Pleasantries are not enough anymore...



"Pleasantries are not enough anymore..." - Derrick Shepard, TCA Human Rights Chair

Dear colleagues,

It is with great anger and numbness I write to you today.  The recent killings of African Americans and civil unrest is just that recent.  But these incidents are not atypical for African Americans living in the unjust and structurally racist society, known as america.  I also come to you today not only as the Human Rights Chair for the Tennessee Counseling Association but as a Black Man from Birmingham, AL living in america.

To understand my positionality better, I am a Black Man from Birmingham, AL.  I remember stories my Grandmother would tell of living in Alabama under “Bull” Connor and George Wallace.  She told stories of times, where those that were charged with upholding justice saw African Americans as less than and would let you know with certainty how they felt with sayings such as, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” “greeted with the most vicious dogs.”  For me, learning to live in america was taught as a means of survival.  I was taught to understand that I’m Black, I’m poor, and society does not value me.  Those lessons have not left me and I use the lessons as a means of surviving in america.

In understanding my positionality and place in society, I see visuals in media that are all too familiar of past stories of racial injustices that are common for Blacks, those fighting for social equity, and other marginalized populations.  Other impressionable events for me include the 1961 riot at the University of Georgia over the suspension of two admitted Black students, the 1962 bombing and burning of Black churches in Sasser, GA, the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Riders murders, the 1965 Watts riots, the 1966 Chicago riots over Black children wanted to use fire hydrants, the 1969 assassination of Martin Luther King, the 1970 Kent State massacre, and the 1970 murder of two Black youths by local police.  These incidents remind me of the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

            The same pleasantries are not enough anymore.  The listening and town hall meetings, and putting out statements only serve to placate the unrest, while the systemic injustices remain.  Without strategic actions these endeavors, as well-meaning as their intentions, will only perpetuate the failures of america.  I am only one Black man and can only provide, from my vantage points, thoughts start to change the process.

            First, vote with meaning in federal and state elections.  Voting is a way to make your voice heard.  Too many have paid the price for all of america to have this right.  However, a uniformed vote is a meaningless vote and will not help us navigate out of this cycle of social injustice.  Here are listing of resources to make an informed decision on the federal and state level:

  • nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute on Money in Politics promotes an accountable democracy by compiling comprehensive campaign-donor, lobbyist, and other information from government disclosure agencies nationwide and making it freely available at
  • Nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy. 
  • Since 1920, an activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believed that voters should play a critical role in democracy. 
  • Vote Smart's mission is to provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.

Next, vote with meaning in county and city elections.  The recent deaths of African Americans transpired on the local level.  The Ahmaud Arbery crime happened with the knowledge and possible consent of local officials.  It was only until the video was leaked that the State of Georgia felt the need to step in and address the crime.  The need for active participation at the local is required because we live in systems and the first political system is your local municipality. 

What I write here is not without reflection.  I reflect on my life as a Black man in a Counselor Educator and Supervision doctoral program.  The challenges of navigating an unfamiliar system with fear and convention because what I’ve encountered does not hold water to those that made it possible for me to be on this journey.  I also reflect on my life as a Black man living in a city where my life was threatened late last year in the parking lot of local eatery for only being Black-think about the recent Central Park incident. 

If you are angry…good.  Because I am angry also.  But I want you to know that TCA is angry too and stand in solidarity with counselors who serve those impacted by recent and historical injustices.  TCA encourages its members to engage action, be it political action, community outreach, advocacy, research, and education to advance human rights in america.

Derrick Shepard

The University of Tennessee - Counselor Education Doctoral Candidate

Tennessee Counseling Association - Human Rights Chair


More Resources

  • School Counseling Resources:
  • ACA Statement on Undue Police Violence - posted on 5/18/20 - here
  • Counselors for Social Justice: Virtual Town Hall (6/3/20 at 7pm EST) - more information here
  • Counselors for Social Justice: (6/8/20 at 6:30 EST) "I Need A Minute: A Time for Collective Mourning" for ACA members to be together and share their feelings and experiences regarding recent and continued violence.  More information here.
  • Anti-Racism Resources: This document is intended to serve as a resource to white people and parents to deepen our anti-racism work - here
  • TED Talk - Racism Has a Cost for Everyone - here
  • "The Psychology of Rioting: The Language of the Unheard" Denouncing symptoms of disease without treating the root cause is bad medicine.  By Joe Pierre M.D. - here
  • NAMI - African American Mental Health Resources - here
  • Being Antiracist - here
  • "How to talk to kids about race" resources here


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