Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Implementing a Community Intervention to Promote Social Justice and Advocacy: Analysis of a Town Hall Meeting on Race, Justice, and Peace

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Implementing a Community Intervention to Promote Social Justice and Advocacy: Analysis of a Town Hall Meeting on Race, Justice, and Peace

Article excerpt

A diverse team of counselor educators used a phenomenological qualitative research method to analyze a social justice group intervention--a town hall meeting among a group of students, educators, and mental health professionals that focused on race, justice, and peace. Participants described forms of oppression in their personal and professional lives and strategies to combat them.

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Much has been written about the problems related to and caused by racism and other forms of oppression in contemporary society. From a humanistic perspective, racism and other forms of systemic oppression deny individuals in marginalized and devalued groups the same dignity, freedom, and opportunities granted to persons in dominant groups in society. Problems related to these social injustices have typically been studied from a discipline-specific stance. This includes studies that highlighted the "gap" in educational achievement between White and Black students (Rampey, Dion, & Donahue, 2009) and racial-ethnic disparities in health outcomes (Geronimus, Hicken, Keene, & Bound, 2006), to name a few.

These problems are certainly worthy of attention and remedial action. However, such perspectives represent a reductionist way of conceptualizing the larger problem of racism and oppression in contemporary society. Rather than examining the effects of racism on specific educational and health outcomes or other related phenomena, this form of social pathology requires more holistic and proactive analyses and actions to eradicate such injustices.

In 2001, participants in the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR; n.d.) gathered in Durban, South Africa, to discuss approaches to address racism and related social injustices. From that international conference came the suggestion to have all the participants advocate for the development and implementation of community-based meetings to address the complex problem of racism and related forms of intolerance in more holistic ways in the local areas where they lived.

The participants at this international conference unanimously approved this recommendation. The goal of such meetings would be to give large groups of individuals the opportunity to openly discuss the impact of racism and other social injustices as well as to identify ways to effectively address such injustices in local communities around the world. Such an approach was partly modeled on reconciliation efforts in postapartheid South Africa.

The success of such gatherings relies on those persons who experience oppression to generate solutions. This philosophy is consistent with the humanistic tenets asserting that people possess the abilities to improve their own lives and, with the right conditions, will do so. The use of this sort of community-based meeting approach in addressing racism and other forms of social injustice also reflects the belief in individuals' ability to behave ethically and pursue justice in unique and holistic ways. Such an approach is also consistent with another humanistic principle that is grounded in "a belief in the importance of practices that promote tolerance and diversity and upholds human rights" (Cain, 2001, as cited in Scholl, 2008, p. 5).

The United Nations WCAR (n.d.) final report highlighted the link between racism and mental health, as did a report from the American Psychological Association's (APA; n.d.) delegates at the conference. Furthermore, the American Counseling Association's Advocacy Competencies assert that in the face of systemic factors that negatively affect clients, counselors should provide social and political advocacy (Lewis, Arnold, House, & Toporek, 2002).

Those in the mental health fields have a role in serving their clients through systemic advocacy that addresses oppression. Following the recommendations of WCAR, mental health professionals with the National Institute of Multicultural Competence (NIMC) organized and implemented a series of town hall meetings to discuss the complex problems of and solutions for racism and other forms of oppression. …

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