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Thomas Parham inspires and challenges

“You cannot be a healing presence in your community without a belief in the transformative possibility of the human spirit.” With words like these, Dr. Thomas Parham worked the overflowing room in Visual Arts earlier this spring, motivating his City College of San Francisco audience and welcoming late arriving students, helping them find seats and the little floor space left. His talk—entitled “Say it Loud, Say it Proud: Psychology, Education, and Racial Identity in College and University Students”—appealed to students, staff, counselors, and instructors by balancing psychological and pedagogical theory with highly accessible (and entertaining!) anecdotes.

Parham likened each human being to “a seed of divinely inspired potential,” explaining that “each seed needs good soil and nutrients to grow to its potential.” Counselors and teachers—indeed the entire college—can be part of that soil. He maintained that “circumstances are places we come from, not who we are” and that students need three things to succeed in what can be a hostile environment:

  • Visions of possibilities
  • Places to nurture rather than defer their dreams
  • Places to affirm rather than assault their humanity

For students, Parham emphasized the importance of maintaining their self and cultural identity in a world that does not always support and affirm them, taking care not to create self-imposed barriers, and coping with socially-imposed oppression.

He concluded with an inspiring message of possibility and encouragement for all: “I’m not asking you to be 100% better at 50 things,” he told the crowd; instead, he wants us each to decide to “be 5% better on one thing. Add all those 5%s together and we can accomplish a lot.”

Parham is at the University of California, Irvine, where he is Assistant Vice Chancellor for Counseling and Health Services and Director of the Counseling Center, as well as an adjunct faculty member. He is the author of Psychological Storms: The African American Struggle for Identity and many other books and articles.

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