I'm no certified counselor but as I establish rapport and relationships with clients at work, we get in a rhythm that might as well be official "sessions." Brandon comes in every week. Thursdays at 2 p.m. We started working on an outlet for his stress, as his nails were down to the quick. He loves hip-hop, like many of the young adults I work with, but beyond Jay-Z there is J Dilla and Wacka Flocka Flame and, as I told him, The Rolling Stones.
Brandon is a lot like many of our clients. He is Black. He is young. He is unemployed. He is hopeful. But unlike many who self-select to the wayside, he's been determined. And so we write.
Because he has a speech impediment, I suggested his command of the language might best be typed. We started working on an essay, about his love of music and goal of being a producer. It's been through edits aplenty but more than that each time we renew it he's there, present and available. It's an opportunity every time he shows up to continue to inspire, engage and interact. We're getting close a final product but it's more than just a blog entry now.
It's a relationship. Close enough now that I can poke fun at him that he can only carry a black folder (he's a Vice Lord, Chicago's number two street gang and black is all there is) and he can tell me about his dad, Supreme Chief of the Vice Lords (that's like CEO) who did eleven years in a combination of Pontiac, Centralia and Rantoul penitentiaries. He gets upset that rappers like Lil' Wayne think they are "street" because they will do time and man up to the sentence but but when you are a celebrity, according to Brandon, you can't be street. It's different where he hails from.
I just listen mostly. He tells his friends about me. I'm not a nosy white girl, he says. I ask tough questions that get him thinking. The reality is many of his peers won't seek counseling but they need it the most. They won't meet with a white counselor because we can't relate to their legacy and heritage and identity. But I think it's moments like we had today, talking about Coltrane and racism, that I get really amped to be a counselor. To find those entry-points, exercises and conversations that really begin to help. Even if it is just listening.