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Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14

Proverbs 11:14 speaks volumes in the context of the black community. It is no secret that African American communities tend to be plagued with poor school systems, poor medical access, high incarceration rates, broken families, and of course (in light of the recent Trayvon Martin incident), violence and profiling. With all of these factors and stressors in life, it is of little wonder that many Blacks appear to be self-destructing.

It is human nature that, under stress, we search for ways to help relieve that stress.  For some, that may include running, listening to music, or meditating.  Unfortunately, for others, this may include drug use, gluttony, promiscuity, or criminality.  These are common behaviors we see in our inner cities, which often creates an unsafe and unstable environment for people to dwell.  And while the more privileged have access to quality services (i.e. counseling), when life gets out of control, our brothers and sisters in the inner-city are not often as fortunate.  And even if these services were available, the idea of counseling is difficult for many African Americans to buy into.  This must change, but how?

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I believe the answer is in Philippians 2:4-6, which states, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  In 1 John 2:6, the bar is raised as John says, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

Now, if Jesus stepped down from his throne to fellowship with us and provide healing and restoration for us, what, in turn, is our calling?

I am not at all calling for people to suddenly close down their private practices in the suburbs or quit their well paying jobs and pack up and move to the inner city.  That is something that you will have to converse with God about.  But the truth remains that the African American community is in need of attention and healing.  This means that licensed professional counselors and/or psychologists, pastors and other experienced leaders are needed to help bring the support and safety that results from this guidance. This task is not easy, of course, and there are things that one will need to consider in reaching out to the Black community.

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1. The Scarlett ‘C’

As mentioned briefly above, counseling is not necessarily accepted with open arms in African American communities.  In the book, Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis among African Americans, Dr. Alvin Poussaint and Amy Alexander point out that many African Americans fear being labeled as “crazy” as a result of disclosing the presence of emotional distress.  It is important to remain patient and loving when resistance does occur.  All of us at some point have been blind and resistant to the idea of change.  That is why Jesus came to us and not vice versa (Luke 19:10).  Those who need change will sometimes need to be pursued (gently, of course) and drawn into a relationship before they begin to open up and own the need for help.

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2. Why Should I believe you?

Unfortunately, health services have not historically been kind to African Americans in this country.  From the Tuskegee syphilis experiment to just flat out inadequate services, African Americans tend to distrust health and helping professionals because of manipulation, abuse and misdiagnoses.  Establishing oneself as a person of integrity and expertise within the community is vital.

3. Follow the Holy Spirit’s lead

In our finitude, we are unable to know everything; however, we serve a God who knows all things.  First Corinthians 2:11 says, ‘no one comprehends the thoughts of God but the Spirit of God.’  Even with all the techniques and evidence-based treatments out there, nothing is more effective than the work of the Holy Spirit.  We must invite the Holy Spirit into our interactions with the hurting and submit to his ability to enlighten us and also cause transformation in our lives.

Many in African American communities are in need of guidance due to the lack of willing and qualified people to enter these challenging settings.  The blood of countless amounts of African Americans cries from the ground, as they lay fallen from acts that can be addressed head on through resources such as counseling.  Who will respond to these cries?  It does not matter the ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or whatever other category we may come up with.  It is time to simply take action.

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