Under the theme of “Legacies and Lifetimes: A Counselor-Focused Exploration of Civil Rights Era Atlanta,” the 2019 Bridging the Gap Symposium led an exploration of the physical representations of Atlanta’s civil rights legacy and the continued effects of systemic racism and other trauma that are deeply felt by millions of people every day.
The NBCC Foundation’s Symposium, held May 20–24 in Atlanta, Georgia, also recognized new and past Minority Fellows; conferred awards on leading names in the profession; and brought practitioners, educators, and students together for a celebration of advocacy and the spread of counseling into underserved and never-served communities.
The first day’s activities included a tour of the Auburn Street historical district and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site Visitor Center, as well as a meal and presentation at Big Bethel AME Church.
After the day trip around Atlanta, attendees gathered for a panel discussion on their experiences and an analysis of how to reach clients with historical trauma or circumstances unfamiliar to the counselor.
During a recap of the day’s events, Eugene Marsh, a member of the 2017 Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) cohort, stood to share his very personal story.
Marsh was the first African-American student to integrate one of the public high schools in South Carolina in the 1960s; the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in his mother’s front yard; he did two tours in Vietnam—“and still,” he said, “still we’re fighting the same damn battle.”
Another counselor recognized the power of the story, standing and applauding: “I give you—we all give you—a standing ovation. You are my history.”
Dr. LaVerne Hanes Collins, NBCC’s Interim Vice President of Foundation and Professional Services, closed out the evening with what would become the unofficial theme of the week, reading James Weldon Johnson’s iconic poem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The hush in the room was only broken by the many attendees who stood and recited the poem from memory along with Collins.
Collins said she hadn’t planned to read the poem, but the panel discussion brought to light more and more examples of past and present wrongs and the work still needed to raise each person from their own place of struggle. As a result, she said, “the words just came into my head.”
The next two days became a testament to James Weldon Johnson’s words, with presentations covering the vast expanse of the needs of those who are often overlooked: Indigenous elders, victims of intimate partner violence, members of the queer and trans communities, minority war veterans, survivors of sex trafficking, and those who have been incarcerated, just to name a few.
In a TED-style talk, Dr. Karla Sapp shared her experience working in a federal prison.
“I chose to go to prison, unlike most people,” Sapp said. “I signed on for a 240-month sentence.”
She talked about people in prisons being “the ones we avoid, the ones we forget about,” and focused on Adler's principle of acting out to “gain power over a situation” and how that informs an offender lifestyle.
“Listen to them,” she insisted. “The word 'offender' doesn't define them. Them, themselves . . . that's who they are.”
On the last night of Symposium, the NBCC Foundation held its first-ever Bridging the Gap Awards ceremony, an event designed to honor distinguished alumni and volunteers of the MFP. Speakers recognized the fifth anniversary of the graduation of the first cohort of MFP Fellows, and awards were given to innovators and pillars of the profession.
The night ended with another rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” this time sung by Marlon C. Johnson, a 2018 MFP Fellow. He was joined by many others as he reinforced the idea of pushing forward into the future to foster understanding and alleviate the pain of those individuals who have been forgotten or silenced.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.