Probably the greatest joy of working on the Minority Fellowship Program, I’ve found, has come in repeatedly meeting MFP alumni who want to give back—to the program and to the world.
All who come through the program are grateful for the financial assistance the Fellowship gives them as they pursue their professional goals. But what endures for most Fellows long after their term of Fellowship has passed is a window to a larger world, a sense of having a meaningful place in that world, and a desire to make that world better for as many other people as possible.
Consider Lotes Nelson, Ph.D., LPC, ACS, NCC. She was a National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates (NBCC) Fellow from May 2015 through May 2016.
“I’m certainly grateful for the Fellowship because it helped me solidify my desire to do what I’m doing now—counselor education, and I’m still practicing also,” she says slowly, before adding with emphasis: “But the relationships I developed with the cohort of Fellows I went through the program with, which have blossomed into collaboration with other professionals in the field, and the experience as a Fellow—it all means the world to me.”
Nelson and several other Fellows return each year to the NBCC Symposium, on their own dime. “It’s part of giving back to the program,” she explains. She stays in touch with the Minority Fellowship Program Coordinating Center by looking at the MFPCC website and by reading Minority Fellowship E-News (“to see what webinars and conferences are coming up”). She and a few from her cohort have been talking about creating a journal of their own.
‘You’re Part of the MFP Family’
Then there’s Julie Smith, ABD, who was in Nelson’s cohort in the NBCC MFP. Says Smith: “The Minority Fellowship Program means ‘Connection’ to me. It means I have a constant group of people rooting for me, assisting me, mentoring me, and wanting the best for me. It means I get to connect with like-minded minorities from around the country who want to make this world a better place.”
Smith talks much faster than she did when I met her at the NBCC Symposium in 2016. Her life is much faster, and it seems she needs to talk faster to keep pace.
“I have a beautiful life,” she tells me. “I just got offered a position at Arkansas State University. My Fellowship unlocked something inside of me, and I’m just living fearlessly. The Fellowship literally changed my life—in wonderful ways.”
Smith is Native American, from the White Earth Nation. In November 2017, she traveled to Rwanda, to “remote tribal communities,” she says, “which made me feel totally at home.”
Rwanda experienced genocide in 1994. Now, says Smith, the nation has reconciled.
“They no longer distinguish between Hutu and Tutsi,” she informs me, to my surprise. I remember learning that during just a few short months in 1994 the majority Hutus killed some 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.
“Forgiveness,” she says. “Forgiveness and one. We’re all in this together.”
“I love Rwanda, and I can’t wait to go back,” she adds. “I’m going again in November 2019 to co-lead an NBCC Institute.” Her globe-trotting, which has included a trip to New Zealand and will take her to Australia this fall, has taught her, she says, “cultural humility.”
And she returns to and presents at the NBCC Symposium annually.
When she went to her first Symposium, as a Fellow, alumni of the Minority Fellowship Program told her, “You’re part of the MFP family.” She didn’t know what they meant. She knows now.
“I’m going to have these relationships forever.”
‘The Family We Were Told to Expect’
Shelley Alonso–Marsden, Ph.D., in her second year as an American Psychological Association MFP Fellow, is based at the University of New Mexico. She says she is “exceptionally grateful and proud to be a Fellow.” She explains: “Numerous Fellows have had illustrious careers in clinical service for a variety of populations across the country. I feel honored to be part of the MFP family.”
Alonso–Marsden says the MFP is giving her the training and experiences she needs to reach her goal of becoming a psychologist who is proficient in serving ethnic minority children and families.
“As a postdoctoral Fellow,” she adds, “I was able to identify the specific training experiences I needed to reach my goals and am now receiving that training.” The Fellowship has broadened and deepened her knowledge of underserved populations, while minimizing the stresses of insurance and billing that often afflict mental health trainees.
The MFP has connected her with other early career professionals—and with mentors. Her cohort of APA Fellows has stayed in close touch through a social media group.
“We stay up to date on each other’s professional and personal accomplishments, which really helps it feel like the MFP family we were told to expect. I am in frequent communication with my MFP advisor, Dr. Janeece Warfield, who has proven herself very knowledgeable and approachable.”
Alonso–Marsden also has a colleague at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, who is an MFP alumna through the Council on Social Work Education.
The Paradox of Salt of the Earth People
And finally there is Homer Brown, Ph.D., LMCC, NCC, CAP.
I first met Brown in 2016, when I edited the story he submitted to Minority Fellowship E-News describing his journey from (as he aptly called it) “poverty to prison to Ph.D.”
Asked whether he is proud to have been an MFP Fellow, he tells me he wears his pin “every chance I get.”
He continues: “It was such a blessing in so many ways: the training, the comradery, the giving back, and not just during the period of the scholarship, but afterward. Everyone involved had the same objective: to make the counseling profession fair and equitable, to get counseling services to people who might not otherwise be able to get them.”
He says he also learned to look to help people who might not ask for counseling services, like clergy—“all those people who need help but don’t get help.”
Another former NBCC MFP Fellow, Brown says he was so inspired by the way he saw alumni Fellows give back to the program that “I wanted to give back right away.”
And he did. His first venture following his Fellowship was to teach a year at a low-socioeconomic-status, low-performing high school in Cocoa, Fla. He taught six geography classes.
Brown, like so many of the former Fellows I’ve met, is an altruist. But he doesn’t see himself that way.
One of the markers of salt-of-the-earth people is that they don’t know how special they are. If they knew it, they wouldn’t be the salt of the earth.
The author worked for the Minority Fellowship Program Coordinating Center from 2008 through this year.