It’s August 28, 2013, a fortuitous day that marks a new beginning in my life as a graduate student in Psychology and Expressive Arts Therapy, the birthday of my best friend, Tracie Mastronicola, the wedding anniversary of my sister Melissa and her wife Jennifer, and the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
During yesterday’s orientation at California Institute of Integral Exchange, there was much talk of the “beloved community” that Dr. King referenced – the creation of a community that would require “a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives”.
We were given the chance to consider ways in which a beloved community was missing in our lives and in our work. Someone lamented the absence of a beloved community in Oakland, which got me thinking about the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir’s overall mission (“to inspire joy and unity among all people through black gospel and spiritual music traditions”), and in particular, OIGC’s focus this year, which is Healing. (We will be covering and sharing Donald Lawrence’s inspirational song “Healed” this winter).
Oakland is a microcosm of the country, and indeed, of the world. A vibrant urban center, there is naturally a concentration of our greatest social challenges, but also a generous amount of compassion, beauty and love that is reflected in its diverse community and beautiful settings.
My personal journey led me to OIGC in 2012, when I listened to a voice that guided me to share my gift of singing to promote healing. A year later, that same voice prompted me to return to school so that I could gain the tools necessary to heal through the arts as a professional Expressive Arts Psychotherapist.
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to thousands of civil rights supporters in Washington D.C., calling for an end to racism. From the crowd, Mahalia Jackson called out “Tell them about the dream. Martin!” at which point Dr. King departed from his scripted speech. Or so the story goes. Whether or not the “Queen of Gospel” is responsible for what became this legendary call for equality, I like it, as it serendipitously weaves together unity, gospel and community – all elements of my own personal path.
While it can be argued that we have lost some of the passion and urgency of the Civil Rights Era, the field of psychology has evolved in a promising direction. Positive psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology summed up in 1998 by Martin Selgman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities.” Shifting the emphasis of psychology from analyzing weaknesses to building upon strengths has far-reaching implications. A holistic approach to healing incorporates an individual’s worldview and stresses the importance of gender, culture, and society. When an individual is empowered to make positive changes, change can occur in a broader context.
I am very excited about my role as a creative individual, as a family member, as a member of my Bay Area community, and as a future practitioner in Expressive Arts Therapy. A generation ago, it would not have been possible to celebrate the anniversary of a same-sex marriage, to be a part of a successful interfaith choir community, nor to be studying Expressive Arts Therapy. I am grateful to be where I am today, and thankful for Dr. King and others who have made this journey a possibility.