#MySacredStory: Demetrius Summerville, Florida
Community Trustbuilding Fellowship Alumni 2017
I am a licensed mental health counselor and have served as the Director of Community Relations at a community center in a distressed neighborhood in Orlando, FL, on the west side of Division Avenue (predominantly, African American population). The street was intentionally named to segregate people. I am also a founding member of the African Community Network (ACN), a local nonprofit organization that provides resources and advocacy for African families and immigrants and serves as a voice for the African community. I founded the Little Princesses Mentoring Program, which links girls living in underserved communities with women college students and provides opportunities to strengthen the girls in areas of academics, servant leadership, cultural awareness and character-building.
I also work with a local foundation committed to reconciliation. One of the projects we are working on is called The Repentance Project which has a goal to help people recognize the legacies of enslavement, repent where we are directly or indirectly implicit in maintaining those legacies, and respond by making amendments in our lives. As we begin the work of recognizing, repenting and responding, I realized a need for me to be better equipped to do the relationship building work of The Repentance Project.
What makes the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship distinctive is an emphasis on the importance of listening to the sacred stories of others. In the listening, empathy can grow within each individual to help build the bridge across whatever barriers divide. The faculty laid the groundwork for community trustbuilding when Rob Corcoran stated, “Failure to root your social justice efforts on the bedrock of a strong inner life and lived out values can endanger the most idealistic efforts.” I believe lasting social change can occur when we all get beneath our anger, and talk with others from a place of hurt, disappointment, sadness and confusion rather than anger or assumption.
The challenging part of being in this cohort is seeing the pain of some of my fellow peers unearthed and inappropriately handled within the group conversations thus hindering the building of trust. What has been rewarding for me so far has been, in a sense, the most painful. It is ironic that I am a mental health counselor trained to listen with empathy not judgement. However, as it relates to divisive social issues, I have neglected this principal and sought to listen to prove I am right, resulting in a loss of relationship with the others.
I am grateful for the gift of being reminded to listen with empathy, not judgement. CTF is a catalyst to achieve the change we all desire for our divided country.