in the deep south. The students in my class, many of whom were White, were enrolled in a theoretical and research-driven, skills-based course. The objective was to learn how to deliver effective counseling and meaningful therapy to individuals whose cultural background is considered different from the so-called “mainstream.” They studied Black history so they could learn about people who are, in fact, the apotheosis of American citizenry, people who have been fundamental to the building of the country they all enjoy, to the extent that each one enjoys it.

The class was guided by the American Psychological Association’s enlightened approach which, among other things, encourages “sensitivity/responsiveness, knowledge, and understanding about ethnically and racially different individuals.” * It makes sense that, in order to conduct therapy with an individual from a “minority” group, one should know something about the group’s history, culture and what they have endured. Hence, before we grappled with therapeutic issues that frequently arise when one conducts therapy across cultures, the class featured a crucial component wherein students read literature that has intelligently confronted and interrogated the savagery of racism.

Although we studied many “diverse” populations, since race dynamics are often played out in Black and White in America, students spent a great deal of time on the Black experience. They read from documents as wide-ranging as Frederick Douglass’ What to the Slave is the Fourth of July to Fantz Fanon’s theory of colonization, which has been adapted to provide instruction about the brutality of  “internal (or domestic) colonialism.”  They read about Ida B. Wells’ investigative and theoretical brilliance, which she used to successfully challenge the lies undergirding lynching, as well as Paula Giddings’ classic work, When and Where I Enter, about Black women’s struggle for freedom, respect, strong communities, and ownership of their own bodies.  Students read from other significant works including, Black Like Me, Slavery by Another Name and W.E.B. DuBois’ writings on the convict lease system, as well as writings on the racial disparities in the criminal “justice” system. They read (law) Professor Cheryl Harris’ insightful work on Whiteness As Property, which was published by the Harvard Law Review, and beyond. In short, they accessed the education they were supposed to receive — one that made them infinitely better prepared for the therapeutic encounter, and that, hopefully, launched them on an intellectual odyssey that will make it possible for them to contribute to the betterment of society.

The point was to expose students to the devastating ways in which racism and white supremacist thought function in Black people’s lives. (Why do Black family members fear that calling the police will escalate a problem rather than resolve it? What’s the history there?) They also learned about the terror that has characterized White/Black relationships, and how Black people have never had equal protection or due process under the law. They learned that Black people have had to struggle mightily for self-determination, even as they built this country, and they had never heard of Black Wall Street or sundown towns.

Sadly, and somewhat shockingly, most of my students — even the Black ones — were not in possession of basic racial historical knowledge, such as the terror and intimidation of lynch and rape culture, or the difficulty involved in integrating schools. They disputed the pervasiveness of racial inequities in the legal system, and in policing, until confronted with the evidence. Despite the fact that many of my students were from the South, they had no real understanding of how harmful, demeaning, exasperating and baffling Jim Crow laws and mores were, nor did they fully comprehend the ferocious threat they posed. They had never heard of “White privilege” until we studied Peggy McIntosh’s work; and they were disabused of the stereotypical notions about Black people being lazy, brutish and promiscuous. They had no idea those despicable stereotypes, that most of them subscribed to, developed out of a need to justify and support White supremacist thought and action.

To say that my students, White and Black, were astonished by what they read would be a profound understatement. Yet many of the students, Black and White, after arguing, crying, debating, disputing, and ultimately accepting the un-sanitized racial history of this country, stated that my class was the “best course” they had ever taken. They received the education they deserved — and in that I take pride.  White students acquired a much better understanding of American history. Many of them began to apprehend that their standing in American society is not simply the product of their “hard work” (because, apparently, many had not fully realized that Black people work hard, too) but is also the product of their White privilege. The knowledge base they acquired gave them the confidence they need to interface constructively with Black, and other “minority,” patients — and the world. Black students took away an exalted sense of self, as many of them had previously thought Blackness was a condition to overcome. They also emerged with a strong sense of pride in their racial identity, which was built on something sustainable. All of the students took away a real understanding of some of the ways that racial issues seep into the therapeutic process.

I despise the term “diversity” and all that it has come to connote. It is anathema to me, because it has been rendered empty; it is an empty term. Diversity often means one Black person, or person of color, is present. Given that America could not be America without the presence of Black people, and given that Blackness is synonymous with what it means to be this American “superpower,” I reject the idea of being marginalized and pushed to the periphery, especially in the sphere of education.

Black people are central to the history of this country and have played an enormous and indisputable role in forcing this country to begin aligning its reality with its soi-disant article of faith: “land of the free.” If we had proper educational systems, we would be in a much better position to eradicate some of our horrific problems — like police brutality, racism, sexism, discrimination, and unacceptable unemployment rates in the Black community. We need to be brave enough to confront the truth and to take concrete steps to liberate ourselves from social and economic injustices.

So, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wants to know how a physics class benefits from “diversity?” Well, let’s look at the question from a “holistic” perspective. For the record, different students may bring different strategies and frames of reference for coping with the difficulty of the subject matter, as well as different ways of learning it. The same can be said for learning the true history of this country. Black and White students can help each other cope with the emotional difficulty of the subject matter as they learn the true, tragic history of America with respect to race. They can also help each other ascertain different ways of digesting and assimilating the almost incomprehensible losses Black people have suffered on every conceivable level (e.g. economically, educationally, socially, physically, psychologically, etc), while they work on how to make this country live up to its ideals.  And since physics is concerned with “matter, energy, motion, and force,”** they can learn about the energy, motion and matter Black people used to invent brilliant products, develop outstanding theory, and work assiduously — even when they were exhausted — to build this country. And while they’re at it, students can learn about the force that was applied to make them do it without proper compensation.

If Black people did not exist in all the places that matter, neither would America.

Rhonda Sherrod is a lawyer, clinical psychologist, educator and life coach. She is the author of the upcoming book, Surviving, Healing and Evolving: Essays of Love, Compassion, Healing, and Affirmation for Black People. She blogs at hearherspeak.wordpress.com.

*APA Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice and Organizational Change for Psychologists, see Guideline 2


Blackmon, Douglas A.  Slavery By Another Name:  The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.

Douglass, Frederick.  What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

DuBois, W.E.B.  The Spawn of Slavery: The Convict Lease System in the South.

Fanon, Frantz.  The Wretched of The Earth.

Giddings, Paula.  When and Where I Enter:  The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (Note:  contains extensive information on Ida B. Wells)

Griffin, John Howard.  Black Like Me

Harris, Cheryl I.  Whiteness As Property

McIntosh, Peggy.  White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

Updated 11:00 pm CT

What if Laquan McDonald Was Rahm Emanuel’s Son?


Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

(Prefatory Note: It is difficult to be interested in the usual blowback about how “most” cops are “good.” Just stop. Most Black people are not debating that. The point is: There are far too many bad cops who cause far too much physical harm, psychological damage, and economic devastation (as they cruelly and unjustly feed Black lives into the prison industrial complex). In fact, I write on behalf of the “good” cops — many of whom entered law enforcement because they themselves were hassled and harassed by bad and incompetent cops when they were younger. Those experiences made them want to join a police force so their communities could be policed fairly, humanely, and with the objective of serving and protecting the community while enforcing legitimate laws. Moreover, those law enforcement professionals do not “fear” every other Black person they encounter. Indeed, I write on behalf of all the “good” officers who “fear” speaking out against the cops who operate on these streets in ways that are completely antithetical to what it means to “serve and protect.” Some of those good cops did not realize they would be imposed upon to “overlook,” “ignore” or “disregard” certain things in order to keep the jobs they love and provide for their families.)


“In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.” Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

“Hence, the Black body became a flesh and blood text upon which Whites could
project all of their fears, desires, and fantasies without the agony of guilt.”
George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes: The Continuing Significance of Race



Chicago, Illinois. Trayvon Martin was senselessly killed by a wannabe cop named George Zimmerman. After a Florida jury refused to convict Zimmerman of a crime, the most powerful man in the world, President Barack Obama, with obvious knowing pain on his majestic, African-American face, said, “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.”

Well, what if Laquan McDonald was Rahm Emanuel’s son? What if Rahm Emanuel’s son, Laquan, was shot down execution style by one of the far too many audacious, disreputable police officers roaming the streets of Chicago? Would we even be trying to determine whether there was a coverup and, if so, who all participated in trying to conceal the police officer’s wanton, barbaric behavior, thereby protecting the police department and the Emanuel administration? Would Emanuel spew forth the, now essentially meaningless, official script about not wanting to compromise an “on-going investigation,” while patiently listening to a defense lawyer utter the standard dog whistle about how the officer in question “feared for his life?” Or would he feel the unmitigated and continual pain Black people experience when these brutal police involved killings come to light? Do you think he would have a deeper understanding of the genuine fear many Black people have when their sons and daughters encounter the police on the streets of America?

An important construct in psychology and criminal justice, is “empathy.” Studies have shown that little children can exhibit empathy, yet, somehow, many (White) adults seem to forget the concept as they age. One of my favorite instructors, a professor in African American studies, used to say very simply, “Life could be so easy if people would just treat others the way they want to be treated.” Yet, as we watch Black Americans “forgive” White Americans for committing some of the most atrocious behaviors, like the Neanderthal who (allegedly) slaughtered nine people at a Bible study in a church, it seems White people’s “threshold for Black pain,” as Jesse Jackson brilliantly articulated it, seems to get higher and higher. In fact, studies have confirmed that, indeed, many Whites think Black people can endure more physical pain than other human beings.

And this conception is not new. During slavery, White enslavers documented their belief that Blacks could endure immense physical and psychological pain. It is not uncommon to read, in enslavers’ writings, evidence of their belief that, no matter how much a Black person writhes and screams out in agony, her/his pain or grief is not as substantial as Whites and will remit quickly. This conception of “Blackness” comports with other popular and dangerous myths, including the fiction about the supernatural brute strength Blacks are supposed to possess. These dehumanizing notions, consciously or unconsciously held, can jeopardize the well-being of Black people and render them highly susceptible to violence and trauma. Dehumanizing Black people helps to justify cruel behavior toward them.

It is a sad commentary that, in Chicago, many people have known for a long time that a videotape depicting the police slaying of a young Black male was being withheld by city and county authorities. Many demands had been made to get the tape before a judge’s ruling, ultimately, made it available. It is disgraceful that Rahm Emanuel’s administration did not release that videotape much earlier. Surely, Emanuel, a native Chicagoan, knows full well there are people on that force who have no business drawing a public, taxpayer-supported salary because of their crude behaviors with regard to African Americans. This is the same Rahm Emanuel who is supposed to be the mayor of all Chicago. This is the Rahm Emanuel who, after being forced into the first ever Chicago run-off just this year, practically begged Black voters to disregard his arrogance and neglect, so he could be re-elected. (The Black vote was crucial to his victory.) This is a man who is, presumably, intelligent enough to know something about the long-standing, deplorable, often tragic, history of policing in Chicago’s Black communities.

So, where does it end? When does the movement for deep structure systemic reform of the Chicago police department begin; or when can we expect the complete dismantlement of the department so we can start all over again? When does the movement to really professionalize the force begin? When can we expect accountability? When can we expect (some) cops to stop believing that it is them against us (Black citizens)? When can we begin expecting a full, thorough, comprehensive investigation of each and every complaint, as well as investigations into patterns of complaints when officers have a slew of citizen’s complaints against them — like Laquan’s killer?* Moreover, when can we expect discipline, or even discharge, when it is clearly warranted? When can we expect better screening of potential police officers? Applicants to the force need to be assessed on how well they interact with people from different races, cultures and economic classes. Their emotional intelligence, interpersonal skill, problem-solving ability, temperament and personality need to be assessed — thoroughly, in addition to their ability to think rationally and critically. Perhaps most important of all, they need to be exposed to a yearlong African-centered course that teaches them that Black lives matter.


Incredibly, at the press conference just prior to the release of the long awaited video, Rahm Emanuel maintained that he had not seen the video that depicted Laquan’s gruesome annihilation. It strains credulity to believe that the mayor didn’t see the Laquan video before his recent re-election bid and before the city, on the advice of its Corporation Counsel (city lawyers), paid the teen’s family five million dollars. In fact, if Emanuel never took the time to watch the video, that raises another set of pertinent questions that need to be answered. In any event, after watching the videotape of this modern day lynching (whenever he watched it), or after reading about it or having it described to him (if, in fact, he never watched it), there was only one thing for Emanuel to do. He should have called a press conference and made a statement to this effect:

“Something horrific has happened and, as your mayor, I am obligated to bring this information to the attention of the constituency. A young citizen of this great, world-class city was killed in a most brutal manner. In the name of government transparency — as much as it pains me to have to show something this hideous** to you — you will have access to a videotape of it. If you chose to watch it, what you will see is unconscionable; and I will not allow this to happen to any citizen in Chicago, let alone a child, ever again. I will direct that proper policies, procedures, regulations and standards are put in place and enforced; and I will do whatever else I can to prevent the type of abomination you are about to see. I deeply apologize to the citizens of Chicago for the fact that something this savage happened on my watch. The officer involved has been dismissed and that is irrespective of the outcome of any ensuing criminal charges. In the meantime, I will instruct my new superintendent of police to make it his or her business to try to ferret out each and every cop who even thinks that this is the proper way for a police officer to perform his or her job. This type of behavior deeply offends our cultural and societal norms and all notions of human decency and, quite simply, it will not be tolerated.”

Then he should have called the state’s attorney and sought to have that cop prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; and some of the cop’s superiors in the police department should have been held accountable for that cop’s outrageous behavior.

It is as simple as that. Either Black people are protected by the Constitution — so that cops are not allowed to be “judge, jury and executioner” — or they are not. Either we are going to be a civilized society or we are not. If we are not, then let’s stop pretending and try to figure out where the breakdowns are in society that prevent some Americans from becoming fully enlightened.

Somehow, in America, and much of it has to do with the ways that members of society are (mis)educated, things that are really quite simple become intricate or “complicated” when race is involved. Suddenly, all the rules of fairness simply do not apply in the minds of a large segment of White society. Suddenly, this large segment of White society puts forth all kinds of excuses and justifications for the most bestial behavior when it is directed toward Black people. That is so even when those justifications clearly bear little resemblance to rational thought. Yet, we all know that if Laquan had been White, he would still be alive. He would still be alive if the police had to follow him for two or three hours in order to arrest him.

Black people want to believe, despite strong evidence to the contrary, that they live in a society where they, too, have equal protection under the law and the right to due process. After all African Americans have done to make this country great, they want to believe that they have the rights, privileges and immunities that the Constitution guarantees all citizens. They want to believe that, when they say many police officers are not functioning properly in their communities, people will listen, so that changes based on fairness can be effected.

Now, we have young Laquan’s case to consider. We will never know whether criminal charges would ever have been filed by the state’s attorney had not a judge forced the public release of the video of Laquan’s Black body, which was spun around, riddled with bullets and left to die. However, many of us in Chicagoland think that it never would have happened. Unless the feds stepped in, the feeling is that, most likely, Laquan’s killer would have been sprung from his desk job and eased back into the city streets where he would have been free to commit other thuggish acts against the humanity of Black people.

When parents try to inculcate empathy and compassion into their children they often ask some version of the question, “How would you like it if someone did that to you?’’ Again, even children can exhibit empathy; and life could be so easy if people would just treat others the way they want to be treated.

What if Laquan was Rahm’s son?


Rhonda Sherrod is a lawyer, clinical psychologist, educator and life coach. She is the author of the upcoming book, Surviving, Healing and Evolving: Essays of Love, Compassion, Healing, and Affirmation for Black People. She blogs at hearherspeak.wordpress.com. This is the first in a short series of articles about policing.

* The officer who killed Laquan McDonald, Jason Van Dyke, has had at least 17 citizens complaints lodged against him, including complaints alleging excessive force. One citizen went a step further and filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Chicago. Subsequently, a federal jury found that Van Dyke had used excessive force and awarded the plaintiff $350,000 in damages in 2009, and the judge ordered the city to pay $180,000 in legal fees, according to the Chicago Tribune newspaper. Reportedly, Van Dyke has never been disciplined by the Chicago Police Department — even in the case where damages were awarded.

** “Hideous” is a term Rahm Emanuel used in discussing the videotape he claimed to have never seen.

Black History Month: Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.

(c) Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.  2013

This past Friday, I had the pleasure, once again, of listening to a spell-binding lecture by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Although I attended the renown church in Chicago that he built up, Trinity United Church of Christ, for many years, Dr. Wright became pastor emeritus while I was living out of the state of Illinois, so it has been a long time since I was treated to one of his cogent, well-researched, power-packed talks. (From what I understand, he continues to be a highly sought after speaker and leads travel study tours abroad to places like Egypt and Brazil.)

On this occasion, Dr. Wright spoke for Black History Month about religion and politics at St. Sabina Parish on the South side of Chicago. As he commenced, he reminded the crowd that he was delivering a speech and not a sermon. Then, for about an hour, he held forth, effortlessly, and gave a phenomenal lecture that seamlessly encompassed history, religion, music, linguistics, sociology, and psychology. He talked about acts of resistance by Africans who overtook slave ships in Surinam and freed other Black people after they had freed themselves in a mutiny. He explained that, although most people are familiar with the Amistad rebellion (that ended up in the United States Supreme Court), in reality there were hundreds of slave ships on which Africans mutinied during the slave trade. He talked about the Moors, the Haitian Revolution, and songs and sayings indigenous to African culture, as well as the Second Confiscation Act, Abraham Lincoln, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and Forced Into Glory, historian Lerone Bennett, Jr.’s book about Lincoln. He said we have gone from having a Black church that “confronted” government about issues of injustice to one that “cooperates” with it.

Regarding structural racism and White supremacy, he gave an allegorical story about baking a cake and forgetting one of the main ingredients: sugar. He said, even if you sprinkle sugar on top of the result, “that mess will never be a cake.”

It was a memorable evening with the man whose church was attended by, not only President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, but many, many Black professionals from all over the Chicago metropolitan area. Traveling from the Western suburbs all the way to the South side was an arduous task for me, because one had to get there at least an hour early to be guaranteed a seat in the sanctuary, despite the fact that Wright held three services every Sunday. Every service was packed! Friday night, I was reminded why Black people, like me, passed right by innumerable churches in Chicago to get to Trinity.

What I am posting to the healing blog today is a Black History Month offering. It is a newspaper article I authored that ran in The Huntsville Times (Alabama) on April 20, 2008 in the midst of the right-wing Republicans’ revolting and vile attempts to destroy Dr. Wright and his brilliant then 40 year ministry as they endeavored to defeat then candidate Barack Obama. (I was teaching at Alabama A&M University in 2008.)

Mine was one of the many voices that pushed back and defended this extraordinarily gifted scholar. I am one of many people who love BOTH Barack and Jeremiah, and who felt very hurt by the attacks on both men, as well as by the rupture of their relationship under the weight of pure unadulterated racism. (Did you know that Jeremiah was one of the people whom Barack consulted before he ran for president, and Jeremiah enthusiastically encouraged him to run? Also, the name of Barack’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, came from the title of one of Jeremiah’s many deeply moving sermons.)

One of my professional colleagues warned me not to publish the article you are about to read (“This is Alabama, girl!”), but I refused to listen. I refused to be a coward. If people who know the truth will not stand up when needed, then we, as a people, will never get where we want to be. And you know what? I received call after call, from Blacks and Whites who thanked me for giving them another, more intelligent, and enlightened perspective on Dr. Wright. As that awesome thespian and activist, the late Ossie Davis, said in Spike Lee’s movie, one should always just “Do the right thing.” I hope you feel this article… So, here it is:

The Dr. Wright I Know Is Far From The One That’s Portrayed

published April 20, 2008

What people need to know in assessing Dr. Jeremiah Wright is that he is wholly and completely against all forms of oppression and racism.  His inclusive ministry appeals to people the world over precisely because it casts concern for people suffering all over the world.  He clearly subscribes to what Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and he clearly believes “all God’s children” have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To call this military veteran “unpatriotic,” “anti-American” and “racist” is intellectually lazy and a crude attempt to reconstruct the nation’s inglorious racial history and ignore its not-very-pretty present.  It is an easy way to skirt the issues of injustice and inequality that Wright will continue to raise, for he is part of a long tradition of Black intellectuals who have mustered the courage to challenge America to achieve the greatness envisioned in the Declaration of Independence, and, ultimately, in the Constitution.

Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X, and King are just a few of Wright’s brilliant forerunners who made invaluable contributions to the spiritual, social, and cerebral development of this nation by speaking out in uncompromising language against oppression.

Wright is a linguist and a world-class biblical scholar with wide-ranging knowledge about history, world events, and various international cultures.  An erudite and thought-provoking orator, he preaches with an audacious message of hope and deliverance.

Wright’s church is brimming with extremely well-educated, fair-minded professionals who consider Trinity a sanctuary that affirms them in a society that has historically tried to denigrate black skin, intellect, aesthetics, culture, language and history.

Wright’s theology includes combating all White supremacist notions and actions that attempt to assault and undermine the psychological well-being of Black people.  That is what Trinity’s motto — “unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian” — is all about.  It is not racist dictum; it is a balm of unconditional love for a people with a certain body of collective understanding who continue to endure racism but in less obvious forms.

The Trinity Black Value System plank that promotes “disavowal of the pursuit of ‘middleclassness’” evinces a philosophy that encourages wealthy and poor parishioners to form a much needed alliance that seeks to stabilize many Black communities that lack essentials like decent housing, humane police services and schools that really educate.

To suggest that a value system that promotes self-determination for a historically oppressed group is “racist” is in and of itself arrogant, undemocratic and lacking in compassion.  While some white commentators engage in academic discussions about a so-called “post-racial” society, most Black people (and many Whites, too) are sophisticated enough to know that structural racism continues to exist.

On a personal note, Wright is a kind-hearted, committed, and responsive pastor of a church with an array of vibrant outreach ministries.  At a time when I was a parishioner completely unknown to him among the thousands, a family member was facing major surgery.  I left a message with his staff requesting that he call my relative.

The next night as I sat with her, the phone rang.  It was Wright calling from another country.  He talked to her for almost an hour.  Wright immediately placed her (a non-member) on Trinity’s sick and shut-in list.  Someone from that ministry called every single week during her 10-week recovery period, offering to do everything from running her errands to providing her meals.

So, despite the politically motivated, ad hominem attacks upon Wright, I know that he will be all right.  An uncorrupted assessment of Wright’s sermons that I heard for 12 years suggests that he inveighs against oppression with a divinely inspired desire for worldwide fellowship.  Voila, Barack Obama.

English: Jeremiah Wright and Bill Clinton at 1...

English: Jeremiah Wright and Bill Clinton at 1998 White House Prayer Breakfast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Jeremiah Wright (behind the I.V. pole...

English: Jeremiah Wright (behind the I.V. pole) as a Navy Corpsman Tending to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Bill Moyers was the President’s Press Secretary at the time, and is behind Wright. Identity of two men standing at center needed. A letter of thanks on behalf of the President is superimposed on photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cover of "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts ...

Cover via Amazon

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meet at the White House, 1966 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ah, Brothers

by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.  (c) 2013

“I’m always annoyed about why black people have to bear the brunt of everybody else’s contempt. If we are not totally understanding and smiling, suddenly we’re demons.” 

Toni Morrison 


On Friday, I bounced onto the bus, en route to downtown Chicago from my suburban home, briefcase flying one way and my purse another.  When the bus lurched forward as I was advancing toward a seat, my attempts at maintaining my equilibrium ended with the papers I had been reading, while waiting at the bus stop, high-flight sailing all over the back of the bus as I stumbled to a seat.  It was a decidedly less than graceful moment.

Just as I was about to exhale a disgusted little sigh two brothers bolted from their seats, practically fighting over who would perform the rescue.  Finally, the victor caught the papers, before they even hit the filthy floor of the bus, and served them up to me with a smile.

“Thank you, thank you so much,” I gushed to my hero.  Then I turned to his competitor and enthusiastically thanked him, too, for trying.

Both smiled that coolness that brothers exude as another older brother, flanking me on my other side, engaged:

“Got somewhere important to go?” he ventured, smiling sweetly.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Going downtown?”

“Yes, I am.”

He waited… so, I continued:  “I have an important business luncheon.  I just started my own business not too long ago.”

“Wow?  I hope it goes well,” he enthused, with such sincerity and genuineness it almost startled me.  This stranger, whom I had never seen before, seemed so invested in my success – it was a throwback to the way it used to be.

“I do, too,”  I smiled warmly.  “I do, too.”

“Well,” he said, continuing emphatically,  “I always start with ‘I will.’  You know, ‘I will have a good meeting.  I will get what I need to make this business go.’”

“Okay,” I said, by now lost in his thoughts on the matter.

Eventually, I returned to reading the papers that had cascaded out of my hands.  When I looked up again, I found myself scrutinizing each of the three Black men with whom I had just briefly interacted.  I studied them intently.  One was looking out the window with his headphones on, his face tight and weary from life, but still comfortably lost in his music, at least for the moment, I supposed.  The younger one was, no doubt, reading a text or looking at something amusing on the internet judging from his laughter and the delighted little expression on his face as he viewed his cell phone; and my “philosopher” — that sweet, gentlemanly elder  — well, he was scanning his environment with what I came to realize was a perpetual smile on his face.

Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed – overwhelmed with a sense of grief and sadness.  My thoughts centered around how unfair it is for Black men to have to constantly fight the vicious stereotypes, long put forth by the dominant culture, that portray them as anything but who they are:  good, kind, generous human beings doing what we are all doing.  They are trying to make it in a tough, often cold, and unforgiving world.  Then, to have to constantly carry that reprobate baggage that others have draped around their necks, like a huge oppressive weight, well, anyone can grasp just how unfair that is…

On my way home from a successful meeting, I sat down on the bus and heard an excited,  “Hey!”  I looked up into the smiling face of my philosopher.  What were the chances that I would run into him again on my way home…

He interrupted my thoughts:  “How did it go?”  he asked with the same benevolent intensity he had displayed earlier.

“It went well — really, really well,” I replied.

“Wonderful,” he exclaimed.  “I knew it would.  I’ll see you later.”

We were at his stop, so he bounced off the bus, still smiling.

Ah, brothers… I wish other people would stop projecting their problems and inhumanity  onto you.  I wish you were free of other people’s psychopathology, and I wish so many of you would stop internalizing other people’s sickness to your extreme detriment.  I wish more of you could see yourselves the way I do, because it really is okay for you to throw off the yoke of other people’s insanity and step into your greatness.


Looking north from Chicago 'L' station Adams a...

Looking north from Chicago ‘L’ station Adams and Wabash Français : Vue depuis la station Adams and Wabash du métro aérien de Chicago vers le nord. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Downtown Chicago skyline (Aon Center ...

English: Downtown Chicago skyline (Aon Center – left; Sears Tower – right), viewed from the John Hancock Center observatory. Français : (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
    loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
    healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
    in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
    be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
    rise and take control.”
From acclaimed author and poet Margaret Walker‘s epic poem entitled
For My People

On Getting Therapy

by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

(c) 2013


Get therapy if you need it.  As a psychologist, I want you to know that you might be surprised by who gets therapy – brilliant, high-powered, high achieving, successful people!  They give themselves permission to get therapy, so that they can live fulfilling lives.  Getting therapy is not a sign of weakness or sickness in the debased kind of way that so many people still conceive of it; instead, it is a sign of maturity, strength, and self-love.  Doing something therapeutic for your mind is not any different from doing something therapeutic (like exercising and eating nutritiously) for your heart.  Good mental health is just as important as good physical health.  In the future we might even start getting an annual “psychological” just like one gets an annual physical examination.  Sigmund Freud called his brand of psychotherapy “the talking cure” because just having a dispassionate professional to talk to, who doesn’t impose stifling judgment or sanction, can often be highly satisfying, liberating, and even life-sustaining.  So, don’t be afraid to do it.

If you were somewhere suffering the signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, and did nothing about it, people would consider that “crazy.”  So, if you are suffering mightily, mentally or emotionally, why shouldn’t you be able to access help in that situation?  Think about it.  I’m a firm believer that mental health is like physical health.  Just as your body can be compromised with a cold, or the flu, or something worse that requires medical attention, so, too, can the mind get compromised, breaking down your usual immunities for combating mental and emotional anguish and distress.  Nowadays, people laughingly talk about needing “a mental health day” off from work, just as you would take a few days off if you were physically ill.  That concept is always met with knowing laughter and affirmative nodding, because the truth is that people are really on to something even though they say it in jest.  Sometimes we do need to take some time off or engage in a course of psychological treatment.

If we look at mental health on a continuum, at one end of the spectrum is excellent mental health and at the opposite end is poor mental health, but most of us lie somewhere in between those two opposite poles.  Few people are completely at either end of the spectrum; that is, few people are in very poor mental health at any given time and few people are in the absolute best of mental health, no matter how they try to insist that they are.  Often, they are just “fronting.”  (I had to chuckle when one of my male students emphatically asserted in an undergraduate psychology class that, “Nobody is ever in the best mental health!”)

Again, most of us lie somewhere in between the two poles, but any one of us can shift – going in either direction – on any given day for a whole host of reasons.  So, you’ll hear people say, “I should have just stayed in the bed today,” or “I knew when I woke up today that this would be a bad day.”  Or people will say, “I’m going through it” meaning that for a couple of days or even weeks things just “aren’t right.”  Or people will say, “I’ve been kinda depressed,” or “I’ve got the blues,” but no one really wants to entertain those kind of comments, because we resist the idea that something could be wrong mentally or emotionally, and, in any event, we rationalize that the person will be “okay.”  Sometimes, we even, gratuitously, assert to our loved one, friend, or associate, “All, you’ll be alright.”  We, mindlessly, say that to people all the time even when we have no idea about the depths of a person’s psychological pain.  That is why we are so shocked when beautiful sisters, like the talented songstress, Phyllis Hyman, take their own lives, when they destroy their gifts by medicating their pain with alcohol or drugs like Whitney Houston, or when they burn through life fast like Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.

The brain is an organ of the body and, just like any other organ, it can, to use the vernacular, “get out of whack.”  Looking back on your legacy as a person of African descent, Ancient Africans believed that the mind, body, and spirit/soul should be healthy for one to have overall good health.  Like a car, we should be firing on all pistons.  So, if one thing – say the body – is out of whack – it can throw the whole system out of sync, thereby making the whole system unhealthy.  If your mental state is not particularly healthy doesn’t that “piston” deserve attention?

As Black women, often no matter how smart, pretty, charismatic, and wonderful you are, your lives can still be stinted and circumscribed in so many ways, on so many levels, for so many reasons.  Sure, we are socialized to “shrug” any and all problems “off,” to “just keep on keeping on,” and to “keep the faith,” but we are only human just like everyone else.  So we need a new paradigm.  In fact, your brilliance and dynamism, Black woman, seems to be more than this society wants in a Black woman.  So, you end up internalizing your hurts and sorrows and chasing a cupcake, instead of a legitimate dream that could have and would have been fulfilled in a more just society.  Then health and spirit, and even sanity, can become compromised because you know that you are not living your life as you had previously envisioned it, or as you deserve to live it.

Sometimes, having someone to talk to is a beautiful thing.  It’s okay.  There are places like the YMCA, county hospitals, and centers for women that provide good low-cost therapy.  Get therapy, if you need it, because you are ill (e.g. clinically depressed or bipolar), grieving the death of a loved one, experiencing existential angst, having a hard time adjusting to a major, unsettling transition, having a difficult time managing intense emotions, dealing with an unaddressed longstanding trauma (e.g. childhood sexual abuse or adult rape), experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, diagnosed with a major chronic physical illness, suffering from a life altering permanent disability, or if you just need someone to talk to in order to sort out some things.  Get what you need, without fear, shame, apology, or need for approbation, because, trust me, many of your White sisters have no problem accessing therapy, and I am talking about the well-educated, wealthy ones with high-powered careers.  There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t recognize your humanity, too, and get whatever you need to be happier and more successful in life – even if it’s therapy.


A Few Good Books to Read


An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison,

An Unquiet Mind is an excellent memoir written by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a renowned clinical psychologist, scholar, and researcher as well as a phenomenal writer who suffers from Bipolar I (manic-depression) disorder.  She is an unsparingly honest author who writes movingly and unflinchingly about her very serious illness and how she has managed to craft an enviable academic career and a life filled with love and beauty in spite of it.


Surviving the Silence, Black Women’s Stories of Rape by Charlotte Pierce-Baker,

Dr. Charlotte Pierce-Baker is a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and English at Vanderbilt University who has written courageously about devastating matters, including being brutally raped in her own home.  Her faculty website page notes that:  “Since the publication of her book, Surviving the Silence:  Black Women’s Stories of Rape (W.W. Norton, September 1998), Professor Pierce-Baker has continued to travel and lecture on issues of black women and sexual assault.  She has taken the topic of rape into the classroom with her course on women and trauma.  Finding and creating a language is, for her, the first step in acknowledging and documenting the ‘colonization of the body of woman.’  Her book, the first of its kind, provides a forum for the heretofore-muted voices of African American women surviving the trauma of rape.”


Professor Pierce-Baker’s current book, This Fragile Life:  A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son, is a poignant memoir about her very smart son who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while he was a young film student in graduate school at USC.  She and her husband entered therapy to help them deal with all the things that were taking place in their world following their son’s diagnosis.  Pierce-Baker’s writing makes an invaluable contribution to the sparse literature concerning Black families’ attempts to accept, address, and treat the mental illness of a family member.

I attended a lecture Dr. Pierce-Baker delivered at Northwestern University to promote this book.  It was extraordinarily interesting and left the audience filled with compassion for and goodwill toward her obviously talented son whose trenchant poetry is interspersed throughout the book.


Willow Weep For Me:  A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Meri Danquah is a brilliant, highly engaging, Black female writer who immigrated to America from Ghana as a child.  (She now spends most of her time back in Ghana.)  Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Essence, and the Village Voice, among other publications.  Ms. Danquah has crafted a beautifully written memoir about her own struggle with depression.  (She also talks about how difficult it was for people around her to accept her illness – after all Black women are mythologized as, and supposed to be, “superwomen” who are impervious to pain and who are supposed to carry everybody else’s pain while denying or repressing their own!)


Health (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)