A Year of Building Community

Hello everyone! As we move into 2012, I continue to ask the question, “Does the Community Need Therapy?” I want to share with you my joy and appreciation for everything all of you have done with us over the past year in creating an answer to this very important question — and the answer lies in what we have built together.

We have grown by leaps and bounds. You have participated in creating new kinds of community events and unusual and provocative therapeutic conversations, both in sessions and out. Some of the dialogues that have meant a great deal to me: “How do you have a productive fight with someone — without trying to convince them that you’re right?” “How do you disagree in a way that that helps everyone grow?” “How do you develop as a giver?” “How do you raise children who can take responsibility for themselves as productive members and creators of their family and of their community?” “How do we develop young people who are living in emotional and economic poverty?” “How do we create what we need in order to live a developmental life?” “How can we break away from the standard forms of discourse that make us adapt to a culture that conservatizes how we see and hear?” and “How can we be an inclusive community that rejects labeling and diagnoses of all kinds?”

This year we have collectively developed as creative thinkers, doers and developmental conversation-makers. Together we created new kinds of community conversations with leaders from various disciplines. Some highlights:

Anti Corrupton Awards
Anti Corrupton Awards

In Brooklyn we have had the pleasure of introducing you to the work of Dr. Lenora Fulani, a veteran community organizer, youth development specialist and political activist who was the first woman and the first African American to be on the US presidential ballot in all 50 states. Her work with the All Stars Project, the East Side Institute, and within the independent political movement are on-the-ground responses to how we can move forward in the midst of overwhelming poverty, violence, educational failure, and political disenfranchisement. Over 75 of you came out to ask hard questions about how to develop as a community of progressive people who care about what is going on in this country, who care about our youth and want to help them grow. Dr. Fulani shared her work with youth from the poorest of communities, and you were a fantastic audience — asking hard-hitting questions that allowed Dr. Fulani to tell us about what she’s doing and how she works developmentally with young people.

A day or so after this event, I received an email from a Fort Greene, Brooklyn community member. She said she had heard about Dr. Fulani and her often controversial work for years, and that the experience had taught her much about the breadth and depth of our development community. She warmly thanked me for the opportunity to meet and speak with Dr. Fulani, to experience her passion, politics, and uncompromising commitment to the development of inner-city youth and adults. What a lovely and honest note!

CLC Rafael & Lois w Jackie Salit 12-9-2011
CLC Rafael & Lois w Jackie Salit 12-9-2011

In Manhattan many of you came out to hear a panel discussion sponsored by the East Side Institute, our international research, education and training center for human development and community. Institute director Lois Holzman, Ph.D., psychologist and social therapist Rafael Mendez, Ph.D., and I talked with Jacqueline Salit, author of the soon to be published Independents Rising: How a Movement of Outsiders, Third Parties and Anti-Parties is Changing American Politics in the 21st Century (Palgrave Macmillan, publisher) and the president of IndependentVoting.org, a national association of independent voters. We created a conversation about politics and psychology: Can we in this country move forward given the gridlock of party politics? Can we grow in the face of psychology’s and politics’ ever-expanding practice of labeling and diagnosing us all? It was a unique and thought-provoking conversation for all!

This year I have had the privilege of teaching online classes in social therapy. My students were from Bangladesh, Boston, California, Canada, Georgia, Uganda, India, Mexico, New York, Norway and Pennsylvania. What a joy! It was a wonderful and growthful experience to share all of what we’re creating together with people all over the world.

As you know, this year we were deeply saddened by the passing of our mentor and founder of social therapy, Dr. Fred Newman. But in a very real way, his death has pushed us to work even more passionately to give people the gift of development, to continue to build environments for all of us to be able to flourish as human beings.

To end this New Year’s note I want to share a small moment from one our multi-family groups. It was the last session of 2011, and we were working with the children and adults on how to be givers, and use this holiday-season conversation to be giving to the group.

Nine-year-old Michael raised his hand excitedly. "I want to tell the group how much I love you all for helping me and my mom,” he said. “We’re not fighting as much. And when we do it’s going better. Like, we did have a fight the other day and she said mean things… I said mean things, too. So we decided to create a game we can play when things are getting rough between us. We picked a special word that either of us can say, and then we have to stop fighting. Then we can tell each other secrets about what’s going on… sometimes I even tell her things I don’t want her to know but it helps! So special thanks everybody, thanks to the group.”

And thanks to all of you. Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s keep building a better world!

— Christine LaCerva