The People Who Inspire series highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.
Today’s Post features Dr. Lumas Helaire. Currently, Dr. Helaire serves as the Assistant Director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI) at the University of Michigan. He is also co-founder Obvious Inc. They work to enhance positive youth development with adolescent males and enhance the professional and personal growth of young adult males by training males in college in mentoring middle school boys.
Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your current work?
Born in Lafayette, LA and moved to San Francisco, CA at age 10. The most pronounced effect this move had on me was I came to accept that in the pursuit of personal growth one may have to move from their place of comfort.
Since I was a kid I was considered to be a smart student and person. I noticed growing up that some of my peers, including some family members (close and extended) got the opposite message. However, I knew that all these people were smart. These were the people I played with, learned from, looked up to and respected.
Unfortunately I saw some of my peers internalize these messages and then accordingly put forth less effort to learning in and out of school. I saw this as problematic because it closed them off from certain opportunities or opened them up to riskier life paths. Also, I sensed that it left them feeling defeated or less than who they actually were. And I found the latter even more problematic.
In college my interest in psychology was born out of these experiences. I wanted to understand why people internalized those negative messages of learning, or gave them, or rebuked them or rebutted them. I wanted to know how to work with people so that they continued to believe in themselves and advocate for themselves.
During my senior year in college my best friend knew the basis of my interest in psychology and told me of a presentation to his class by a graduate program that combined education and psychology.
While in graduate school I began doing pre-college work with middle and high school students. Upon graduation I continued the work of building learners at all levels.
My observations as a youth, my family’s foundation of love and respect for everyone and myself, and my training led me to my current work. The other part is all the oppression I see around me contrasted by the small percentage of people working against it.
I often characterize myself as a reluctant leader. So much of what I do is only because I don’t see enough people doing it or doing it thoughtfully. I’d much rather laugh with my friends and family and youth than work to repair irreparable systems. As Frederick Douglas said “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
In your description of your twitter page, you mention wanting to “be a part of a team that empowers following generations to build a bridge to a future that is just and humane for all living beings”. Can you tell us a little more about what this means to you?
Recently a friend remarked to me how she loves Star Trek because the show depicts human civilization at a point where we no longer marginalize or exploit groups or have inequality – this of course is excusing the fact that in the show there are some clear sexist, nationalist, and other propaganda afoot. Nonetheless the notion of an all loving, all-accepting, sustainable, and all-inclusive society is something that we have not reached. And I believe it is possible for us to reach it. I also accept it will take generations to get there.
To achieve a just world it will take us acknowledging that we must do more than grow the society we have here. We must build a bridge to another place, another destination. And so we must accept that what we have here must be left behind. Not our character of love and hope and those traits that sustain the community as well as the individual. We must keep that character. But we must let go of the walls we have constructed around our character. The walls of nationhood and selfhood in its various forms that set us apart from others.
What this looks like exactly? Star Trek, I don’t know. And that’s why when we begin to teach this in our schools it is acknowledging that our youth are more apt and equipped to think of what a more humane society can look like and how to move in that direction. We must work at this now but the youth are stronger in this regard because they are less ingrained with the poison of our prejudices. The eyes of our youth are less stigmatized by warped perspectives handed down from the winners of the wars who write our history books.
The youth are more than the inheritors of the world we shape today, their minds and hearts are pregnant with the world of tomorrow. And like any mother, what we feed them will have great impact on the health of what is birthed. I want to become an elder that honors the gift of sight that comes with our youth and I want to feed them the wisdom and love that gives them the clarity of self needed to use their sight. We must use the wisdom of elders, various perspectives of history and humbled reverence of the gifts of our young to prepare the next generation to move us forward.
I can find much in common with your point about being part of a team that empowers others to build a just and humane future for all living beings, and it rings true in my own journey of aspiring to become a better human. In your view, what do you think are some necessary elements that are needed to create environments where this type of cohesion can take place?
Top two elements on my list are awareness of who we are and intergenerational messages – and they are linked.
Awareness of who we are relates to knowing that as humans, as living beings, we are all linked to one another. In fact, as a life force (energy), we are connected to all living things and all energy. Some may read this as religious, some spiritual, some scientific, and some, like myself, may read it as all three. For me this level of awareness is critical because if this is a basis for understanding the self, then respect and reverence take on significantly deeper meanings.
It becomes easier to communicate why respect for self is respecting others. It becomes easier to understand how a reverence for life is really about acknowledging the grandness of existence that is within all its parts. When we are aware that who we are is tied to everyone else just like the water in the bottle is tied to the waters in the river it was collected from then it becomes clear that your acceptance and love for others is a reflection of how much you accept and love yourself.
Intergenerational messages are important because they serve as guides to awareness. The messages handed down to us from the ancestors in our culture provide us with the narratives that affirm us. Each culture is strong because each culture has survived and adapted to the sharing, interaction, encounters, and even attacks of other cultures. Every culture has contributed to the evolution of our societies and our systems of production and sustenance.
In our society many groups are not given these messages because the dominant culture imposes their interpretations of history on everyone. Thus, many groups are constantly attacked by the dominant narrative. The issue of intentionality of the dominant narrative is less important because of the fact that no matter the intentionality, the dominant group cannot adequately provide the history of another culture. The elders in each culture are best suited to endow their youth with the stories that reveal how they came to be.
From one generation to the next we carry with us habits of mind, wounds, gifts, muscle memory, and knowledge that is unique from other cultures and needed by all cultures. No one can tell your story like you can. The same is true for every cultural group. And just like it were another person, through understanding our culture past we understand our culture more and are more apt to accept and love it. And as we are an extension of our cultural groups (ethnic and otherwise) the more we know, accept and love it the more we know, accept and love ourselves.
Do you have any other issues that you’re interested in working on or working with others in terms of social justice/equity?
I would like to work with others on the issues of:
1. abolishing the myth of scarcity and
2. establishing laws and policies that ensure that every human being has the right to resources that meet their basic needs (clothing, shelter, food, work, leisure) at a “livable” level (definitely above what we call the poverty line).
We are in a day and age where we can build new buildings on college campuses in a matter of months, where we throw away food daily from cruise ships, restaurants and fast food establishments, and power cities for exponentially less energy and resources than in the past. Yet people still believe that this level of competition, where some starve, is just how it has to be.
Technology, for all the ways it has generated issues, has brought us to a point where we can speak seriously and practically of eradicating homelessness, starvation, and ensuring all have access to quality water. When we accept that scarcity is not the issue, we will no longer accept that there are those that have not. We will accept the possibility of a just and humane society. And then we will do what the brain does best when it thinks something is possible; we will create a path to that possibility.
I also see the power in establishing laws and policies to reframe how people engage the work on social justice and equity. After all it is the policies that regulate how we function and laws that regulate how we govern ourselves. And so we are all responsible to engaging in shaping these laws and policies that ultimately shape our world.
What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?
1. The flexibility to design the structure of the programs I work on.
2. Opportunity to work with youth, parents, teachers, counselors, practitioners, scholars, and researchers.
3. Learning from others and through reading.
4. Being part of someone’s growth process.
5. The fact that my work necessitates personal growth if I am to be successful in reaching others. The work of change changes you. If it doesn’t then you’re not working at it.
What aspects do you find challenging?
See 5 lol. No, really, see 5.
I think the most challenging thing is working in a culture of consumerism. It pushes people away from the very elements I think are needed to move people and our society forward.
You give a great deal of your time mentoring and developing young men in educational and community settings. Do you have any words of advice for anyone who might want to help others or work to improve their communities in terms of transforming their ideas to action?
Value character over self.
Understand your gifts are a present to the world that must be delivered in order for us to survive. Please bless with your natural gift.
Action and reflection provide the best feedback for ideas. So do if you’re a thinker.
Excellence in action is usually found on the heels of thorough preparation. So be thorough in thought if you’re a doer.
Learn about your history from those you deem your people.
Love, love, love. Greet every day and everyone with love in your heart and mind.
What/Who Inspires you?
Those with courage to push themselves. Those who accept themselves. Those with HUGE amounts of wisdom who teach with humility. Those who love me enough to build me while growing with me. Those who laugh and cry and smile when I’m around. Those who died working for justice.
Those who accept their gift and present it to the world. Those who do them, not to be different but rather to be them. Those who display their pain to free their hearts. Children that believe in life before we can strip them of that reality. My brother McQuiston Helaire.
Happiness. Pain. Dreams of a family. Appreciation for my father, mother, brothers, sisters and best friends. I have to honor the faith and belief they and other family members put in me. And God.
What have been the Keys to your success so far?
Observing the world around me and working to know more about it and myself. Being courageous (pushing on in the presence of fear) in growing myself. Patience, critical thought, mentors and advisors. Listening to peers, elders, and those younger than I. Being able to discern what messages were for me and which were not.
Over the years I have also come to learn that for me to be healthy and productive there are three practices I need in life daily: prayer, doing some form of work, and exercise. Then of course the things that sustain and optimize those are adequate sleep, rest, communing with others, quiet, and healthy food.
Are there any special projects you’re working on currently?
1. Beginning stages of designing and developing a program that draws parallels between physical strength training and academic skills development.
2. Part of a project team working to open a placed-based charter school in Detroit. Once the school is open I will serve as one of the school board members.
Is there anything Else you’d like to add?
Thank you for your work and character!! I see your guiding light as work on that bridge to the future so many of us desperately long for. You’re one of those that inspire me.
If you know any People Who Inspire that you would like to be featured in the series, email Relando at Relando_T@relandothompkins.com, or just fill out the contact form here.
Grace & Peace,
Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian by Relando Thompkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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