I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to meet some very prominent African Americans and some prominent African Americans who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. And I’ve learned incredible lessons about them. And one of the most important lessons I’d learned was from a man named Hezekiah Watkins. And it was about the importance of allyship.
Just to give you a little bit of background and explain to you who Hezekiah Watkins is. Hezekiah Watkins is one of the last remaining Freedom Riders. And the Freedom Riders were in Mississippi and they were a bunch of young people, mostly college age, trying to get students and people to register to vote in Mississippi. Now, Hezekiah Watkins was the youngest Freedom Rider, and he has a story that is unbelievable.
So what happened was Hezekiiah Watkins was sitting at home with his friend watching the news, and he saw these students like sitting and getting beaten and not responding. And Hezekiah said, I wanna see what that kind of strength looks like. So he and his friend went to the bus stop where this event was taking place. They rode their bikes, Hezekiah and his friend parked their bikes. Hezekiah is walking along the bus stop. His friend jokingly pushed him where he went into the door of the bus stop.
And as he turned to leave, somebody grabbed his shoulder and ended up being a police officer. Now the police officer said, where are you from? And a young 14 year old Hezekiah Watkins did not understand the question. He was actually from Mississippi. He was living in Mississippi, but he was born and his family was from Milwaukee.
So the police officer says, where are you from? Hezekiah understands that as an origin question, not as a residence question. And he says, I’m from Milwaukee. And the police officer threw him in with all of the other students because Milwaukee made it seem like you were one of these college kids down here making trouble. So Hezekiah was rounded up and arrested.
Most people don’t know. The Freedom Rider spent that summer in prison in one of the worst prisons in the United States. And they took a 14 year old Hezekiah Watkins and they put him on death row where he stayed for two weeks. Now, can you imagine being imprisoned as as a 14 year old and then imprisoned in death row? Cause they wanted to make an example of the youngest Freedom Rider.
Eventually the governor lets him out. Hezekiah Watkins gets out, and that completely impacted his life. He became a civil rights participant, went on to get arrested a hundred more times, and he now works at the Jackson, Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which is where I met him.
Now, I was there with my good buddy, Dr. Adam Froerer, who is white, who is Mormon, who is affluent. Grew up privileged, and me the opposite of all of those things. And we got to interview Hezekiah. And it was an incredible experience. It was an incredible moment. And one of the questions we asked him was, what would the younger version of him and all of his civil rights colleagues think of a black man and a white man traveling around the south, which is what we were doing at the time, documenting the Civil Rights movement, and also of a black man and a white man leading the field of Solution Focused Brief Therapy. Like what would, what would you and your colleagues think as you were in the struggle? And he said, we would be very proud, he said.
I didn’t know what he would say. Like when I asked him that question, I kind of halfway expected him to say like, you know, we gotta get ourselves sorted first before we can team up with people of other races and that sort of thing. And he was like, we’d be very proud and very happy and we did all of this so this stuff could happen.
He was saying about Adam and I’s relationship. And then he told us this story. He said he learned that race doesn’t matter. Justice is what matters. And he told us this story, how they were at a grocery store, there was a grocery store that refused to serve black people. So they organized the protest for this grocery store that wouldn’t serve black people.
And while they were protesting, somebody called the police and the police showed up and started shooting. So of course, Hezekiah and all the other protestors took off running and he turned to his right and he saw a white man running next to him as the bullets were whistling past both of their heads. And he said, it was in that moment, I realized, that’s my brother.
And then plus here I am running from the police officers. They’re shooting at me, but I got a white guy beside me whose running along with me. They shoot me surely they going to shoot him. He been shot a few times metaphorically. because of me. Yeah, so, you know, things happened to me mostly ended up happening to him. So we’ve bonded.
Doesn’t matter that he’s white and I’m black, that’s my brother. He’s fighting for the same things I’m fighting for and is exposing himself to the same risk that I’m exposed to. That’s my brother. And as Hezekiah told me that story, both Adam and I were really choked up and really emotional because Adam’s, my brother, and he’s my brother, because he has been running with me as the metaphorical bullets have been whistling past both of our heads.
And Adam has always stood by my side as I’ve experienced tremendous racism and injustice and oppression in the field of psychotherapy. It was in that moment that I realized the true power of the dynamic between Adam and I, like it didn’t matter that we come from different backgrounds, we have different ethnicities. None of that matters. What matters is we’re fighting for the same thing.
And Adam continued to expose himself to the metaphorical bullets as they whistled past both of our heads, putting himself at risk. I had a much greater appreciation for allyship after I was able to look at my history with Adam through that lens that Hezekiah was now giving me. That’s my brother. He said as he was running and I said, that’s my brother.
You know, I exist in this field because when certain organizations try to exclude me from things and blackball me from things and not include me in things, there are people like Adam Froerer that made sure my voice could be heard and made sure that if I was going to experience something, I was not going to experience something alone. Adam was always there.
And there were people like Chris Iveson, Harvey Ratner, Evan George, who put their careers on the line to say, we support and endorse Elliott Connie and would invite me to England and give me a platform to share my ideas and to express my passion and to do the thing I’ve gotten really good at. You know, if it wasn’t for those four people, Chris, Iveson, Harvey
Ratner, Evan George and Adam Froerer, I wouldn’t be here. The the attempts to completely exclude me from the field of psychotherapy would’ve worked. It’s because of my stubbornness. It’s because of my determination. It’s because of my hard work. It’s because of my talent, skill and intelligence that I was able to endure all that. But it’s also because of their allyship.
I could have been the smartest, greatest, most wonderful person in the world, but if not for those four people, wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have worked. If it wasn’t for Linda Metcalf who invested time in me in the early part of my career when I was a student who believed in me and said like, this one’s got a skill and she invested time and energy and effort and helped me believe in myself.
Like it wouldn’t, this wouldn’t have happened. The allyship of these people mattered because allyship matters. And I think we need to remember that the civil rights movement was profound, but it also needed allies. I think we need to remember that every black person that you see that’s accomplished something great. They had allies along the way because the same adage is true in this pursuit of social justice is true in everywhere.
We cannot get there alone. We need allies. And for those reasons, the people that I’ve named here and maybe some people I’m forgetting, I will love them and appreciate them forever. I will value them and appreciate them forever. Because if there was no them, there would be no Elliott Connie doing what I do now, which is completely changing, not just to psychotherapy, but changing the world.
I am changing the way the world views black people in academia, in psychotherapy, in entertainment, and I owe it to some of my own skills and assets for sure. But some great people that were willing to run next to me while the bullets were flying. Love you.
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