#Ethicalleadership begins with a lifelong commitment to self-mastery. As a result of counselling, coaching and ongoing support from those who have gone before me, I am clear about my Black identity, my purpose in life and my role in relation to my family, my community and wider society. For me, Black History Month is an opportunity to pause for reflection and to reaffirm my identity as a Black-conscious man and a practising Christian. It is against this backdrop that I share a bit of me.
It was when my youngest son was excluded from school that I finally made the leap of faith to see a therapist. My son was just six years old and he was behaving in ways that did not make sense to my wife and me. The school was sanctioning him, we were sanctioning him and he was still behaving in these challenging ways.
Among other things, I’m a parent liaison officer in a secondary school, so I understand issues that directly impact young Black boys: their increased likelihood of ending up in jail, on the streets, in a mental ill-health institution, self-medicating on cannabis, dead.
So, like the professional I am, I was working with my son’s school to stop the descent and then I realised that the school wasn’t working with us. I realised I was banging my head against a wall. One day, a friend came over and sat with me and he said: ‘You are broken and you don’t even know it.’ I just started crying. The next day, I took myself to my doctor and got signed off work.
I knew I needed to see a counsellor because my self-blame was beginning to make me ill and this was affecting the rest of my family. I was angry with myself for not protecting my son and my family and for not hearing his cries for help before it became a crisis. I thought I had become weak.
The doctor referred me to IAPT and I met this lady, who just listened to me for what seemed like an age. And then she asked me one question that really hit me. She never played down what I had gone through, but she asked: ‘Mr Brown, when you are saying this should not have happened to your son, are you saying this should not have happened to you, when you were a child?’
When I was growing up, my dad was ‘out on the road’; he wasn’t there for me. Aged 13, 14 and 15, I bought into his identity, even though deep down I knew it wasn’t for me. I was always searching for who I was. I thought I’d found it when I became a music/events promoter. I became Courtney Too Sweet, putting on raves, dressing nice, all these girls around me, drinking champagne – all the attention was on me. But looking back, I can see now my self-esteem and my confidence were low, because I was trying to be something I wasn’t.
The counselling helped me to see that, and to touch that pain and work through it. Although my counsellor was a White woman, it never stopped me from opening up to her. She was someone who was willing to listen. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for culturally sensitive/culturally appropriate therapists. I had already been on a journey as a consequence of my connection with Black-led social action networks like Blaksox, so my need for cultural relevance was being met. There are many who are not so fortunate and need the added security that comes with opening up to someone who understands the road that you have walked, particularly when it comes to race and other social identity issues.
My reconnection with my ‘identities’ and my challenged past led me to set up Father 2 Father. I was seeing too many Black young people in a lot of pain, and too often the common denominator was dad – he wasn’t around for them, or he wasn’t able to be around emotionally, even if he was around physically. Father 2 Father’s mentoring programme provides them with Black male role models, coaches and sponsors to help them break the intergenerational cycle of negativity.
Courtney Brown is the award-winning founder and CEO of Father 2 Father, and one of the founding sponsors and influencers in Blaksox, a social action and economic development network. www.father2father.co.uk