On Starting A Process Therapy Group About Race & Racism/ Ammera P. Lys, LCSW

In June of 2020, I began facilitating a process therapy group on race and racism at Pivot Collaborative. I, like many others, had a strong visceral reaction to the brutal and shameless murder of George Floyd. I saw every black man I know and love under the knee of that officer. I thought about how long 8 minutes and 46 seconds really was and how much time there was for anyone present to put a stop to his death. I thought about the innumerable Black and trans women who are disappeared and killed without even the civility of a search let alone actual accountability. As a Black queer woman, I think about what could happen to me and if anyone would even bother to find out if something did. I think about how discussing the overlay of race, gender, etc. is seen as a distraction from the “issue” when it is just how I exist in this world, an embodiment of distracting information and considerations.


I have not been able to watch videos of violence towards Black people for many years. It has been too much for a long time. I have no desire to get accustomed to watching people who look like me and my family degraded, harmed and murdered as if they weren’t human. I have found it frustrating for a long time that people of privilege would get up in arms over animal cruelty (a valid concern) and yet openly dismiss Black death. Did they really mean to suggest that my life, their lives and his life were worthy of less concern than that of an animal?


I discussed the incident in every realm of my life that I could. I saw resource after resource becoming available on every platform imaginable. I saw and still see protests continue week after week. I heard explosions in South Shore as the anger of a people and every generation boiled over and burned everything, again.


Suddenly anti-racism work became important to people who rarely consider it due to the benefits they experience from systemic racism in America. Suddenly the labor was being shared, the bodies on the front lines weren’t just Black. In a way, they still didn’t have to think about it, they still have a choice, and they beautifully continue to stumble towards their commitments of allyship and activism.


I made a decision to not protest in the streets or distribute resources or participate in clean-up efforts. We are still in a pandemic and now a civil rights movement and I have to stay healthy to support my clients in my clinical work. To add another potential distraction, I am a visual artist (IG @CindyLys). I made art and posted it on social media, timed videos of 8 minutes and 46 seconds of uninterrupted mark-making. It was the first visual art that overlaid with my clinical work by comparing my experiences doing crisis intervention holds in residential treatment to how George Floyd was being held by police.


I provide this context in order to frame how I got to the decision to run this group. I was thoroughly steeped in antiracism via my training at Smith College School for Social Work, an institution with a profound commitment to their antiracism mission statement. It is, as with any goal of this kind, aspirational and an ongoing commitment for the institution and all those working within it. However, it is not often that I get a chance to do explicit and proactive anti-racism work. With this training and considering the rise in anti-racism activism, I wanted to create a space for clients who made a decision to discuss their personal relationship to race and racism. Despite the numerous resources, I wasn’t seeing room being made for the intensely vulnerable, disquieting and often shamed process of confronting what we have all internalized from systemic racism. In my ongoing process of dismantling internalized bias, phobias and prejudice, I have scoured the depths of influence from my family, my formal and informal education and how those ideas have informed my life experiences.


The group became a place for the participants to share their diversity and narratives of racial identity development. They named how their families of origin and current family systems perpetuated and challenged anti-Blackness. They confronted stigmas, challenged their notions of how to have these discussions within their homes, families, institutions, and communities. They challenged themselves to confront their own racialized fears and its reflection in their inner circles. They confronted fears of asking questions, saying the wrong thing and finding a “right” way to do this work. They considered how racism is a form of abuse and trauma. They recognized conflict patterns and challenged perceptions of safety. They shared their thoughts. They were confronted. They were earnest. They were thoughtful. They were attentive. They were supportive. They were brave.