Why is it so important to listen to understand? What are some ways you can use your sphere of influence to make a difference?
In this podcast episode series, Joe Sanok speaks to William Hemphill about why it’s so important to listen, empathize, act, resist, and never stop.
Meet William Hemphill
William Hemphill, II, is a counselor, pastor, and speaker. As a husband who has been married for over 23 years and a father who adopted three children, he understands the rewards and challenges of maintaining a strong marriage and blending a family.
In his practice, he works with individuals who value their faith, couples who want to strengthen or rebuild their relationships, and with adoptive families in building loving connections. He is the author of the book Praying With Your Spouse: A Secret To Building Intimacy In Your Marriage.
In This Podcast
- Listening to stories
- Never stopping
L – Listening to the stories of other people in a non-judgemental way
E – Empathize, place yourself in the shoes of someone else who might be experiencing trauma or suffering.
A – Act and find a way of using your sphere of influence to make a difference
R – Resist the urge to draw back or quit when resistance comes
N – Never stop, just keep on learning and repeat again
Listening to stories
If you dismiss what someone has to say as a person, and don’t recognize their experience how can we begin to even understand one another in order to begin to heal?
It’s important to listen to stories of African Americans, we can’t learn without listening in a non-judgmental way.
We all have a sphere that we can begin to advocate.
- You can start talking out against these matters within your own family and circle of friends, take what you’ve learned, and be willing to share it with others.
- Make a space and be open but allow the black community freedom to help work with you to see how you can contribute
It’s important to keep a level of awareness and do not allow it to fade away.
If we use our gifts to serve humanity in love, I believe that’s how we all can make a difference.
For William never stopping looks like:
- Sharing his talents and gifts to make the situation better, sharing knowledge on the podcast, having a discussion with a white man.
- Checking on his kids and being sure they have the tools to grow up to live in a society that magnifies these things.
- Being a counselor who is able to provide a safe place for people to process racial trauma.
Books by William Hemphill
- What White Therapists Need to Know with LaToya Smith: Black Leaders Matter Series | Part 1
- Sign up to join the free webinar on Insurance and Billing here
- Podcast Launch School
- Practice of the Practice Podcast Network
- Killin’It Camp
- Next Level Practice
- Free resources to help you start, grow and scale
- Apply to work with us
Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok. The Black Leaders Matter series.
Welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast today. I am so glad that you are joining me. This is part of our Black Leaders Matter series where I’m interviewing leaders that are going to teach us, they’re going to inform us, they’re going to join us in a number of different ways. Today on the show, we have William Hemphill. William is in the Atlanta, Norcross, Georgia area, has a private practice there, and also has the podcast, Faith and Family Matters podcast. William, welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast.
Thank you so much, Joe. It is good to be here with you today.
I am so glad to have you. I know that you’re one of our podcast launch schoolers and you’ve been doing this podcast and you’re active in a number of my communities. And as we do these series, my goals are really just kind of to listen and learn and to try to join people in a different way. So, before we get recording, you were talking about how you have this acronym LEARN. I would love to start there and hear what that acronym stands for and then start with the L. So, give us an overview of what LEARN stands for.
Okay. Well, I’ll give you a brief overview of LEARN. It’s an acronym I kind of came up with when someone was asking me if I could summarize what I wanted people to know in about five minutes. And so, each letter stands for something. The L stands for listening to the stories of other people, non-judgmental, just listen. E stands for empathize. In other words, place yourself in the shoes of someone else who might be experiencing trauma or suffering or different things during this time. Imagine if you were there. Act is to find a way using your sphere of influence to make a difference. R stands for resist, resist the urge to draw back or quit when resistance comes. Because whenever we do try to enact change, there will inevitably be resistance from family members, from friends, from societal structures, whatever it may be. And then N stands for never stop, just keep on learning and repeating again.
I love it. So, it’s listening to stories, empathize, act, resist, and never stop.
I love frameworks that can take complex issues and kind of make them a little easier to understand. Well, tell me a little bit more about that listening to stories. How do you see that happening in a helpful way?
Okay. One of the things why I think it is so important to listen to the stories of African Americans is because we can’t learn without listening in a non-judgmental way. I’ll give you an example. After the Ahmaud Arbery killing became public, I happened to be in a discussion on social media with some friends of mine, one who happens to be a pastor. And so, there was a young man within that discussion that basically tried to, for lack of a better term, justify what the killers did. Basically saying, okay, someone was an ex police officer, he should have stopped, so on and so forth. And so, I tried to share the experience with him of how would you feel in that moment, if somebody was coming after you in a truck, someone had a shot gun on you? They’re not even police officers. And so, would you feel like your life is being threatened? And then I talked about many of the various racial killings over the years: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, or whatever else, but one of the sad things in that discussion was that this young man, I’d say, dismissed me. And so, because he dismissed, he was unable to learn. And the crazy thing about it is, of course, since we had that discussion, the DA has charged him, they’ve had the preliminary hearings, and so on and so forth. And what I bore out, at least what I said so far, seems to be right on the money in that particular case, but I was thinking, if you can’t hear, how can we begin to even work? If you dismiss what someone has to say as a person and don’t recognize the experience, how can we begin to even understand one another in order to begin to heal?
I think that’s really powerful because you know, the power of story, I mean, it’s something that is evolutionarily in our brains that, you know, a story from other people protects us, helps us grow as a community. And if we aren’t valuing other people’s stories, like, we’re missing out, but then we’re also missing out on what could happen between those individuals as well.
This is definitely true. And one of the tragic things about it is that this has happened over and over again. And unfortunately, it has taken until the George Floyd killing, and how brutal it was, for a lot of people to even recognize and say, well, maybe African Americans knew a little bit about what they were talking about all along. And it’s because that killing I think was just so brutal. And in my mind I say, so obvious. I say in my mind because I’ve seen other people since then who’ve said other things. So obvious, and so horrific that it made people stop, open their eyes for a few minutes.
What are stories from your own life that you think are important for people to hear?
I usually try to, when I talk to people in different formats, whether it’s as a pastor, as a counselor, or just as an African American male, have them understand this. One of the things… well, I first of all say discrimination is bad in all forms. But one of the things that’s tough about African American discrimination is I can’t take off my skin. I couldn’t hide if I wanted to hide. When I was in seminary, I can’t remember the exact name of the book but it had to do with church culture and influence, and it talked about a lot of the immigration stories of different ethnic groups: Irish, Italians, so on and so forth, and talked about how those groups also experienced discrimination when they first came to this country. But one of the differences that the book did highlight was eventually that it was easier for Irish and Italians to assimilate. When it comes to the case of Africans, first of all, in many cases, we were what they call forced immigrants. In other words, we were involuntarily brought from the shores of Africa over here. Then there was a mythology that came about, that talked about how black skin was inferior. And so, if you had black skin, you were subhuman. And so that mythology invaded the culture, to the point that even when discrimination occurs, someone like me, no matter the work I do as a counselor or a pastor, so on and so forth, could easily be viewed as a suspect or something else like that. You can’t hide, not that I would want to, but it is just one of those things.
I think that’s a really strong point there about how… I’m even thinking about my own grandparents, who my great grandma came from Poland. My grandparents wanted to be called grandma and grandpa and within a generation, we just blended in, and that idea of forced immigration and thinking through that, it’s such a strong point. When you think through maybe things that have really impacted you, whether it’s recently or over time, I love the idea of stories being a way to really share like deeper issues. What else comes to mind for you?
I’ll tell you one of the interesting things that has happened in this process. I’ve learned more about stories that family members have experienced regarding discrimination and segregation, even talking with my father and some of the discrimination and segregation that he experienced growing up in Texas. Growing up in Texas, being a black male in the country, you’re talking about probably in the 40s, or something like that. So, it was real thick there and some of the places he couldn’t be after dark. Some of the things he couldn’t say, he talked about how he almost had an Emmett Till like experience. For those of you who may or may not know, Emmett Till was a young boy that came from Chicago to Mississippi. When he came to Mississippi, he was accused of whistling at a white woman, and because he supposedly whistled at a white woman, he was murdered, killed, and lynched. And that became a big emphasis of the civil rights movement because Emmett Till’s mother had the courage to have an open casket funeral where you could see his mutilated body. So, I think about those experiences, I think about experiences of other family members who’ve talked about being stopped by the police, just for being some black youth hanging out together, not doing anything, being stopped. I can talk about in my own personal experience being profiled. I remember when I first moved to Georgia, I like to say I was a smart kid, bookworm, nerd. I went to the mall and when I was in the mall, I went to the bookstore, happened to be looking at books, walking around, looking at books – what people do in bookstores – I started getting followed. And I was followed basically because someone thought I would steal something. And so, it’s those experiences like that that can shape you, that sometimes I’d say when it comes to racial trauma can make you hyper vigilant as a person.
Yeah, and as a therapist, and understanding kind of the way the brain works as well, what… I guess I don’t even know, what would be the best question here. But I can’t even imagine – I guess I’ll just speak from my own personal view. For me, thinking about when I’ve been in situations where I need to be hyper vigilant, when I’ve been in foreign countries or in new places or wherever, that takes an emotional toll on you having that on a regular basis. What do you think people like me who then get to come home and live in suburban America as a white male that has privilege, like, what do you think I miss in regards to the African American experience of having to be that hyper vigilant all the time?
You actually said something very interesting, and this is going back to the E when I talk about empathize. You actually went to a place where you talked about being in foreign countries. And so, having to be hyper vigilant, watching and doing different things like that. So just imagine, from using your experience right there, you have a place that you can begin to identify, empathize, and understand. And so that’s one of the things when I talk to people, I like them to find that place where they can begin to empathize and understand because it allows us to make a difference. So, from that place, you can at least imagine a little bit of what it would be like. One of the things I like to say, as African Americans, like everybody else, is sometimes we got to have safe places. Like for you, you said, when you go back to your home, middle class upbringing, that’s your safe place. I like to say in my instance, with my family, around my church, or maybe certain parts of the city I’m in, in Atlanta, that is my safe place where I don’t have to be as hyper vigilant about things.
That makes sense. Now moving into the act side of the acronym. What do you see as actions that are important right now? Because I think there can be a tendency for white people to think, like, I don’t want to just jump in late or I don’t want this to come across as I’m just doing it because it’s popular right now. And oftentimes that leads to being paralyzed and not doing anything, because they don’t want to do it wrong. But then also, I think there’s ways to join into making actual long-term systemic change that I imagine we’re missing. So, when you say act, what are some examples of that for not just white people, but for anyone that wants to get involved, what does acting look like, maybe on a personal level, but then also on a societal level?
Acting, on a personal level… I’m thinking about a time when I went to a multiracial church, and I think this was after the Trayvon Martin killing. I was actually in school, but I went because this church was having a multiracial series of discussions on what it meant to be black, what it meant to be white, so on and so forth. And the session that I went to, one of the things I was struck by was sitting at the table with a bunch of white people and one of the challenges that they said was, I can agree with you, but I’ve got to go back and visit grandpa Bob, or Uncle Joe, at the Thanksgiving table. And they’ll say all these racial epithets and do all these things, and I can’t talk with Uncle Bob or Grandpa Joe, or whoever else that might be. One of the things – and I call it an act of courage – is even starting with your family to let them know, that is wrong. I would say even the resistance part, the not give up part, comes in because when you do something like that, you can expect a blowback, a blowback from people that like you and care about you. And so, I say something as simple as that is because we all have a sphere of influence, or at least a sphere that we can begin to advocate. So, something like that, as simple as that, taking what you’ve learned, and being able to share it with others makes a difference. Another thing that I’m thinking of, and I think about even how our conversation came together, we had a discussion and you asked me, would I be willing to come on. Part of what I think white people have to do is you make a space and be open, but you allow the black person freedom to help work with you to see how you can contribute. This is what I mean. I know some clinicians and some other people of color, who will not talk about this right now. And so not forcing someone to talk about this. I know some will say it’s not my job to educate people, or white people, they should know. Giving them space to deal with that, understanding that that’s hurt and grief and everything else that’s coming with that. So some of it might also be, I’m willing to help but in that willingness to help, I have to release some of the reins of power and so I can be maybe, as I’d say, a foot soldier in the army at first.
Yeah, I think and sometimes that… I want to understand that more, the idea of when people say, it’s not my job to educate you. I feel like I can understand it. But will you dig into that a little bit more, because I’m hearing from some of my audience that they want to learn, they want to read, they’re watching videos, things like that, but then they also want to have it be personalized. They want to understand experiences, but then they have that feeling of people saying to them, it’s not my job to teach you. I want to understand that more.
I would say that particular place, I would say comes from a place of trauma and hurt. One of the things and I’ll admit this, I only watched part of the George Floyd video. I’m not a person who sat and watched 8, 9, 10 minutes of that. And one of the reasons I didn’t do that is because, you know, I saw Ahmaud Arbery, I saw Tamir Rice, I saw Sandra Bland, I knew about Trayvon Martin. In other words, because of these experiences that re traumatize over and over again, sometimes we have to get to a point where it’s safe for us to be able to share. I talked a little bit about listening earlier. If I share my pain, if I share my hurt, if I share how I can help directing work, am I going to be rejected and dehumanized again? And so, I think some of that comes from a place like that.
So I want to make sure I understand this, because it feels like it’s making more sense to me, that if I came to you and said, William, will you help me learn more about this, that there’s a potential risk for you, in sharing that with me that then I could push back, I could not listen, that it would re traumatize you in a way that you aren’t willing to open yourself up to?
That’s a good summary, I’d say. Yeah.
Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. I want to go back to the acting, resisting and never stopping because I’m even thinking about my own family and my own neighborhood. So, we’re the only ones that have Black Lives Matter signs in our neighborhood and almost as soon as that went up, one of our neighbors started putting a Make America Great hat on the back of their vehicle, making it more apparent. So, when you think about your own, and even in our own family, there’s people that have had, like conversations about the protests and them using very different language than I use around that. What for you, when you’re advising people, when you’re saying act resists, never stop – what could that look like around you said, like, the Thanksgiving table with an uncle or a grandparent? What does that look like in a way that for you would actually make changes or…? Yeah, I’ll just leave it there. That would make changes.
I would say. Some of it starts with what we do as counselors, helping people to express their voice. So, in your case, or someone else’s case, being around that table, expressing your voice, knowing that there’s going to be some resistance. So, like you said, in your neighborhood, you put up the Black Lives Matter signs. Immediately, MAGA signs came up; understand that there’s always going to be some resistance. I believe and I’m going to… hopefully I don’t mess up the quote, but I was reading the letter to Birmingham Jail, where Dr. King talked about that those who are oppressed have to demand power. It is not being given willingly. So, when you put something down like Black Lives Matter, and then someone shows up with the MAGA hats, what they’re saying in most cases, unless you have a discussion with them, and they think otherwise, is we see this different. We’re not willing to look and engage in police reforms, for example, such that everybody can be safe. Everything is fine with me. So, know that there’s just going to be resistance. It’s kind of like we work in counseling. Sometimes when you talk to a client, you get to a sensitive point, there’s pushback or resistance.
Now, when you think about maybe how you would want this conversation, the storytelling, the action, to play out in the coming months, what are effective ways that we all can… how would you hope that that would look in the coming months?
For me, I’m thinking a couple things. Personally, and this is an idea that I have toyed with and we’ll look at some more – I would like to personally either be part of a host, a group, multiracial, where you can have these multiracial discussions, because I do believe in the power of the group process, to educate, to understand, to help us deal with our resistances, so on and so forth. So, I think as therapists, that could be a powerful tool for us to be able to engage in these discussions on a micro level. Now on a macro level, probably looking at organizations or groups that you may want to decide to be involved in and what level it might be, whether that’s participating, whether that’s contributing money, whether that’s getting involved, so on and so forth. Because one of the things that I think is important, especially about this time, I think it is important to keep a level of awareness. I think it’s important to keep a level of awareness that six months down the line, this just hasn’t faded away, and everything is going alright because one of the things that did concern me, Trayvon Martin faded away, Tamir Rice faded away, Sandra Bland faded away for a lot of people. And so, part of this is not allowing yourself to allow it to fade away.
Yet when I think about how it’s almost… I agree with you, I will say I agree with you. How do we make that happen when it feels like so many people… it’s almost like this administration has tried to overwhelm the news in a way that like the level of crises in any other administration, Republican or Democrat, if there was just one of those, it would have been so disruptive during the administration. So, when I think about the average person dealing with Coronavirus, dealing with protests, then the way that immigrants have been treated. I think a lot of people are kind of retreating, saying, my mind is ready to explode here with just the level of crisis that seems to be happening in the world and then they get paralyzed. How do we keep this top of mind when it feels like the news cycle is almost trying to make it that we can’t keep up with all the issues going on?
Part of it, I would say, I’ll say this, in my instance, is understanding an overall theme. I like to say part of it is understanding that we are part of a human community together. I like to say that we’re all created in the image of God and hopefully we can do things to love and respect one another with that. So, for instance, if you’re keeping that as a whole theme, and trying to work with that, that begins to help, because in the administration’s case, when you see immigration as an issue and children locked in cages, you know that you’re harming people who were made in God’s image. When you see police officers brutalizing young black men and women and different things, you see that people are being harmed in God’s image, who are in God’s image. When you see these things happen, we know that it’s still part of a human fight. When you see the COVID situations going on, and people unable to get care, and it seems like at times, maybe we’re more concerned about the economy than about life, you see the overall theme. And so I believe is if we care about human beings and human life, I think the whole general theme of that can keep us focused, instead of hopping to, for lack of a better term, the crisis of the day, because we know that in this political environment, there’s going to be crisis.
Yeah, when you think about that last one, never stop. What does that look like for you? So how do you advocate? What do you put your time into? What do you feel is the most effective use of your time when you’re never stopping?
For me, I look at it as using my talents and gifts to make this situation better. For instance, talking on the podcast with you today. Hopefully… I shouldn’t say hopefully – I know there will be people that hear our voices, that may get a different perspective about something that they didn’t get, if they didn’t listen to you and me together having this discussion. A white man and a black man having a discussion about something like that. For some people, they think that’s unique, but it’s important to be able to talk and converse. For me it’s also doing things like checking on my children, being sure they have the tools to be able to grow up, to live in a society that magnifies things. For me, it’s being a counselor that’s able to provide a safe place for people to process racial trauma and different things like that. But that’s using my gifts. I don’t know what somebody else’s gift is, but I like to say this: if we use our gifts to serve humanity in love, I believe that’s how we all can make a difference.
William, thank you so much for the work that you do and just the inspiration and ideas today. If every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
I would tell them two things. Remember the LEARN acronym: Listen, Empathize, Act, Resist, Never quit. I would say focus on the listening to your clients stories. Don’t judge, provide a safe space, because one of the things that’s necessary is for trust to begin to be built, because it’s going to take trust and love to walk through the situation. So definitely focus on that empathetic, empathic listening that we have.
Thank you so much, William. If people want to connect with your work, they want to look at your website or listen to your podcast, where can they find all of that?
Okay, my website www.williamhemphill.com. There you can connect with me, with my practice. I also have my podcast on there. The podcast is the Faith and Family Matters podcast. It’s also on Apple podcasts. It’s also on Google Play, Stitcher, I Heart Radio, and I believe Spotify also. And if you want to email me you can look at [email protected].
Thank you so much, William, for being on the podcast today.
Thank you so much, Joe, for having me.
And just as a reminder, everyone, we are not doing sponsors during this series, we are encouraging you to find a charity to donate to, to make an impact on the world. Thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music; we really like it. This podcast is designed to provide accurate, authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.