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One Love, A Letter From President Hawthorne Smith

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

One love.

Bob Marley’s inspirational lyrics are poignant and true. They are deceptively simple and remarkably profound. “One love, one heart; Let’s get together and feel alright.”

I recall a session of PSOT’s Francophone African support group from several years ago, when a member asked why Americans say “I love you” so often, but rarely seem to treat each other as such. “I love you, man” was a catch phrase in a popular beer commercial back then and became a cultural phenomenon. We may still hear people say things like, “I love that show!” or “I love the new restaurant that opened up near my office.” The word “love” abounds, but is it truly love?

Group members expressed further confusion about how to express affection in US culture. Does one say “I love you,” after meeting with friends? Work colleagues? Can saying “I love you” ever be perceived as awkward or inappropriate? When asked how to handle this cultural, linguistic and emotional obstacle course, I reflect back to my roots growing up in Langhorne, PA. It makes me think of “my homies,” – my oldest, dearest friends; and the ways that we have managed to communicate affection and support for one another throughout the years, while navigating the tricky circumstances of growing up as Black men in the US.

One love.

Thoughts on this subject came flooding back to me a couple weeks ago, when I returned home for my oldest friend’s funeral. When I saw the urn that held my buddy’s ashes, it was simply engraved with his name and the phrase “One Love.” His grieving fiancé explained that she had always wondered why “the fellas” consistently ended our phone calls or hang-out sessions with the phrase “One love.” She asked what the special meaning was for us. Though my boy had never given her a full explanation, she inherently knew that the meaning was important to him, and to all of us. I clumsily did my best to put it in context – so that she would have as much comfort in her mourning process as possible.

I began with some clarifying questions. What happens when love is larger than what is shared between two people? How do you describe what love is when it surpasses familial or romantic bounds? How do you grasp a feeling that encourages, accepts, challenges and supports all who share it? How does a marginalized community find its dignity? How do we help each other to move forward?

“One love” means more than affection. It is affiliation. Connection. Commitment. A promise to do everything possible to support the progress of those you cherish. It is a global intimacy that joins us in circumstance and binds us in shared aspiration. Somehow seeing the words on the vessel holding my friend’s ashes – knowing that these were the words he chose to accompany him into eternity - helped me to know that there is something deep hiding in this simple phrase.

When I returned to New York, I remarked on something that had been in front of my eyes for years. On correspondence between group members in their shared online chats, at the end of group sessions, or when people greeted each other in our hallways, they consistently send each other off with “One Love” – even though very few of them speak English as their primary language.

Something about the sentiment resonates. There must be some truth wrapped up in two simple syllables. People who use this phrase as a healing instrument, or as their final statement in life, must understand it in a way that is more profound than my cursory explanation.

As such, I’ve decided to try to look closer at the meaning, and see if there is any way I can apply it to the shared challenges and opportunities we face as a Consortium and as a community. I’ve come to realize that the emotional meaning is much more than a slogan. Perhaps it can truly be a driving force behind what I hope will become a vibrant movement that we all will help to build.

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Community Connection. This is not about 30 or so separate programs doing the best we can to provide services within our isolated geographic silos. This isn’t about Minneapolis love, or Portland love. It’s beyond Manhattan, Queens or Louisville. This is one love – a true sense of shared humanity. A tie that binds us as caring, empathic human beings, as survivors, service providers, community members and advocates. I hope to use this opportunity as NCTTP President to help bring us together. To that end (and in consultation with a good number of you over these past weeks), I hope to make some changes in how we interact.

As you may have noticed, I enjoy writing, but I do not want this to be a monologue. I’m hoping this letter can be the first of many pieces that we can share on our website (which we are currently revamping). I also hope that if this sparks thoughts, feelings or comments – please send them to us so that we can also share your thoughts with the larger group. This isn’t about peer-review journal type rigor. If you have questions, experiences, insights and/or complaints – we want them to be shared with the crew and spark a “multilogue,” where we all learn from one another. For example, to respond to this letter (or to write your own), please write to madeline.cohodes@nyumc.org or hawthorne.smith@nyumc.org so we can get it up and in front of people’s eyes.

I also hope to travel and visit as many of the NCTTP programs as possible. If I can be of any service by providing a training or being part of a panel, attending a staff meeting, meeting with potential local funders, or just listening – I’ll be there. I’d like to share our experiences with others members of the Consortium on our shared platforms, so everyone gets a bit of shine – large center or small, longstanding or new. We all have so much to add to this ongoing conversation. I can’t wait to hear from you and meet with you. One love.

Respect and bearing witness. When we speak of being a “voice for the voiceless” it almost becomes cliché. The reality, however, is that so much of what our clients are going through is hidden from the general population. Have you ever talked about what you do at work, and the well-meaning person in front of you says, “I had no idea!” Well, we are positioned to make a big difference in that equation.

As such, we will begin to discuss with you ways of further engaging our clients in our community education and advocacy efforts, as well as beginning to talk about how to develop a sort of “Survivors’ Council” where clients will have a voice in how we engage and move as a community. This is a longer-term goal that you all will be part of developing. I just want to point it out now as something we aspire to, so that we can be proactive and planful. The world needs to hear what the survivors have to say, and we are well placed to help share and amplify that message. One love.

Shining light into shadow. Ralph Ellison famously penned “Invisible Man” many moons ago, and it seems analogous to the phantom-like existence that many of our clients are leading. They are not seen, heard or recognized as valuable. When I consider the parallel process to service providers, I see that we are also a marginalized professional and social group.

How do we raise awareness – not just of the plight of survivors, but where we seem headed as a society? What I hear from you in our webinars, meetings and our Community of Practice sessions speaks to you as an important group of people whose insights into the evolution of 21st century American culture are important and necessary. We want “civilians” in our communities to recognize what we are doing, what we are seeing, and inspire them with the courage our community members exhibit on a daily basis. If we do this correctly, we may be able to inspire and guide a new generation of innovators and service providers. One love.

Honored and proud. Let me end by stating what I probably should have said up front. I am extraordinarily proud to be affiliated with you, and honored to still be a part of this community after 25+ years. The opportunity to help us become a viable force for healing and justice is the sort of thing that inspires an old dude like me. I am truly excited to work even closer with you all. As I’ve mentioned in many trainings I conduct, “The bad news is that our clients face so many challenges. The good news is that there are so many tangible and important ways to intervene.”

It’s time for us to move forward and create a movement. I cannot wait to see the sort of positive impact we can make. Are you ready? I can feel the energy. Let’s get started.

One love,

Hawk

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