Medicare Part B Recognition has been achieved!

After more than a decade of advocacy from various mental health organizations, licensed mental health counselors (LMHC) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) are now recognized as Medicare providers!

The U.S. legislature recently passed the Omnibus package which includes language from the Mental Health Access Improvement Act that expands coverage of LMHCs and LMFTs services under Medicare Part B. The act is scheduled to take effect in January 2024. We’ll provide more information as it becomes available.

Experiencing Winter Blues? Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Psychiatrist

Geoffrey Hills, Mind & Spirit Counseling Center
Geoffrey Hills, DO

In Johnny Nash’s song I Can See Clearly, the singer references that all his troubles and pain are gone and now he sees nothing but blue skies and sunshine. While this song is metaphorical, it is also rooted in science. Some people experience increased mental health issues during the fall and winter months specifically due to the lack of daylight and sun exposure. This is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The Center’s Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Psychiatrist, explains in greater detail and talks about treatment options.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? What are symptoms, common complaints, etc.?

Dr. Hills: “Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD) refers to an increase in depressive symptoms specifically during the fall and winter months. These can include sadness, fatigue, apathy, poor focus, sleep disruption and/or increased appetite. There can be a loss of motivation even for things a person normally enjoys and a need to sleep more. The cause of SAD may vary from individual to individual, though appears to be related to the decreased amount of daylight available in the winter months. This can affect the levels of message-carriers in the brain such as serotonin and melatonin. The effect of these message carriers on our circadian rhythm (i.e., our “internal clock”) may be what causes many of the symptoms.”

Whom does SAD affect?

Dr. Hills: “Not surprisingly, SAD is more common among people who live farther from the equator. Women and younger adults tend to be affected more. There may also be genetic factors or hormonal shifts that contribute to symptoms as well.”

How can mental health clinicians treat clients who are affected by SAD? Are there potential side effects with the treatments?

Light Therapy Lamp

Dr. Hills: “Clients presenting with depressive symptoms during the winter months should of course be assessed as they would be throughout the year. Healthy habits including proper diet, consistent sleep, exercise, social engagement and time outdoors on sunny days will benefit almost everyone. Some medications can also be useful in treating SAD. However, to the extent that symptoms appear to be specific to seasonal changes, the use of a light therapy lamp is a good and safe option for treatment. These lamps are widely available and can be affordable for most households. The intensity of the lamp should be 10,000 lux. When used, it is placed about 1-2 feet away from the person and using it first thing in the morning is recommended for the best effect. The person need not be looking directly at the lamp, but just have it in their range of vision. Using a light therapy lamp is quite safe, though some people could experience a headache or eye strain with prolonged use. Other side effects such as increased irritability or sleep disruption can happen, though are very uncommon.”

What are some common concerns or misconceptions about SAD?

Dr. Hills: “The benefit of light therapy lamps is due to their effect on specific receptors in the eyes. While vitamin D may have some effect on SAD, skin exposure to light is not necessary for its treatment. Patients should not use tanning beds to treat SAD.”

Any interesting statistics about SAD or anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Hills: “There are a lot of stressors that can present during the winter months. Adverse weather, difficulty traveling, school stress, increased isolation and the pressures of the holidays can affect us all. Attention to self-care and compassion for others during these times will always serve us well in managing our struggles.”

Mind and Spirit Counseling Center has four light therapy lamps for Seasonal Affective Disorder available at the Center. They can be loaned out to clients who wish to see how it works before they buy one. A lamp can also be loaned out for a longer period of time to a household unable to afford it. If a client believes they’re experiencing symptoms of SAD, they should speak with their clinician about further assessment and treatment options.

Resources in the Aftermath of a Mass Shooting

“The tragedy of school shootings should never numb us, in spite of their heinous frequency. Our mission is to walk with people on the path to hope and healing through counseling and education so that we might all find our way to the fullness of life. Many of our clients are the same age as the victims of these shootings. We work with them and often their trauma through a healing process. This trauma is often caused by others called to carry responsibility for their safety and flourishing—whose irresponsible choices cause pain and despair rather than healing and hope.

As we strive to carry our responsibility to keep children safe, may we not be complicit in the pain, but warriors of justice, peace and healing.

To help us shoulder this responsibility, we offer resources for you to use within your own networks and communities. May the day come soon when such resources aren’t necessary because our decisions have put a stop to this madness.”

-Jim Hayes, Executive Director


Iowa’s Mobile Crisis Response system  provides free, on-site support for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. If a mental health crisis occurs, one or two-person mental health professional teams will be dispatched to the crisis within one hour of receiving a request. This on-site support is offered 24/7.

Behavioral health urgent care is available in Des Moines at Broadlawns and Unity Point, Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm.

General Disaster Resources

  • Disaster Distress Helpline (SAMHSA): The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

General Resources for Coping After a Mass Shooting

Resources for Parents and Teachers

Compiled by the Iowa Psychological Association Disaster Response Committee on 5/26/2022

Mental Health Advocacy Day at PCM

Trey Voeller


Meet Trey Voeller, a junior at PCM (Prairie City Monroe) High School! Trey organized a Mental Health Advocacy Day at his school that included multiple speakers, over a dozen mental health organizations throughout Iowa, and the entirety of the student body.

Trey, standing in front of a few booths at the mental health fair

Trey standing in front of a few booths at the mental health fair

Staci sitting at the Center's booth

Staci sitting at the Center’s booth

Staci Fosenburg, a psychologist from the Center and a graduate of PCM, hosted a booth at the event. Staci said, “It was certainly a powerful experience to come back to PCM after all these years and to share what I’ve learned and value about mental health.”

Staci was so impressed by the event and Trey’s commitment to mental health advocacy that we decided to spotlight Trey’s hard work in a special blog post!


Shannon: Tell me about the event you organized at your high school.

Trey: The event was a mental health advocacy day for PCM High School students. It was an all-day event starting with a presentation, followed by a mental health fair, and ending with two more presentations. The first presentation was two adults from NAMI Central Iowa, Anglea Tharp, and McKenzie Lopez. Their presentation was about being a friend and identifying symptoms of different mental health issues. The mental health fair had 20 organizations from around central Iowa. These organizations were everything from therapy organizations to hospitals. Students came in eight different waves separated by grade and last name. These groups were small to keep personal conversations private. If there was still time, students could answer feedback posters. Finally, Eric Preuss spoke on behalf of Your Life Iowa. He talked about ways for students to reach out to get help, whether for themselves or a loved one struggling with mental health. Eric discussed where to go or who to go to with mental illness concerns and needs. The last speaker, a senior from Ottumwa, Iowa, was Lily Glenn. She spoke about her experience with mental health and anxiety and how she has found different activities and resources that help her.

Overall, the three speakers added personal stories that helped students learn that everyone has a different story, and they learned that people struggling with mental health issues are all around us. It was a very engaging day where students and the community came together to advocate for mental health.

After the event, I started to find student interest in a mental health club at our school. I am initiating a Stomp Out Stigma club which works through Please Pass the Love.

Shannon: What inspired you to host this event?

Trey: This past year I was accepted to serve on SIYAC (The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council). This council works with the Iowa Department of Human Rights. On this council, I work on the health and service committees. On the health committee, I connected with many legislators from around the state during the 2022 Legislative Session. I learned that Iowa is 51st in the United States for mental health awareness and advocacy. When I took a step back, I was able to see how even in my community, mental health awareness is generally not discussed. We have a mental health day that allows us to play games, but students want resources when I asked them about the original mental health day. I decided to take a stand and get connections through the legislators I had met. One legislator that helped instrumentally is my Representative, Jon Dunwell.

Shannon: What were your goals for the event?

Trey: When I’ve been asked this question, there are two ways I would answer. The first is my personal story of fighting mental illnesses and being put in situations where I did not know what to do. I talked about how I was once in the position of holding the life of a friend. This situation helped me realize I never wanted to fear this situation because I did not know what to do, so I decided to inform those around me too! The other answer is, even if I impact one life or help someone save another life in the future, wouldn’t that be worth it? Isn’t one life worth all the effort?

Shannon: Tell me about how the event went and any feedback you heard from other students, teachers, or organizations who participated.

Trey: The Mental Health Advocacy Day went excellent. There were some bumps in the road with finding supplies and finalizing some of the information for the day. However, the day ran very smooth. The students received great resources with information. Students tried to get signatures from three tables, and they received them only if they had a meaningful conversation with the table presenter. Teachers were given snacks throughout the day with a sign that said, “Teacher Mental Health Matters Too!” Many teachers complimented the presenters because some of the past presenters at our school did not relate to students. Past presenters have often left students wondering, “How does mental health matter to us?” These presentations allowed them to be a friend, see the symptoms, how to reach out, and what to do to release the pressure from society. The organizations gave good feedback, and many said they hoped this event continued as they wished to attend again. I also had one organization say the communication I had with them made the entire day less nerve-wracking. Everyone, who attended and helped put this event together, created a network that benefitted everyone.

Shannon: What would you say to other students who care about mental health and want to make a difference?

Trey: If you want to make a difference, I would say you should advocate for it. Start by looking for a need/issue in your community. Then, bring awareness to that need/issue and inform others about what you want to change. We as youth have a voice, and some people are listening. Youth are the future, and when society invests in its future, it sets us up for success as leaders and future influencers. For students wanting to make a difference, you can find ways to get involved in your communities and around the state for these passions. For students who care about mental health specifically, look for what you are trying to get across. Mental Health is a broad subject with many smaller corresponding parts, and when you finalize the message you want to convey to others, a bigger impact can be made.

Shannon: Is there anything else you’d like our audience to know about you or the event?

Trey: I would like to thank Representative Jon Dunwell for financially supporting this event. Thanks to Mrs. Pohl for helping me plan this event and being my teacher advisor. Thank you to my mother and the Prairie City Police Department (Matt) for catering this event. Thank you to the organizations that came and gave resources to students, Newton HyVee for donating cookies, and the PCM School District for being accommodating. Lastly, I want to thank the Monroe Police Department, Monroe Presbyterian Church, and Monroe First Reformed Church for donating tables. This event was worth the effort, and I would recommend anyone to take the time to advocate for their passions and beliefs. Again, thank you to Representative Jon Dunwell and Ms. Samantha Pohl for supporting me with this entire process.

Staci sharing information with a student

Staci sharing information with a student

Blog: Media review for hope and healing: Face, A Memoir by Marcia Meier

Face, A Memoir by Marcia Meier

Reviewed by Terri Mork Speirs, June 2021

click image for more information

When Marica Meier was five years old, she was dragged nearly 200 feet underneath a car in front of her home, in a catastrophic accident that happened in a matter of moments. She writes:

My cheek was scraped off down to the bone, my left eyelid was missing, and the bottom lid was carved away from the eyeball, though the eyeball was intact. (17)

The left side of her face was gone. Her trauma was further aggravated by a series 20 surgeries whereby skin was grafted from other parts of her body for facial reconstruction. Her hands were often tied during and following the procedure. Sometimes she was also blindfolded to keep her still for the surgeon. She experienced teasing from classmates and taunting from her church and teachers, who would often have her detained alone in the coat closet for “acting out.” The words of her mother haunted her for years: “We told you never to cross the street without looking.” As if she were to blame.

The Center’s approach to mental health counseling is often described as the integration of the mind-body-spirit connection. But what does that mean? This book is a deep dive exploration of these interconnected parts.

Marcia Meier’s mind shines as she searches her own memories and acknowledges the variable nature of memory. She weaves in her own journalistic research of the history of skin grafting and other intellectual curiosities related to her experience.

Marcia Meier’s flesh displays in this book and everyday as the most public part of the body – the face – is the object. She starts each chapter with surgeon’s notes. She titles her chapters with carnal language such as: lacerations, eyelashes, exposed, and suture.

Marica Meier’s spirit is rebellious. She makes her own decisions on who to forgive, how, and when. And who not. Her painful recollections of Catholic school made me squirm – the abuse and humiliation. Her life improved when she started pubic school. As a teenager she declared no more surgeries. She even messed up the final surgery because she was instructed to hold still for a few days following the procedure. Instead she spent time with friends and laughed a lot, far from keeping her face still. I love that she chose to laugh.

A powerful interplay of the mind-body-spirit connection is offered by Marcia Meier through the verbatim of a counseling session, when her counselor Michael helped her understand that the accident was not her fault:

“Why do you think the accident happened?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Whose fault was it?”

“Obviously the guy who hit me,” I say.

He smiled. “Yes, that’s true. But shy did he hit you?”

“He was blind in his left eye. He didn’t see me.”

“Uh-huh. But why didn’t he see you?”

“I don’t know…Maybe it was meant to happened,” I say.

“Why?”  …  “Do you believe in fate?

 “I don’t know. I don’t think things happened because God wills it, like its pre-ordained.”

“Do you think you could have prevented it?”

I pause. My mom’s words drift back to me.

“If I hadn’t walked into the crosswalk. . .”

You think you could have topped the car?”

“I should have seen it.”

“Say you had. How quickly do you think you could have gotten out the way? You were in the middle of the crosswalk.”

I couldn’t have gotten out of the way. No one could have.

It was not my fault.

It was not my fault!

Do you believe in God? Michael asked me. (61-62)

Dear reader, I’ll leave it there as a cliffhanger. There’s no way I can do justice to Marica Meier’s answer to this question or the remainder of the book – but Marica Meier certainly does. She has transformed her horrendous childhood experience into art. Her book dedication reads: For anyone who has ever suffered as a Wounded Child. And for Kendall, who fills up my heart.

Our stories  are our own. We need not compare or contrast one trauma with another. Marcia Meier’s experience is hers. Your experience is yours. They are all valid in and of themselves. I think all of our stories have healing properties, especially when they are offered with so much sincerity and grace, as this one is. Thank you Marcia Meier.


For more information about author Marcia Meier and her book Face: A Memoir, please visit www.

5/5/21 Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I want to take advantage of the calendar to remind us all that May is National Mental Health Awareness month. If you’re not aware of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), I encourage you to subscribe to their newsletter. NAMI Iowa does a great job of keeping us all up to date on mental health issues. Here are some suggestions they make to keep mental health front of mind during May: 

While mental health is important every day, take some time to reflect and grow this Mental Health Month. In May, we encourage you to push yourself. Learn something new about mental health. Share your experiences with loved ones. Take the leap into getting help. Support someone you know is in need.

The Center’s 23rd annual Women Helping Women event is an opportunity to recognize the special month while also making it possible for those who are underinsured to have access to mental health services. The Center is pleased to honor and celebrate Angela Connolly who has done so much for our community and mental health awareness — and feature keynote speaker Tiffany Johnson who calls our community to greater understanding through theater. Please join us! 

Other suggestions include:

MAY 20 | Wear Green for Mental Health: Dust off your St. Patrick’s Day green as we join our friends at Make It OK Iowa in wearing green. Green is the official color for mental-health awareness, so don’t forget to go green May 20th!

Share your favorite photos on social media using the hashtags #MakeItOk and #Iamstigmafree 

I appreciate all the suggestions offered by NAMI and others to help us work together on our mental wellness. I wonder what other opportunities we might find in order to spark conversations around mental health. I find that when I meet people and they ask what I do, it almost always leads to conversations about mental health. Surprise, huh?  That says to me that all of us have work to do when it comes to our mental wellness—our own, that of our families, and even of strangers who might be looking for an opening in conversation to talk.

I’d like to challenge all of us to consider how we might bring up the subject in the coming weeks. Here’s an option to consider: When in a regular conversation with someone, mention that you just read something about it being mental health awareness month. You could even tell them you read this blog! Then you could float an inviting question to see if it goes anywhere. Example, “It seems to me that stigma seems to be improving and more people are willing to talk about their mental health or that seeing a counselor seems as normal as going to your doctor. Does it seem that way to you?”

Awareness is an important step when it comes to seeking help. I hope you’ll join us in this effort to increase awareness of the Center in the month of May and beyond. We are here to walk with people on the path to hope and healing. Thanks for all you do to make this mission possible.

To read more of Jim’s blogs, click HERE

Blog: Media review for hope and healing: My Life as a Villianess, Essays by Laura Lippman

My Life as a Villainess, Essays by Laura Lippman

reviewed by Terri Mork Speirs, April 2021

File this in “What I’m reading now.”

Or, “Indulging in my love of Laura Lippman.”

Or, “On beauty and aging.”

Or, “Laughing and self-awareness are good medicine.”

The funny thing about the title of this book is that the author, Laura Lippman, is just another ordinary aging woman – who happens to write about villain-esque women. Her popular psychological thrillers are great summer beach reading, winter recliner reading, weekend chores audio reading, or road trip radio reading. But her characters aren’t really villains, I’d say. They are typically women trying to make their way through impossible situations, and refusing to enter the “women be likeable” trap. Fiction based on truths. Her writing goes right into the villainess’ brains, and the brains of those in their lives. Like deep inside the folds of their reasoning, even to their reptilian parts. The action is the thinking. The thrill is how much we can relate, though we’d rather not admit to it.

However, this review isn’t about Laura Lippman’s fiction. It’s about her book of personal essays which by definition is nonfiction. Personal essays are like short memoir pieces, and if you know me you know that memoir is my favorite genre because it involves reflection of one’s life. Contrary to pop belief, memoir is not about an interesting life – it is about introspection. Memoir seeks to deconstruct and understand one’s self. I’d say the least so-called fascinating lives, make for the best memoirs. Because the most interesting parts of all of us is what happens inside of us.

That’s why I believe that a good personal essay or memoir can be a path to hope and healing. The reader learns they are not alone. For example in this collection Laura Lipman reflects on aging, body image, dieting, looks, and the endless demands on women’s appearance. Laura Lippman admits at age 60 – sixty! – she is still angsting on these things. If you are a female of any age or status who has ever walked through a grocery store magazine rack in the U.S. A., chances are you too angst on looks. We relate, even as we know it’s silly. The reader laughs because self-awareness can be funny. We also know the expectations for women are devastating. And then Laura Lippman brings it home and declares enough of all that. She declares herself gorgeous. Since her self-proclaimed declaration of gorgeousness, she says, she finds all women gorgeous.

The first essay in the collection, “Game of Crones” (ha! ha!), where Laura Lippman reflects on being an older mother, closes as such (language alert):

And maybe the next time — there’s always a next time, trust me — someone says, “Are you her grandmother?” I’ll say: “No I’m her great-grandmother, I’m eighty-(bleeping)-seven, but I look amazing for my age.”

I am old. I am 60. I am a 60-year-old woman with a third-grader. I am old. I am old. I am old. I am 60, my daughter is 8, and I will let her write the end of the story. What other choice do I have?

Hope and healing comes in many forms. Counseling. Education. Reading. Writing. Laughing. Sometimes hope and healing comes in the form of a pill as prescribed by a competent and wonderful medication provider. (For me, checkmark yes to all.) And sometimes it comes the realization that you don’t need to be fixed because you are enough. And you are gorgeous per my personal declaration, modeling Laura Lippman.

What are you reading now?

Terri Mork Speirs is the director of community relations at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Blog: Media review for hope and healing: I Am Enough by Grace Byers

You are enough — tell the children, remind yourself

by Terri Mork Speirs, director of community relations

February 2021 — When I was 50-something years old I read a line in a poem that changed my life. The first seven words in Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese reads: “You do not have to be good.”

This book serves children and families served through the Center’s C.O.O.L., with thanks to the BWA Foundation

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.

I’m sure I’d been taught in many ways from many people including teachers, family and friends. Yet that line in that poem finally convinced me in my sixth decade of life. I need reminders.

And so now I notice such lines when they happen by me for example:

  • Wherever I am, I am what is missing. ~ Mark Strand (posted as a reminder on my phone)
  • I’m imperfect and I’m enough. ~ Brené Brown (I’m all in for Brené Brown)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ~ Maya Angelo (my response: because it can! and: good book)

I think words and books have the power to heal.

As part of the community relations team at the Center, it is my privilege to engage with generous community members, and learn from esteemed colleagues. I get to help ask for donations and thank donors. And, I get to learn how the clinicians utilize the resources. It is especially fun discovering resources used for the kiddos served through C.O.O.L. (Children Overcoming the Obstacles in Life).

“I Am Enough” by Grace Byers is one of the recent purchases by our C.O.O.L. clinicians, with thanks to generous funding from the BWA Foundation. The book is used in telehealth sessions with children and families, and has been added to the Center’s lending library. (We hold the hope for a post-pandemic world when we can all access the lending library again!)

The book cover stood out to me for being so very cute, in addition to the wisdom of the title. And how awesome to teach “I am enough” to young ones, and to remind us old ones. 🙂

The video reading by the author, Grace Byers, is delightful.

You do not have to be good. You are enough. Repeat.

Billie’s blog: February 2021

An invitation to sit with your discomfort, allow it to speak to you

Billie Wade, writer

by Billie Wade, PrairieFire graduate

February 2021 – This post heralds a new dawn: addressing the cold, hard reality of racism. I use the term “dawn” to signify the raw truth that for over four hundred years, we remain at the gate of facing and reckoning with racism. Racism, fueled by hate, greed, and fear, is firmly entrenched in our country’s DNA like the pink stain in a plastic refrigerator dish after the spaghetti sauce is removed. We begin where we are, which is always a new place even if we have had a similar experience in the past. Our feelings are cumulative. It is how wisdom is earned.

Since July 2017, I have enjoyed the honor and privilege to share with you a variety of topics and my experience and perspective. As a Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center client for many years, I feel the mission, vision, and values in the environment every time I enter the doors. Now with our interactions on Zoom, those tenets continue to shine through. The Center seeks to understand the clients they serve, and to reach out to underserved demographics. With that said, I now turn my focus to the insidious organism of racism and the trauma of intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that remains alive and thriving in 2021.

On May 30, 2020, in response to the brutal, flaunting murder of George Floyd and the attack that murdered Breonna Taylor, the Center put voice to their compassion and solidarity with the Black community. The antiracism statement on the landing page of the website announced formation of the Antiracism Learning Group*. I am delighted and humbled to cofacilitate the group with Terri Speirs, the Center’s director of community relations.

I will use several terms often in my writing. My working definitions are:

  • Racism—a system consisting of rules, laws, policies, and practices designed to disenfranchise nonwhite people. The organism systematically perpetuates the unfounded belief that Black people are inferior and, therefore, suitable for subjugation and exploitation.
  • “I, we, and Black people”—descendants of slaves brought to this country in 1619.
  • “White people”—the collective of members of the privileged race in the United States.
  • White privilege—perks given to White people because of the color of their skin.
  • Appropriation—the use by one culture of the accoutrements of another culture, particularly while forbidding the appropriated culture to enjoy those accoutrements.

Racism began when White people laid eyes on native Africans and deemed them nonhuman. They kidnapped the people and brought them to this country stripped of everything—clothing, dignity, rituals, language, spirituality, family, friends, culture, all human rights—in chains stacked like ears of corn in the holds of cargo ships. Those who died were unceremoniously thrown overboard. Upon arrival in America, families were separated, never to see each other again.

Black people face a plethora of stressors every minute of every day. We are hated, hunted, and profiled. We live in a country where Black and Brown bodies are killed on suspicion of criminality by walking on a street with our hands in our pockets. Where a “routine” traffic stop may end our life. Where laws and policies directed at oppressing us are enacted without our knowledge and input. Policies and laws enacted to support and liberate Black people are swiftly met with counter laws that cancel out the advancement. Case in point: The so-called “war on drugs” is a war on Black people. The drug war is waged only in Black communities. The shop owner called police because he suspected George Floyd may have been attempting to pass a counterfeit $20.00 bill. Why did the situation call for four officers?

The medical and mental health fields acted with remarkable swiftness to address the opioid crisis. Middle- and upper-class White women comprised the largest demographic. They were offered treatment, mental health services, and resources. Their plight was blamed on a highly addictive drug. Black people who are addicted to drugs are labeled criminals (because they are in possession of the drug), drug addicts, and morally deficient.

Some of the material may be hard for you to receive. I encourage you to try to sit with your feelings and discomfort and allow them to speak to you. The discomfort is there for a reason. “What belief is this revelation rubbing up against?” The most potent question to ask yourself is, “How can I see this differently?” If you have a spiritual aspect in your life, you can ask that Power to help you see differently. Once we know something, we can no longer ignore its existence. Then, we bump into the question, “What can I do? I’m but one person and the landscape of racism is enormous.” This appeal is not easily answered. I hope to offer you resources you can explore.

Black people in the United States exist as a “gray” caricature of two disparate societies with clashing ideals and rules. The White collective expects us to adhere to their established cultural norms but to never make the mistake of forgetting our “place” on the human hierarchy—on the sidewalk leading to the ladder, not even close.

I have spent my life trying to maintain balance between the worlds of the Black collective and the White collective. Black people accuse me of imitating White people, of trying to be White. On the other hand, White people see me as friendly and intelligent—and Black. I have been denied raises, promotions, job flexibility to return to school, and subjected to blatant lies.

Everything I share does not apply to all people in every situation. Humans are hardwired with their own set of idiosyncrasies, perspectives, and ways of receiving new information, derived from experience. I make no attempt to address all White people as racist nor all Black people into a single category. With that said, I hope you use discernment to consider the statements I offer and examine your beliefs rather than dismissing a point as “it doesn’t apply to me.”

Much has happened during the past nine months—giant corporations drafted public antiracism statements and policies and enacted procedures to follow through; ordinary citizens created book clubs and discussion groups; people backed “Black Lives Matter” with yard signs, sweaters, and other wearables; churches hung banners on their exterior walls to declare their solidarity; we elected Kamala Harris, the first female, nonwhite vice president of the United States. Black people do have allies who sincerely offer compassion and generosity of time, energy, and resources. People who listen to us, really try to hear what we are not saying as well as what we do say.

We need White people to take the time to ask what we need. We need White people to become sensitive to the intergenerational effects of PTSD. Yes, we desperately need equal opportunities for and access to education, employment, housing, medical and mental healthcare, political and governmental participation and representation, and beneficial networks. We cannot attain these human rights and privileges without help. The media exposes us to the symptoms rather than the disease. As such, I commend all of you, and everyone on the front lines of supporting Black people. Please know you are appreciated.

There remains much to do to address more than four hundred years of racism. While we can view the glimmer of hope, to exhale and say we have arrived is a mistake. A quick fix does not exist. White supremacists push back to maintain the oppression and marginalization. They wait in the background ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

Over the next month, I challenge you to the following exercise:

  • What do I believe about Black people—not what you want to believe? Write your answers in a notebook to get them out in front of you, out into the open, where you can see them in stark reality.
  • How did I arrive at those beliefs?
  • What proof do I have as the validity of those beliefs?
  • You need share your responses as you feel comfortable. I do not recommend doing so if you feel unsafe.

May your days, weeks, and months unfold in health, safety, joy, and peace.

More from Billie’s blog:

*If you are interested in joining the anti-racism learning group, please email

Media review for hope and healing — Notes from a Trip to Russia by Audre Lorde

Armchair adventure in pandemic

by Terri Mork Speirs, Director of Community Relations

Purchased from Beaverdale Books

Notes from a Trip to Russia is the first chapter in a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde called “Sister Outsider.” The 23-page essay is actually a travel journal of observations from a two-week trip she took in 1976. Much fun. Delightful. I laughed out loud at some of her musings as it reminded me of the oddities (odd to me) I’ve noticed in faraway places — the sensory overload, the brain puzzles, the joy, the unexpected self-awareness, the attempts to write it all down.

This first chapter of “Sister Outsider” seemed almost unexpected diversion from the main reason I’m reading this book. It is the current choice of a book club my friend Billie Wade and I co-lead for the Center’s Antiracism Learning Group. We join together through stories and discussion. If you would like to join our group, please send me an email ( and I’ll add you to the list. (We  started this discussion cycle April 19 and there’s plenty of time to hop in to chat up the rest of the book together.)

The late Audre Lorde is a celebrated and influential writer, authoring 12 books and serving as New York State’s poet Laurette 1991-1993. Her searing line “Your silence will not protect you” is oft quoted. The respective essay is also in this book and it opened me up as though the author was my personal spiritual director and somehow knew what I needed to hear.

But the essay at hand is different. It’s raw like how you might journal while riding a cheesy tour bus. It is Audre Lorde, American gawker. That’s what makes it fun: the fairy palace skyline, the reverence of old people, the lack of men, the higher ceilings, the “vodka, which flows like water, and with apparently as little effect upon Russians.” Surface travel observations are usually huge generalizations, of course, yet somehow the reader knows that she knows that. She’s just writing what she immediately sees and thinks.

To me, one of the most downplayed observation was how cotton is picked in Russia: “It feels strange and familiar at the same time. This is cotton country. Miles and miles of it, and the trainloads of students were coming south from Moscow on a two-week vacation to party and pick coon. There was a holiday atmosphere all around.”

Stunning. Like we did it all wrong in the U.S.A. Why didn’t we make cotton-picking a festival of friendship instead of brutally torturing dark-skinned people to get free labor for centuries? She does not ask that question. All she does it tee it up for the reader.

Audre Lorde is not passing off Russia as some kind of utopia. All countries have their shortcomings, she concludes. However, she also notes that Russia has the largest reading population in the world: “Everywhere you go, even among those miles of cotton being harvested in the Uzbeki sun, people are reading, and no matter what you may say about censorship, they are still reading and they’re reading an awful lot.”

Happy travels!