Sunday, October 8th, 2017, I had the privilege of doing a TEDx Talk at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. It was a milestone event. The young scholars who brought the program to fruition conducted themselves with grace, professionalism, and inspired the same in their speakers.
I hope you will watch this video, then return here with helpful responses. This video is part of a project for the second year of my Ph.D. program at Prescott College. I am studying and working to improve my effectiveness as a Child Rights Advocate.
If you find the message worthy, please pass it around your sphere of influence. Use your communication devices, social medias, mainstream media, even snail-mail. Share with people . . .
This young man, who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and made his popular mark in life as an actor in Hollywood, is calling out
citizens of the world with a moral imperative to stop sexual slavery in this 21st Century. He has invested his time, energy, creativity, passion, and money into this Great Cause for Child Justice. He leads by example, and courageously uses language for this crime against humanity in unvarnished specificity.
Mr. Kutcher’s testimony evokes the wisdom of Edmond Burke,
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
The above Washington Post photo suits my purpose perfectly.
I missed a Women’s March in the early 1980’s. I did not realize the significance of the event until it was over. As best I remember it, I went to class that night at Arizona State University. A more important educational experience was taking place in the streets of a Phoenix suburb.
While working on my Masters of Counseling Degree, I was a volunteer and four-hour-per-week data analyst at the Center Against Sexual Assault (CASA). I was one of two men working there with a dozen or more women. It was a job which transformed into a lifetime mission of moral and legal justice for survivors and fatalities of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
At the time, many of the staff were involved in planning a Take Back the Night march when a nearby mayor did something significantly unenlightened. Two serial rapists were stalking their prey in his community, and the mayor decided to wade in with an executive order. He established a nine-o’clock curfew for women to be off the streets, for their own safety. His timing could not have been more appropriate to the feminist cause. Women came out to march in what was then considered great numbers. I learned about the protest later from my co-workers.
The organizers started the march in the mayor’s community nine o’clock at night. The gathering was comprised of women from all races, religions, educations, classes, ages, incomes, gender identifications, and sexual orientations. The peaceful protesters not only united and came out against the female curfew, they demanded a male curfew. After all, who was making the streets dangerous, the women?!
Over the past three decades, I have learned about cultural and institutional discrimination and sexual abuses of women. I developed a deep respect and brotherly love for those women. This compassionate army of sisters welcomed me into their world. I have
missed that shared consciousness since my wife passed away three years ago. I still miss Carol, but I am no longer alone with my convictions.
I have discovered recently, at sixty-four years of age, a cadre of dedicated and passionate kindred spirits. I found them in the Ph.D. program at Prescott College, Arizona.
After much time quietly standing back and closely observing our nation’s political season, I have decided it is time for me to declare where I stand. This past weekend I found my political tribe. I do not enter this commitment blindly. I have issues to debate with some of the members.
However, we are confronted with what I believe may be the bleakest challenges in American history. I believe the most visionary, prophetic, and moral group available to me has been called together in the Women’s March on Washington.
I now join my peaceful warrior sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, and brothers with gratitude and humility.
I stand with women and men all around the world. That indigenous person in the photo with her raised and closed hand expresses solidarity. She represents me. I am there with her and the rest of those women. I embrace our cause.
My first client as a professional counselor was a little girl named Marie. She was three-
and-a-half years old. She was non-verbal and had not spoken a word since she was put into foster care. Both she and her six-year-old sister were being treated for gonorrhea. Both of their parents were in jail.
That was the fall of 1981. I was twenty-nine years old. I was a trained volunteer for The Center Against Sexual Assault. I had been taking regular shifts answering the 24-hour hotline..
Based on my undergraduate work as a research assistant and strong statistics background, the agency hired me as a data analyst for four hours per week at five dollars per hour.
Let me be clear.
This was not the work I planned on doing forever. I figured that if I could learn some counseling skills with that agency’s clientele, then I could probably handle just about any counseling situation that would come up in life.
My real goal was to get my Ph.D., go into Organizational Psychology, and make big bucks doing corporate work, solving interpersonal and group problems, helping big business function more efficiently.
Secondly, and more deeply important . . .
I thought this sexual assault organization might hold some insights or answers into my nagging dissatisfaction with my religious upbringing. I thought that if there was a God, and I was asking that question at that time in my life, then surely there would be something to discover in this fringe element of the counseling profession.
A few weeks after starting the job, a veteran therapist there, who knew I was in the Masters of Counseling Program, asked me if I would like to help her with the children’s play-therapy group.
I said that I would like to do that.
The therapist explained that the half-dozen children in the group were pre-school to second grade. There were two sisters just starting the group, ages 3-1/2 and 6. The foster parents of these two girls were very involved in the kids’ therapy and formed a good supportive family.
The lead therapist asked me to pay special attention to the littlest girl. She was going to need a lot of help. The other children we making progress at a reasonable pace.
Over those first three weeks I used what I learned in Early Childhood Development to build trust with Marie, making periodic eye contact, smiling, using a gentle voice, encouraging her to draw pictures and make choices. Session four, she was smiling back and engaging in some of the projects the other children were involved in. Then late in that session, there was a group sing along, and out of the blue, Marie joined in.
The first words I heard from Marie were in her singing a joyful sound. From there she grew by leaps and bounds.
The thing that drove the lesson home for me was a chance meeting two weeks later at a street fair in downtown Tempe. On a crowded sidewalk on a Saturday morning, I heard a little voice calling from behind me somewhere. I stopped and turned around, the crowd parted like the Red Sea. The little girl named Marie was running up the sidewalk calling out, “Mr. Kookendall, ( She had trouble pronouncing my name Kirkendall) Mr. Kookendall, Mr. Kookendall!” Her foster parents and sister were walking hand-in-hand behind her smiling at having surprised me.
I knelt down and greeted Marie. She gave me an appropriate hug. While I knelt at eye-to-eye level with Marie, we all talked for a while. Then I watched them walk away together Marie waving as she looked back.
My life changed that day forever.
Something Godly had happened, and I was a part of it.
I could not . . . I could not . . . I could not turn away.
For me, no work in the world could be more precious.
I was right. I worked saving children for 20 years.
It was this time of year thirty-four years ago that I met that little girl named Marie. I imagine her now in her late thirties, and I wish I could send her a letter.
Thank you . . where ever you are. . . Thank you Marie.
I pray that you are blessed with healthy children,
I have prayed with people from wildly diverse faiths, races, and socio-economic groups. I have prayed with people in the midst of some of the most cruel circumstances a family might experience in life. Someone was sexually tortured or terrorized.
Prayer helped. It helped them and helped me.
I have counseled sexually terrorized people for thirty-four years. I have studied the subject, written about it, spoken about it, and even sung songs about it. I continue to create a body of work that will help those who suffer for such sins of others after I have passed on. I continue to pray my way through the challenges.
To stay sane, I walk somewhere in nature every week. It is truly good medicine for me.
The longer I walk, the more distant becomes civilization. As I walk through miles of rolling grassland wilderness, I become more humanly isolated. I can see things coming for a thousand yards in every direction. There is no one to surprise me. I am free and safe. There is only the wind in the grass and nearby meadowlarks calling for my attention.
As I walk, my prayers and movement become a ceremonial ritual. I call it The Spirit Trail. I express my gratitudes, my fears, my pains, and my passions. I ask for guidance in knowing how I might use my unusual knowledge and experiences to do the greatest good for the greatest number.
And so it was recently.
After some time of intense walking-communication, a quiet pleasure came over me. It was accompanied by a growing faith that I would know what to do when it was time to do it.
I came back to grounding when I realized I had a sticker inside my boot. With a smile of peaceful satisfaction, I sat down on the earth to loosen my boot. As I did, I admired the mountains forty miles to the north. As I tied off my boot, I gazed at the snow-capped sacred peaks a hundred miles to the north-east. I then stood and turned my head to the distant mountains in the east. More magnificence.
After a significant pause, I turned around to see the mountains to the south.
I stepped out on the front porch this morning and heard a wonderful sound. A flock of Canada geese, flying in formation, called out as they passed over my humble Northern-Arizona long-house. I smiled of course. I am always touched and uplifted by wildlife. Somehow they give me hope that the beauty of mother nature will endure beyond mankind’s greed and violence.
I was reminded of an experience five, six years ago about this time of year when I was worried about finances and any number of things. I was driving my vintage Chevy short-bed pickup out the dirt road from Apache Wells to the highway on my way to work. Another Canada flock, maybe some of the recent flock’s relatives, were flying unusually low in the same direction I was driving.
As I took a bend in the washed out rocky road, our paths became much closer and parallel. For that relatively smooth stretch of road we kept pace with each other. I had my window down and leaned my head out to feel wind in my face like a blissful hound dog. To me, it seemed their honking was just for my benefit. I looked the leader in the eye, and I am sure they were urging me to fly on faithfully into the future.
I also remember a goose encounter in the middle of one of my high school football games. We were under the lights on a near-freezing Friday night and getting ready on defense for our opponent’s next play. That was when my dear friend and team captain for that game, Jim The Hangman, called for the team’s attention. As ten of us all turned in unison and looked, we saw Hangman’s arm in the air and his finger pointed to the sky. The moment freeze-framed for me. The steam from our hard breathing poured through our face masks as we all looked to the night sky on cue. Perhaps the crowd thought we were praying.
The honking was distinct, and our entire team smiled as we recognized what it was. Then us tough guys all laughed at realizing what we were simultaneously sharing in the middle of that game. For that precious moment, we were all country boys tickled by mother nature and our own teenage comaraderie.
Good goose memories.
So today, in spite of all national economic indicators, in spite of all the horrendous world-wide challenges, I have just a bit more optimism and wonder for the days ahead, and I would like to pass some of that along to others.