Past President’s Column

Published by Division 45 on

Alvin N. Alvarez

Past President

“I’m forced to be an optimist.” 

~James Baldwin

In a time literally and metaphorically on fire – whether it’s the literal fires burning around the world as Mother Earth cries out in pain, the flames of White supremacy burning ever hotter, or the COVID inferno decimating nations and lives (Black and Brown foremost among them) – the inequities and disparities in the world have been laid bare. Again. 

Yet,  despite this, I am – as Baldwin wrote – forced to be an optimist. Perhaps that’s because I’m a psychologist? After all, if we cede our belief in the hope for change, then honestly what’s the point of therapy? To be fair, it’s a grudging and weary optimism but it’s optimism nonetheless. And after six months of this, I’ll hold on to what I can get. Early this summer, as I left my home for the very first time during quarantine to march in a protest for racial justice, the first sign of optimism was that this was being led by high school students. High school students – 15, 17, 18 years old – who understood and lived Paulo Freire better than many of my grad students.  And then I noticed that a sizable portion of the marchers were White folks – from seniors to toddlers and all ages in between! Now, one could argue that this was a Northern California thing but even a cursory scan of the media has shown that these protests were happening across the US as well as the world. Well, one could further argue that some of this – maybe even most of it – is performative. And while time will tell what we do with this moment, there is no questioning the fact that what we have before us is truly…a moment. And therefore an opportunity. John Berger once wrote that demonstrations are “rehearsals for revolution”.  So, the James Baldwin in me, wonders and hopes what this moment will bring and if this is truly a prelude for revolution. 

Grace Lee Boggs, the scholar activist, stated that, “Just being angry, just being resentful, just being outraged, does not constitute revolution. So many institutions of our society need reinventing. The time has come for a new dream. That’s what being a revolutionary is.” And a new dream is precisely what is needed. Because by and large, the “American Dream” has been a nightmare for so many communities of color and other marginalized groups. What has been democracy for some has been nothing short of fascism to others. It’s not so much that the systems and institutions are broken as it is the fact that racist and sexist systems are operating exactly as they were designed to work, as the filmmaker Ava DuVernay reminds us. So, one really can’t “fix” a racist system that is working exactly the way it’s supposed to. We need reinventing. We need a new dream. 

And of the groups within psychology that dare to dream, I have to rest my hope on groups such as Division 45 and the other ethnic minority psychological associations – AAPA, ABPsi, AMENA-Psy, NLPA, and SIP. As I have said numerous times, we have the privilege of our credentials, the opportunities to inspire change in our students and our clients, the research skills to give an empirical voice to the needs of our communities, and the writing and presentation skills to speak the truths that our ancestors could not. So, who better to dream? Of the things I have done within the Division in my last six years on the Executive Committee, nothing has given me more pride and joy than the creation of the Division 45 HOPE Fund in support of students facing the COVID crisis. Designed to provide a small measure of economic relief – whether it’s to pay rent, buy books, or get gas – the HOPE Fund has given micro-grants with no expectation of repayment, that have resulted in an outpouring of appreciation from our student community. Not only was this an organization giving out funds to its members, it was a Division living up to its values. And now more than ever, we need to live up to our values. To close the gap between our aspirations and our realities. And most of all, we need HOPE. 

So, my deepest thanks for the gift of serving the Division and doing so with such a powerful group of dreamers and optimists! 

Focus Fall 2020