Dedan Bruner, President of the DC Chapter of Concerned Black Men, on the Importance of Mentorship

According to the National Mentoring Partnership, at-risk young adults are 55% more likely to enroll in college and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions if they have a mentor. A positive mentoring relationship can be life altering.

I had my first mentor when I was 13. My mother was working as a Court Clerk in Queens Supreme Court in New York, and my elementary school was closer to her job than our home. Rather than take the multiple city bus rides it would take to get home, I took a ten minute bus ride to her job each day and waited in the chambers of the Judge she was working with until she got off.  His name was Judge Kenneth Brown. While I’m sure his chambers were worthy of a man of his stature, all I remember was his small television and toaster.  While he was on the bench, I would do my homework, watch television and call my friends on three-way (which was a big deal in the nineties). When he was in between cases, he would pop in and make us raisin toast while we talked about his life and his cases. He told me about having to send a picture in with his law school application and being denied repeatedly based on his race.  He told me about the joy he felt when finally attaining his degree.  He told me about being a single father to his daughter and working nights in the Post Office to pay for law school.  He passed away years ago, and I doubt he would remember much about the skinny girl eating toast in his chambers.  However, the time we spent together made a significant impact on my decision to go to law school and my dream to one day sit on a bench.  The thing is, my mother had been working for the courts my whole life. I had been around lawyers and Judges but never close enough to hear their stories.  Never close enough to envision myself doing the same thing.  I remember thinking if he could achieve his dreams in the face of unimaginable setbacks, so can I. Mentorship can be a subtle influence in that way.  It makes the impossible seem possible just by humanizing your dreams.

According to the National Mentoring Partnership, at-risk young adults are 55% more likely to enroll in college and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions if they have a mentor.  A positive mentoring relationship can be life altering.  Recently, I had the chance to chat with Dedan Bruner, Attorney and President of the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men, an organization founded to fill the void of positive black male role models in our communities by providing mentors and programs that affirm psychological, academic and career enrichment.  Mr. Bruner shared some of his experiences mentoring, his thoughts on the importance of mentorship, and how to make the difference in the life of a child.

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Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from Pasadena, California. I live in Washington, D.C. and I came to the area to attend Howard University in 1994 and have been here ever since.

Q. What do you do for a living?

I’m an attorney. I work at the D.C. Office of Human Rights where I investigate employment based complaints alleging discrimination and/or harassment.

Q. How would you define mentorship?

The act of assisting others through potential challenges and pitfalls in a given arena.

Q. Why did you decide to become a mentor? 

It’s funny. I’ve always been an advocate of civic service, but I never felt comfortable becoming a mentor. My old excuse was that I didn’t feel like I’d be in D.C. long enough. After living in D.C. for about 15 years, a friend called me on my flawed logic and challenged me to get involved. I’m glad she did.  I started mentoring through a program sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men (CBMDC) named Just Say Yes (JSY). JSY is a group based mentoring program for D.C. area boys aged 9-15.  I started off as a visitor.  A few years later, I stepped into a leadership role as the program chair and ultimately, President of CBMDC. Most importantly, I’m still a mentor.

Q. Did you have mentors growing up? If so, how did those relationships impact you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several mentors along the way, but the experience I recount most was the mentor I had back in middle school.  While I don’t remember the man’s name, I remember that he took me to my first Raiders game (I’m still a fan), and that he gave me a wallet for Christmas. I recall being disappointed when after inspecting it thoroughly, I learned that the wallet was empty. I have to remind myself of that story on the occasions that I may get frustrated that one of the young men I’m working with “doesn’t get it.” I’m proof that sometimes the lessons take a while to sink in.

Only perfect kids need perfect mentors.

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Q. I’ve mentored young women at different phases in my life. Both in college and in law school, I was involved with mentorship programs that had active initiatives to recruit our men and other men of color to mentor because they had difficulty recruiting men of color. I am so excited to hear about Concerned Black Men and other initiatives led by black men. What, if anything, do you think is the deterrent to many of our men becoming mentors?

Great question. We hear [from] a lot [of] guys [that they] need to “get themselves together” before they can expect to help someone else. My response is usually, “only perfect kids need perfect mentors.”  [Also], a lot of guys have said that they don’t have the time to mentor. Many D.C. programs only meet a few times a month (JSY meets twice). While the excuse is common, I try to refrain from refuting it because we make time for those things that we see value in. If someone tells us he doesn’t have the time to mentor, we thank him and keep it moving.

I have also heard “I don’t have anything to offer/teach,” to which I try to impart that a mentor’s job is not to be a teacher, or a coach or even a lead blocker in the game of life. A mentor’s job is just to be there, to assist in working on a problem, not to solve a mentee’s problem. A mentor is a friend who has been a little further down the road [and] is willing to share what they’ve learned.

In all, the greatest deterrent is the potential mentor himself. If he believes he has something of value to offer, he will. Sadly, the converse is true as well.

Mentoring sounds good in conversation with others, but if it’s not your thing, find other ways to give back.  Potential mentors need to keep in mind that often those who they’ll be mentoring have been disappointed by the men in their lives. If you cannot commit at least a year, it may not be the right vehicle in which to give back.

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Q. How do you become a mentor?

In our program, all mentors attend an interest meeting. At that meeting, we go over the program because we want to make sure that it’s a good fit for the mentor. For most it is, but some find that our program may not work for them. Taking the time to properly set expectations is critical to getting off on a good foot.  Next, mentors fill out an application and get fingerprinted. We do a comprehensive background check. We are not of the belief that those who may have made mistakes in their past are not suited to mentor. However, individuals with a history of domestic violence and/or pedophilia are not a liability I’m willing to take. It may sound harsh, but the safety of the youth we work with is [at] the foundation [of] everything we do.  After the background check comes back, the potential mentor is either approved to mentor or notified that his background check yielded results which make his participation in our program impossible.

Q. What are the qualities of a good mentor?

There is no perfect combination of qualities but some I look for are: 1) flexibility, 2) a good listener, 3) a person who doesn’t see his mentee as a victim or a charity case, 4) person not afraid to laugh at himself, 5) someone who is tolerant of other views and positions, and 5) most importantly, someone who is consistent and dependable.

Q. What would you say to someone hesitant about mentoring?

One of the great things about having a group mentoring program is that we allow visitors. That way, those who may have hesitation can visit a few sessions before deciding if the program is a good fit.  Generally, I’d tell the person to challenge himself. After all, that is what we’re asking the boys to do. On the same token, I ask potential mentors to be honest with themselves. Mentoring sounds good in conversation with others, but if it’s not your thing, find other ways to give back.  Potential mentors need to keep in mind that often those who they’ll be mentoring have been disappointed by the men in their lives. If you cannot commit at least a year, it may not be the right vehicle in which to give back.

Q. What do you do if you feel like your mentor/mentee relationship isn’t a good fit?

New mentoring relationships take time to cultivate. The first several times a mentee may respond with one word answers (their day was fine, their family is fine, and they had fine for dinner).  That’s to be expected. Mentors, especially new mentors, should not be disheartened if it takes a while for a mentee to let you in their circle of trust. Being authentic and consistent are critical during this timeframe.  If, it is ultimately determined that a fit doesn’t work, we may switch mentors.

New mentoring relationships take time to cultivate. The first several times a mentee may respond with one word answers (their day was fine, their family is fine, and they had fine for dinner).  That’s to be expected. Mentors, especially new mentors, should not be disheartened if it takes a while for a mentee to let you in their circle of trust. Being authentic and consistent are critical during this timeframe.

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Q. What has been your most memorable experience thus far?

It’s not a pleasant story. When I first took over as Program Chair, a mother told me not to tell her son to pull up his pants. We had a polite exchange of ideas.  Her take was that telling him to pull them up just put extra emphasis on it and made it more of an issue and that if unaddressed, he’d eventually get tired of the fad and would pull them up. My position was that her son was someone the younger mentees looked up to and emulated.  I did not want younger boys in our program picking up what we deemed bad habits. [In the end, she] remov[ed] her son from the program. Last year, she reached out to me because her son found himself in serious legal difficulty, and she needed people to write character references on his behalf. All I remember about the young man is the circumstances in which he left the program.

Q. What advice would you give to parents searching for mentors for their children?

I have a few tips:

Get involved. Statics show that youth programs are more successful when they have parent commitment and buy in.

Ask questions, give updates, and feedback. These are your kids, you should know what’s happening with them and you are [in the] best position to help us connect with your kids. If a boy got a part in a school play, hit the game winner, or if his favorite grandparent just passed away, these events can greatly impact a mentee’s mood. Giving us a head’s up helps mentors to better support the mentee.

Respect the mentor/mentee relationship. I tell parents and mentees alike that a mentor is not an extra set of parental ears. It’s not my job to report back. In fact, doing so can undermine the mentor/mentee relationship which should be built on trust and confidence. That said, I make it clear that if there was ever a threat of violence, I would not keep that confident. However, in a few cases where those situations have occurred, what I was able to do was facilitate the mentee sharing the information. That way the mentor/mentee bond is strengthened as well as the communication between parent and child.

I often get moms who say to me “I need a mentor for my son because a woman cannot raise a man.” I was raised by my mother, a grandmother and a gang of aunts so I don’t believe this.  At the same time, it’s not my place to tell parents that they are wrong. What I [ask] in these instances is, what are the top things you want your son to learn? [Does the list include] integrity? Respect? Consideration? Self-Confidence? Good manners?Discipline? None of those characteristics are masculine or feminine. In fact, they’re some of the same things I want for my daughter. These are things that are best modeled at home and supported by the activities your son is involved in. We will do our very best to help in those efforts through programs that explore those and many other values.

Q. Any long term goals or dreams?

In the words of Big Boi, “ I just wanna sit back and watch my little girl blow bubbles.” For each of the last 6 years I’ve said it was my last year so that I can spend more time with my daughter. So far, I haven’t taken that step back. To the contrary, my mentees have met my daughter, and she knows when I’m going to “spend time with the guys.” Most of my mentees are living in single-parent, mom-led households; I think it’s important that they see me taking care of my daughter. Not because I’m good at it, to the contrary, I tell them about my many mishaps. My hope is that it sends a message that being a father [is] the act of rolling up your sleeves and making good on the commitment to the best you can for your child.  Especially in those times [when] you’re scared and have no clue what you’re doing. I’ll step back one day, but as of right now, we’re having too much fun.

For more information about the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men, visit:  www.cbmdc.org, Instagram @cbmdc and Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ConcernedBlackMenDCChapter/. You can also visit the national website at http://cbmnational.org to find a chapter near you.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Advocating for Women: One Mother’s Path to Becoming a Doula

With c-sections births occurring far more frequently and rising hospital costs, many women are exploring alternative birth options. One option is hiring a doula. I had the opportunity to discuss this option with Briana Green, a Doula and phenomenal mother of two girls who turned her challenging birth experience into an opportunity to advocate for other moms.

The night I gave birth to my first son, the doctor I’d carefully hand-picked was unavailable. I went through 26 hours of non-progressive labor, had an emergency c-section, and spent 5 hours recovering without my son, who had been rushed to NICU… or my husband, who I’d forced to go with him.  I wasn’t the kind of mom who had a detailed birth plan. However, what I experienced certainly was not what I had envisioned.  Every thing turned out fine but for a long time, I couldn’t talk about the experience without growing emotional.  At the time, there was so much about my experience I didn’t understand.  I was given medications I didn’t have the opportunity to research and had major surgery without really understanding the lifelong consequences.  Although my second birth experience was far less traumatic, it’s still hard to look back on my first without wishing I had made different choices.

As I near the end of my third pregnancy, I consider myself far more informed.  In addition, I have gained a healthy respect for my first birth experience and the time it took to move past it.  Often described as Birth Trauma or Postpartum PTSD, some women suffer from a painful psychological toll following a traumatic birth experience.  With c-section births occurring far more frequently, particularly in our community, and rising hospital costs, many women are exploring alternative birth options.  One option is hiring a doula.  I had the opportunity to discuss this option with Briana Green, a Doula and phenomenal mother of two girls who turned her challenging birth experience into an opportunity to advocate for other moms.

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Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live? How would people who know you describe you?

I am a lawyer by trade and have also worked in real estate. I am a mom of two beautiful girls ages 10 and 4. I am from and currently live in Prince George’s County, MD. People usually describe me as a very laid back person and loyal friend. I am a bit of a straight shooter, too.

Q. What is a doula?

A doula can be described as a support person for women during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the immediate postpartum period. Doulas are not medical providers; however, due to the nature of our business, we do have knowledge of the medical processes taking place during labor and delivery. Doulas are primarily women although I have heard of a few men in the field. We provide education prenatally, arming expectant moms and their partners and in some cases families with information about the labor and delivery process, breastfeeding, newborn care and hospital procedures. This allows our clients to make the best choices for themselves during their pregnancies and ultimately during labor and delivery and the care of their new baby. We help mothers draft detailed plans for their birth and help them implement the plan as much as possible during their labor and delivery.

“The goal of a doula is to empower mothers so that they may make the choices they deem best for them and be active participants in their birth experiences. Doulas help moms learn to advocate for themselves with their care providers.”

The goal of a doula is to empower mothers so that they may make the choices they deem best for them and be active participants in their birth experiences. Doulas help moms learn to advocate for themselves with their care providers. During labor and delivery we may ask questions or be a sounding board for the mother and her family as they face any given choice. We also provide physical support for moms in labor, helping them manage their contractions by utilizing techniques such as massage, counter pressure, acupressure, and the application of heat and/or cold. Doulas are trained in techniques which in some cases can speed or optimize labor by encouraging optimal fetal positioning. Some doulas specialize in postpartum care working more intensively with moms after delivery as they adjust to having a new baby at home. They provide support in the home with meal preparation, newborn care, and breastfeeding support.

Q. How long have you been a doula?

I have been a doula for almost two years.

Q. Why did you decide to become a doula? How did your previous experience lead you to becoming a doula?

After the birth of my first daughter, I was disappointed in my labor and delivery experience. I was in law school at the time and did as much research as I could.  However, I couldn’t devote as much time to it as I would have liked. I made some choices during that labor that resulted from me not being fully informed on their consequences. The result of which left me with an unsatisfying experience. With my second pregnancy and labor, I was much more informed and made what I consider better choices. However, upon reaching the hospital very near delivery, things fell apart. I needed someone there who was knowledgeable and able to help me advocate for myself as I was in no condition to do it alone. Having another informed voice there making suggestions or asking questions would have made a world of difference.

As a result of my birth experiences, I had a desire to be a support for other mothers to help them have the experiences they desire. I studied all things birth in my spare time. I was a resource for my pregnant and breastfeeding friends. Eventually, I took the plunge and decided to get certified as a birth and postpartum doula. I strongly believe that if a mother feels her voice was heard and she made the choices that were best for her along the way, she will consider it a positive experience even if things don’t go as planned. That is what was missing from my own birth experiences and it is what I wanted to help provide for other mothers.

 “I strongly believe that if a mother feels her voice was heard, and she made the choices that were best for her along the way, she will consider it a positive experience even if things don’t go as planned. That is what was missing from my own birth experiences and it is what I wanted to help provide for other mothers.”

Q. How did you prepare? How much time did it take?  

I took my training with a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC. My training included 14 weeks of classroom education, covering the physiologic and psychological processes of birth, holistic birth, hospital procedures, comfort measures, encouraging optimal fetal positioning, breastfeeding support, childbirth education, postpartum support, newborn care and much more. The training was very intensive. We also were assigned a mentor within the organization with whom we would attend our first births so we could get the hands on experience with an experienced birth worker supporting us along the way. Upon completion, I was provisionally certified as a birth and postpartum doula, child birth educator, as well as a lactation coach. There was a lot of follow up work to be done to gain full certification which included an extensive reading list as well as a requirement to provide birth support, postpartum support and breastfeeding support to a certain number of mothers.

Most programs are not this intensive. They generally include a shorter classroom period, which is generally an extended seminar over several days. The students receive the core information in supporting mothers in labor and postpartum. Students are then required to do additional study on their own, such as taking child birth courses and of course attending their required births, before receiving full certification. The prices for doula trainings range from on average $300-1000 depending on how much follow up education is needed for full certification from your certifying agency.

Q. I am currently eight months pregnant with my third son.  I am planning on a repeat c-section but am open to a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section (VBAC) if I labor.  Because of my past experience, I would feel safest in an environment where I am closely monitored by physicians and a surgical team. When I think of a doula, I think of a child birth experience free of excessive medical intervention.  Is that accurate? Who would be a good candidate for a doula?

Doulas assist mothers in all types of births. Doulas are not just reserved for intervention free births, home births or birth center births. I have supported moms with planned c-sections, emergency c-sections, inductions, multiples, high risk moms and/or babies, epidurals, breech babies, VBAC, fetal loss, the list goes on. You name it, I have probably seen it. A doula is equipped to support moms in any type of birth experience, planned or otherwise.  If a doula is experienced they are very skilled and familiar with working with hospital personnel to ensure that a mother has a safe and satisfying experience, even in high risk birthing scenarios that require medical intervention. If you ask me, everyone is a good candidate for a doula!

Q. How would I find a doula?

Many doulas work with agencies which you can find listed online. There are also online databases that list doulas and the services they provide. Another good way to find a doula is to speak with your care provider. Many OB/GYNs and midwives have contact information from doulas with which they have worked before or with which they have met in the office that they will pass along to you if asked.

“This is a very intimate relationship and your doula should be someone with whom you are comfortable and someone you trust.”

Q. What is the average cost?

The cost for a doula varies greatly depending on geographical location. The range is from approximately $500 – $2000. Each doula will vary in what this price includes, but generally you can expect to receive at least 2 prenatal visits, continuous labor support starting at active labor, 1-2 postpartum visits and phone support.

Q. What are factors an expectant mom should consider in finding the right doula?

Moms should look for a doula who feels like a good fit personally for them. Feel free to interview more than one doula if the first one interviewed doesn’t feel like the best fit for you. This is a very intimate relationship and your doula should be someone with whom you are comfortable and someone you trust. Other factors to consider are the doula’s experience, particularly if you have a high risk pregnancy, you would want someone who is familiar with your specific needs. A doula’s philosophy is important to consider as well. For example, if you are a mom who is most comfortable with a medically centered birth you may not want a doula whose preference is for intervention free deliveries. You can find out a lot about a doula’s philosophy during an initial consultation.

Q. What has been your most memorable experience thus far?

I have had a lot of memorable experiences. I guess I will share my most recent memorable experience. Recently one of my clients delivered her 7th child in the car in front of the hospital! We couldn’t get her into the hospital. Her husband ended up catching the baby. Hospital staff came running out after everything was over. That was an interesting one and a first for me.

“Your birth plan should take into account that some things may not go as planned, and there should always be a Plan B. Go over your birth plan with your provider so that you can be certain that you are on the same page and none of your desires will contradict any hospital or birth center policies. Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself.”

Q. Any advice for expectant moms in developing their birth plan?

When developing a birth plan, I suggest that you get as much education as possible beforehand. Study the pros and cons of each choice so you can create an informed birth plan. At the same time, it is very important to be flexible. Understand that even the most well laid plan can go to pot in labor and delivery. That is why it is important to be well informed. Your birth plan should take into account that some things may not go as planned and there should always be a Plan B. Go over your birth plan with your provider so that you can be certain that you are on the same page and none of your desires will contradict any hospital or birth center policies. Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself. Sometimes your desires may not be what is typically asked of your provider, and they may say it is not possible to accommodate. However, sometimes with a little creativity you can find a way to come up with a plan that is agreeable to you both.

For more information on Briana Green and her amazing services, visit: www.sacredcirclebirths.com.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

20 Affirmations for Expectant Mothers

There are so many beautiful things about pregnancy. Your child will never be closer to you and that fact can bring you peace. However, it’s easy to get lost in worry and “what ifs” if you allow yourself to give in to all that can go wrong. Here are twenty affirmations to repeat if you find yourself overwhelmed with doubt.

There are so many beautiful things about pregnancy. Your child will never be closer to you and that fact can bring you peace. However, it’s easy to get lost in worry and “what ifs” if you allow yourself to give in to all that can go wrong. Here are twenty affirmations to repeat if you find yourself overwhelmed with doubt.

Dads, feel free to say them with your partners.

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  1. I am beautiful

  2. I am safe.

  3. I am protected.

  4. I am strong.

  5. I am worthy.

  6. I am intuitive.

  7. I am able.

  8. I am growing.

  9. I am confident.

  10. I am vulnerable.

  11. I am grateful.

  12. I am happy.

  13. I am healthy.

  14. I am powerful.

  15. I am peaceful.

  16. I am rested.

  17. I am responsible.

  18. I am hydrated.

  19. I am capable of love.

  20. I am loved.

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    About The Author

    Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Army of Motherhood: One Mom’s Journey Navigating Autism with Love and Resilience

Recently, I had a candid conversation with a dear friend, phenomenal woman and mother of two children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Lola Dada-Olley. Mrs. Olley, an attorney and journalist, shared her experience recognizing the signs, getting treatment and emotionally coping with the diagnosis.

When my husband and I first moved into our suburban community in the D.C. Metro Area, I was taken with the hypervigilance of parents and teachers in my community.  Even in preschool, it seemed like every parent I knew had a child in occupational therapy, physical therapy or some form of early behavioral intervention to ensure their children were keeping up with their peers. Initially, I found it comical.  I assumed the vigilance was due to societal pressure to raise competitive, Type A children.  I wasn’t interested in placing that level of pressure on my children.  However, I realized my attitude, for better or worse, was a product of my environment. As a child raised in the inner city, I didn’t really know anyone who suffered from a developmental disorder growing up.  I knew “weird” kids or “quiet” kids, and I never met a “weird” kid who wasn’t expected to eventually “grow out of it.”  As I have gotten older and my experience has diversified, I realize how dangerous that attitude can be to addressing mental illness or any developmental deficits in our children, particularly as it pertains to autism.

According to the Autism Society, “Autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disability, typically appearing during childhood and affecting a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.” While, autism affects children of every race, our communities have disproportionate rates of misdiagnosis and late diagnosis.  While everything from lack of access to medical care to community stigma may be the blame, it is clear we must make a change to improve the outcomes in prognosis for our children.

Recently, I had a candid conversation with a dear friend, phenomenal woman and mother of two children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Lola Dada-Olley.  Mrs. Olley, an attorney and journalist, shared her experience recognizing the signs, getting treatment and emotionally coping with the diagnosis.

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Q. Tell me a little about your family.

I have a five year old son and a three year old daughter in Kindergarten and Pre-K.

Q. When did you first realize something was wrong?

Maybe it was because he was my first baby, but I was very in tune with my son. He was super energetic and met his milestones for the most part.  Around eighteen months, he was a little bit delayed verbally but he caught up.  When he was about two and a half, we had a major life change that unearthed everything.  We sold our house in Illinois and moved to Wisconsin.  Literally around August 1, he was talking, answering questions, and he was bubbly.  By the end of that month, something had drastically changed. The same questions you would ask before would get a  blank stare or a stark one-word answer. He was very advanced in some areas before we left, he was learning English, Spanish and Portugeuse.  What I have since learned from my little bubble of moms, is parts of an autistic child’s brain are often highly advanced before the onset of the autistic symptoms. My son has hyperlexia which is the opposite of dyslexia. There are some parts of his brain that are highly advanced, there are other parts that need support.

Q. For your son, it seems like the impetus was that big life change: the move. Is that typical?

Our son had a serious need for routine so it helped us see the change more. It would have masked itself in another situation.  I first started seeing little things when I was pregnant with my daughter.  His eye contact started changing but verbally, it didn’t change until the move.

“You are suddenly drafted into an army that’s different from other parents.  Most of us enlist into the army of motherhood. Then there is a special unit you get drafted into that requires you to be even more hypervigilent than the “conventional” mom because your child needs extra support.”

Q. What steps did you take once you realized something was wrong?

I suspected it could be autism because I have a baby brother with autism.  Now, they have support groups for siblings of kids with special needs.  When I was growing up, I became like a second mom. I would do research on autism thinking it was for my brother, but it was really for my son that was coming.  All the research I had done was on something called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. I looked into ABA therapy in Wisconsin.  What I didn’t know when I started my search is that Wisconsin has the best autism treatment in the United States because it is home to both a research center and treatment center rolled into one in a place called the Waisman Center.  It was a like a triage for parents.  You are suddenly  drafted into an army thats different from other parents.  Most of us enlist into the army of motherhood. Then there is a special unit you get drafted into that requires you to be even more hypervigilent than the “conventional” mom because your child needs extra support.  There was a six month waiting list at the Waisman Center.  We were only planning on being in Wisconsin for two years because of my husband’s MBA program. I had done enough research to know that the ages between 0 and 5 were crucial for early childhood and the longer we waited, the less favorable the outcome.  A social worker recommended a private facility and as luck would have it, they had an opening in two weeks.

The psychologist, who is a sweetheart, I still talk to him today, told us: “It has been confirmed that your son is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This could just be a phase or it could be a lifelong battle. We don’t know yet because he is just two and a half. We do know your son is incredibly bright and gregarious and very compassionate and loving so we know he will be a delight to work with.”  I cried, they gave me the kleenex and all that good stuff. I realized then that my brother was my greatest teacher.  But for my brother, my son would have been languishing before I realized what was wrong.

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Q. Once you got the diagnosis, what was next?

My son was diagnosed in the fall and by January, he had a team of in-home therapists set up.  He was in therapy eight hours a day and six days a week. We did a half a day on Saturday and took Sundays off to go to church and rest as a family.   Our in-home team consisted of 4 line therapists (the “in the trenches” therapists who would execute our son’s treatment plan), their supervisor, regional supervisors, a board certified behavioral analyst (in Wisconsin, this was a PhD), a pediatrician and developmental pediatrician.  Six months in, he also had a speech and occupational therapist. We had a big team.  Also, every week, a senior therapist would come to our house with the team to discuss what worked and what did not.   People were constantly coming in and out of our house. Fortunately, our insurance covered forty hours of ABA.  Research suggests that thirty hours and over yields the best outcome for kids on the spectrum.

Q. That sounds intense. How did you handle having all those people in your home? 

When my son started therapy, I was still nursing my daughter who was under a year old. You have to be vulnerable when you get a diagnosis like this, the last thing you want to do is go into denial because you are hurting your child.  The sooner they can get support, the better off their lives will be. I immediately went into a mindset of, I no longer look at my kids as five year olds and three year olds.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about a sixteen and eighteen year old version of what my babies will look like. I am very well aware that the clock is ticking.

Q. What role did you play in your son’s treatment?

You hear stories about parents and you don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but you need to be very involved.  It’s a fine line. We would be in the room.  In the sit downs, we would add on what we saw outside of the therapy room. We stayed in constant contact. When someone is constantly in your house, you are always talking about your kids.   Once he got used to the therapy, we would let them do their thing. We had to realize social skills involve other people, not just Mom and Dad.  Our son called his therapists his “big friends.”

“You have to be vulnerable when you get a diagnosis like this, the last thing you want to do is go into denial because you are hurting your child.  The sooner they can get support, the better off their lives will be. I immediately went into a mindset of, I no longer look at my kids as five year olds and three year olds.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about a sixteen and eighteen year old version of what my babies will look like. I am very well aware that the clock is ticking.”

Q. Your daughter was also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Was her path to diagnosis similar to your son’s diagnosis?

A month into therapy, our son started showing progress which was a big blessing. However, our daughter started pulling her hair out of her head.  We took her to the pediatrician and determined at thirteen months old, she had severe allergies. She was allergic to dairy, eggs, fish, nuts, dogs, cats, summer grass and spring trees. I threw all my breast milk out and stopped eating everything.  That cleared up.  However, her speech was delayed around that time. She had about two or three words and stuck there.  I asked our pediatrician to test her for Autism. However, they don’t test until eighteen months.  So, I called in our state’s Early Childhood Intervention team (every state has one).  Once a week, a therapist would come in and work with her.  As soon as she hit the eighteen month mark, we took her in for an evaluation and she was diagnosed with Autism.  Autism typically impacts boys more than girls. However, when it comes in girls, it could be more severe.  That has so far been the case.

Q. In terms of progress, where are they now?

Our son is doing so well that he will no longer need traditional ABA by the end of the year. He has mastered all the goals. He is in traditional school and doing well.  He is getting along with his peers and socially, he is at the age he needs to be.  He goes to a social skills group a couple of days a week at a clinical center. He is one of those kids you call an early intervention success story.  When the chief therapist told us she thought we could discharge him, she said she never discharged a child before.  We both teared up. We will always have to be vigilant.  The preteen years and adolescence is another hard time. It’s hard for a neurotypical kid; but, its particularly hard for a child who has difficulty with social skills.

Our daughter is three and a half now and non-verbal.  She has been in ABA therapy since twenty months old.  We saw progress. Then, we moved to Texas and had to wait three months for services and she regressed. She is still in the trenches.  However, she has an amazing special education teacher that is dedicated and she is beginning to learn sign language.

Being able to communicate with your child is something people take for granted. Every time my son talks I think, “Thank you, God.”

Q. Is your daughter in the same type of rigorous therapy that your son was in? How do you know which treatment style is best for your child?

She is in a clinical setting.  There are two types of therapy.  It depends on your child.  Some parents go in home first to focus on life skills such as putting on shoes and clothing.   A clinical setting is like a day care setting.  Your child is around other children.  My daughter is at a center with other kids with special needs.  There is a team of  Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) that overlook the treatment schedule for 5 days a week.  My daughter spends the first part of the day in an early childhood school which is a pre-K for kids with special needs and then moves to her center.

Q. Parenting is tough in general. However, dealing with this diagnosis twice must have been difficult.  What emotional obstacles did you face? 

I’ve learned to be a lot more mindful of the blessings in the moment.  We don’t have the same lives as other people.  We pray. It’s hard.  We get down and we get scared.  We are human, but you have to just keep moving. If you work more on the front end, you won’t have to work as much on the tail end.

“Being able to communicate with your child is something people take for granted. Every time my son talks I think, ‘Thank you, God.'”

Q. How important is a strong support system?

People say the divorce rate among parents of special needs children is higher.  That’s debated. We have great support.  Our church has a respite night every other month that cares for kids with special needs and their siblings to give parents 3-4 hours for a date night. Our city in Texas also has a respite night.  You can’t just have any babysitter. You need a babysitter that understands your needs.

I don’t know how else to say it but God has sent us people that have come to support us. I met a woman in Wisconsin who did not have a special needs child but was persistent in getting our children together for regular playdates each week for over a year.   One of my son’s first sentences were at her house.  After we moved to Texas, one of our therapists in Wisconsin just happened to move here, too.  She offered to babysit anytime we needed.

Q. Any tips on finding resources?

Look up where nearest chapters of local support groups with the Autism Society of AmericaAutism Speaks has an amazing resource guide broken down by age group, early intervention, etc.  Call up your local ABA therapy center or find a pediatrician who specializes in autism and talk through your concerns. Find a pediatrician that understands the journey. Remember: persistence, persistence, persistence.  Not all states are created equal when it comes to autism treatment.

I’ve also met some people whose health care coverage doesn’t cover autism therapy at all and they have had to buy health insurance on the Affordable Care Exchange (which is something we have done) or supplement it in some ways.  If you have the means, make sure to get ABA therapy included in some way. Research, research, research.  Even if you aren’t naturally a good researcher, consult the Google. If you work on this early, there will be some strides made.

“This is not your fault. There is nothing you did in pregnancy to your baby, when you nursed, or didn’t nurse. This is not your fault, but you now have the responsibility to make sure you child is the best version of themselves. That is your assignment.”

Q. What advice would you give to a parent just staring this journey?

This is not your fault. This is not your fault. There is nothing you did in pregnancy to your baby, when you nursed or didn’t nurse. This is not your fault, but you now have the responsibility to make sure you child is the best version of themselves. That is your assignment.

Below is a TED Talk from Temple Grandin. Temple was diagnosed with autism in her 40s and is a professor and world renowned spokesperson on autism.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Living History: Meet Gangster Gardener and Activist Ron Finley

Ron Finley is a man making a difference in South Central, Los Angeles by gardening in his community and promoting healthy eating. His quest to promote community gardening started in 2010 and has garnered him worldwide attention. Here are a few facts about him.

Ron Finley is a man making a difference in South Central, Los Angeles by gardening in his community and promoting healthy eating.  His quest to promote community gardening started in 2010 and has garnered him worldwide attention.  Here are a few facts about him:

1. He fought City Hall… and won.

Finley’s quest began because he couldn’t buy anything healthy in his neighborhood.  He grew up in South Central, L.A. as one of eight children, and knew that there were no health food stores or grocery stores with fresh produce anywhere near his home.  He had to drive 45 minutes away to reach a Whole Foods.  So he decided he would plant vegetables in a strip of dirt by his curb.  After a few months he had succulent carrots, bananas, tangerines and mustard greens.  He also had the attention of city officials who gave him a citation for gardening without a permit. The city owned the “median,” which was the neglected dirt strip that was the approximately 150 x 10 foot area Finley started planting his garden.  Finley worked with other local leaders to file a petition in opposition to the city’s actions.  This garnered media attention, a local filmmaker made a short video about his fight, and the city rescinded the citation and allowed the gardening to continue.

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2. He believes gardening is gangster.

Finley believes that community building through planting your own food, sharing it with your neighbors, and improving your surrounding area is an authentic way to be “gangster.” In 2010, he started teaching his neighbors how to plant gardens in their own medians in front of their homes.  Now, he teaches people from all over the world how to plant and make their own vibrant vegetation spaces.  His goal is to redefine what it means to be a “gangster” so it includes being informed about nutrition and gardening.

“I’m an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art. Just like a graffiti artist, where they beautify walls, me, I beautify lawns, parkways. I use the garden, the soil, like it’s a piece of cloth, and the plants and the trees, that’s my embellishment for that cloth. You’d be surprised what the soil could do if you let it be your canvas. You just couldn’t imagine how amazing a sunflower is and how it affects people.”

3. He helped start a non-profit dedicated to community gardening.

In 2010, Finley, Florence Nishida, and Vanessa Voblis started an organization called Los Angeles Green Grounds that is dedicated to bringing volunteers together with residents of South Central to change their front lawns into vibrant gardens.  To accomplish this, residents host a “dig in” where the community and volunteers come together to shovel, plant, water, and build gardens.  The organization works closely with residents through growing seasons and continually educates folks about sustainability practices.

Finley eventually  moved on from LA Green Grounds to start the Ron Finley Project where he uses his home garden as an example of how to create a growing  and healthy vegetation space by using vacant lots, parkways, and other “throw away” items like old shopping carts.  His goal is to change the face of urban communities into vibrant food forests  where residents eat what they plant and become healthier by eating natural food instead of the processed food that surrounds their communities.

“I live in a food desert, South Central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by. Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

4. His TED talk has nearly 3 million views.

In February 2013, Finley gave an 11 minute TED talk on his life changing work that was impassioned, funny, and extremely well received.  His TED talk generated massive attention for his cause.  He appeared on several talk shows, including Russell Brand’s late night show, and received collaboration offers from notable corporations.  Despite this attention, Finley stays focused on pointing out that a community-driven gardening program is a way to dramatically reduce obesity among adults and children, gang violence and poverty.

5. He believes lack of access to healthy food in low-income communities is intentional.

Finley believes low income communities are drastically underserved in having access to quality, natural food.  He calls urban communities food prisons because the residents have to escape them to find any healthy food.  Local convenience stores are stocked with unhealthy processed food, and you can find many more dialyses centers than grocery stores with fresh produce in them.  He points out that fast food is often the only food available within urban communities.

By teaching sustainable community gardening, Finley believes you empower community members to fight back.  Through growing their own food, these communities have locally grown produce they can consume for personal use or sell for economic gain.  Children will get exercise by gardening and the quality of their diets increase from eating food that they have grown.  Finley relates the struggle to change the health outcomes for our community to the struggles of the Black Lives Matter Movement.  He feels that urban communities are under siege from food companies, and the way to fight back is by growing your own food.  Finley believes gangster gardening is a way to free our communities.

Information attained from:

Ron Finley Project, ronfinley.com

Kristin Wartman, “Why Food Belongs in Our Discussions of Race”, Civil Eats, http://civileats.com/2015/09/03/why-food-belongs-in-our-discussions-of-race/, published on September 3, 2015

David Hochman, “Urban Gardening: An Appleseed With Attitude”, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/fashion/urban-gardening-an-appleseed-with-attitude.html?_r=0, published online on May 3, 2013

Los Angeles Green Grounds, http://www.lagreengrounds.org/

Andy Simmons, “Meet the Gangsta Gardener”, Reader’s Digest, http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/ron-finley-gangsta-gardener/

TED, Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA, https://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la, filmed February 2013

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

Q&A with Weemagine Co-Founders Rick and Faye McCray

Meet Weemagine Co-Founders, Rick and Faye McCray and learn more about them and what inspired them to create Weemagine.

Meet Weemagine Co-Founders, Rick and Faye McCray and learn more about them and what inspired them to create Weemagine.

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Q. Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Faye: I’m originally from Queens, New York. I currently reside in the D.C. Metro Area. My parents divorced when I was a kid so I was primarily raised by my mom.  I was raised with two phenomenal older brothers. One of which became my angel in 2009.  I was the first of my siblings to go to college and as far as know, the first law school graduate in my family (though I’m sure this new generation of kids in my family will far surpass me).  My parents were married young but they both went back to school as adults which has always been a tremendous source of inspiration for me.  I went to an HBCU for law school and majority institution for undergrad.  I  am a devoted wife and mom. I also work full time as an attorney, and I am also a published author. In my spare time, I love to ride my bike, have brunch, and throw impromptu dance parties with my kids.

Rick: I’m originally from North Carolina. My folks also divorced when I was young, but interestingly enough they remarried each other and moved back in together when my sister and I were attending college.  My mother raised my younger sister and me.  My father unexpectedly passed away in mid-2016.  Both of my parents went to HBCUs and like Faye and I, they met at Howard University School of Law.  I love reading, specifically historical biographies of business people. I love anything involving real estate. I also love watching inspirational videos on YouTube.

Q. Where did you meet? How long have you been married?

Faye: Rick and I met our first year of law school at Howard University School of Law. We officially met at a birthday party of a mutual friend but I always tease him that he introduced himself to me (and all the girls) in the library before then. We have been together 13 years and married for 10.

Rick: Our first date was to the final Matrix movie.  It was great because my wife, (then girl I was trying to date), was driving and we got lost.  I got to practice some of my best humor on her, which is obviously why she fell in love with me!  We both agreed how bad the movie was so we bonded over that and by the end of the movie, we wanted to see more of each other. On a side note, our date almost never happened.  My wife thought I was very weird and tried to get every friend she could think of to go on the date with her, like a dang chaperone!  Thankfully, all of her girlfriends said no and she was forced to enjoy my company by herself.

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Q. How many children do you have?

Rick: We have two boys and another baby boy due in November 2016.

Faye: This is a rainbow baby for us. We had a miscarriage in December 2015 so this baby and pregnancy has been an absolute blessing.

“We wanted to provide positive and helpful information, everyday, that would help other parents inspire their children no matter what was going on in the outside world.  It is something that we were seeking that we didn’t see enough of. We decided to provide it because we knew if we were looking for it, other parents were too.”

Q. Why did you start Weemagine?

Rick: We started Weemagine because we wanted a place that was specifically catering to parents of children of color. We wanted to provide positive and helpful information, everyday, that would help other parents inspire their children no matter what was going on in the outside world.  It is something that we were seeking that we didn’t see enough of. We decided to provide it because we knew if we were looking for it, other parents were too.

Faye: Well, my reason is probably more emotional. As a mother of brown boys, I was afraid. I am afraid. Every video, shooting, arrest, and acquittal was hitting me emotionally. I felt like I was drowning.  I wanted to be part of the solution.  Weemagine began as a Facebook group called Celebrating Black Boys.  The group was primarily friends and friends of friends looking to celebrate our beautiful sons. We would share pictures and good news. We created a Facebook page shortly after to allow other people to share their stories. We started digging through the news to bring positive stories of black boys and men to inspire our growing community. Weemagine launched in 2016 as a part of a bigger mission to celebrate and inspire all of our children and the people who love them. We couldn’t escape that moms of little girls were feeling the burden too. We wanted to unite as a community.

Q. What does the name Weemagine mean?

Rick: To me, it means creating the world as we want to see it. It means a place where our children are safe, creative, fun and celebrated.  It is a collective feeling of “this is our space to enjoy.”

Faye: It’s also a play on the words “We” and “Imagine”.  The extra “e” is because our goal has always been the babies!  “Wee” means little.

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Q. Why now?

Rick: Why not now? We see negative imagery all the time, and we rarely see solutions.  We feel like our site is our way of showing solutions.  It shows parents how to live in this moment empowered and compassionate.

Faye: I agree. We need sites like Weemagine now. We are such a resilient, spirited people.  I think once we have solutions, we work towards them.  This is just one small solution. Let’s love our babies. Let’s raise them to be proud and strong.  Let’s work together to find inspiration and positivity.

Q. Who do you hope to reach?

Rick: I want to reach young mothers and fathers who are afraid for their children. I’d like to reach grandparents who are raising grandchildren who want to know how to relate to this generation.  I want to reach anyone who is seeking solutions and ways to make the environment better for children in our society.

Faye: Right. Our goal has always been to celebrate and inspire the babies. That necessarily involves inspiring parents and other people who love and have access to them.

“We are such a resilient, spirited people.  I think once we have solutions, we work towards them.  This is just one small solution. Let’s love our babies. Let’s raise them to be proud and strong.  Let’s work together to find inspiration and positivity.”

Q. As a mother, what do you hope to bring to Weemagine?

Faye: I have been a mom for nine years. I am by no means a veteran but I am proud of the experience and knowledge I have gained. I hope I inspire conversation. I want to be honest about what has worked for me but also my shortcomings as a parent. Also, as a woman, I am incredibly inspired by other women. I hope to bring stories of moms overcoming obstacles, trusting their intuition, and giving their babies the best life they can.

Q. As a father, what do you hope to bring to Weemagine?

Rick: I want to bring a positive male perspective. I want to show a black father who is 100% there for his kids and doesn’t just discipline but loves. That’s my reality and that’s the reality for guys I know.

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Q. What are your short term goals?

Rick: We want to increase our viewership, continue to put out great content, and get the word out. There are more people that don’t know that we exist than do.  There is a huge opportunity for growth.

Q. What are your long term goals?

Faye: Certainly to spread positivity to a larger audience. I’d like to spread our content throughout social media, including videos. I’d like to meet more people and share their stories.  As an author, I’d also like Weemagine to play a role in spreading diverse literature, whether its original content or as a resource for finding positive images of our children.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Minute Mentor: School Counselor Tanefa Wallace

Minute Mentor provides a space for real people to tell their stories so if you or your little one is in search of mentorship on how to achieve their dreams, you can look no further than right here! Sometimes the best inspiration comes from seeing someone that looks like you achieving similar goals.

Minute Mentor is a series of posts profiling real people achieving their dreams. It began with the simple idea that “seeing is being.”  When cofounders Rick and Faye’s oldest son was born, it was clear he was musically inclined. He was playing piano by ear at age 4 and neither of them ever even picked up an instrument! When Faye remembered an old neighbor who had gone on to become a Julliard trained musician, she immediately reached out to him and said, “What do we do?”  He patiently answered all of her questions on how best to nurture her budding musician.

Minute Mentor provides a space for real people to tell their stories so if you or your little one is in search of mentorship on how to achieve their dreams, you can look no further than right here! Sometimes the best inspiration comes from seeing someone that looks like you achieving similar goals.

If you have any questions or comments for the featured guest, leave a comment, and we will do our best to bring it to their attention! Happy imagining!

Name: Tanefa Wallace

Age: 40 and over

Occupation: School Counselor

Career Level:

  • Entry
  • Mid-level
  • Executive
  • Entrepreneur
  • Retired

How hard do you work? 

  • Lots of Leisure Time
  • Typical 40-50hr Workweek
  • More than Average
  • I never stop working

Lifestyle/Income: 

  • Side Hustle/Didn’t Quit My Day Job
  • Getting By
  • My bills are Paid with Some Room for Fun
  • You get a car! You get a car!

Describe your job:

I am a [high school] counselor, so that means that I wipe tears over lost boyfriends and “crazy” parents, and I help students keep their grades up and focus on goals to reach college. I also help students apply [to college] and figure out where to apply to be the most successful.

What education level is required for your job? Tests? Certificates? Years of School?

In order to do my job you have to have a [Bachelor’s] degree and a Master’s degree. You also have to be certified as a School Counselor by the educational district where you are working. In order to maintain your certification, you have to complete at least 6 continuing education credits in your field or CEUs through workshops in your field. The years of school add up! There are 4 for undergrad and 2 for graduate/masters work, then you have to continue to go back to school or to trainings to stay sharp and above the fray! Some schools require exit exams, and if you want to become a Nationally Certified School Counselor, you have to take an exam that qualifies you for that level of work.

“I find that when you are new to your field or want to be cutting edge, you have to seek out the people who are doing what you do well.”

What kind of student were you?

I was [an] on again off again student. I had a childhood that was fraught with trauma so there was a lot of times where I didn’t want to be in school and didn’t live up to my potential as a student. I was a B student with a few Cs here and there but it didn’t reflect my ability levels at all.  I was exceptional on all of the standardized testings and was even awarded a full academic ride to an HBCU, including room and board.

Did you have a mentor? How did you meet?

I have one now. I met her through a recommendation. I have had one in every job I have ever had. I find that when you are new to your field or want to be cutting edge, you have to seek out the people who are doing what you do well. Befriend them, get them to give you all of their secrets, and show them your appreciation in ways they will enjoy.

How did you get your current job?

I was picked out of 300 applicants based on my interview and resume.

Is your job family-friendly?

I am able to be a parent and do it without too much pressure. I am in the school system [so] I have the same days off and summers and winter break [as my children].  So, I would say yes, it is very family friendly.

Do you find your work fulfilling?

Yes! I love it. I thoroughly enjoy bonding with the students and assisting them navigate life as they know it, the processes of getting to their goal schools, and [their] lives once they graduate. It gives me a sense of purpose and allows me to use my gifts in service to students and families.

Did you always know you wanted to be a school counselor?

No! I wanted to be a radio DJ. I love music, and [I] love interacting with those types of creative folks. After all, I am a creative as well on my own time.

What advice would you give a parent of a child/young adult interested in pursuing a job in your field? 

Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons: love of children and students, a passion to serve educationally, work with the general public, a strong urge to be organized and assist students to reach their goals. Being a highly organized person is a plus! I would also state that being certified and attending an accredited institution would be beneficial to being able to do your job efficiently by creating a strong knowledge base.

You can find out more about Tanefa Wallace:

On Instagram: @Soul_On_Purpose
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoulOnPurpose
On the Web: www.SoulOnPurpose.wix.com/soulonpurpose

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.