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Former APA Minority Fellow
Discusses the Gift of Mentorship

An Intimate Conversation With Dr. Kermit Crawford About Networking, Competence, Growth, Reconciliation, Carrying the Torch, and Passing It On, by Michael Hopps

Photo of Dr. Crawford taken by Sarah McCoy

Kermit A. Crawford, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Multicultural Mental Health and the Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts. He was an American Psychological Association Minority Fellow long before SAMHSA inherited the Minority Fellowship Program (the MFP).

Dr. Crawford has myriad career accomplishments, including nursing the nation's oldest multicultural training program in psychology back to financial solvency and leading the nation's first behavioral health victims' services resiliency center. He has doubled funding levels, tripled staff sizes, and broken down many barriers to diversity. He has repeatedly earned distinction for his behavioral health work in disaster response, serving individuals traumatized by (to name but a few) the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Q: When were you a Minority Fellow, and how did you first learn about the program?

A: I was a Minority Fellow for 3 years, from 1976 to 1979, while I was in the doctoral program in clinical and community psychology at the University of Virginia—or, as you and I know it, U.Va. I was in the military—the Army. I was drafted 1 month before the draft ended, as would be my luck, in December 1972. I spent almost 2 years on active duty. I don't remember how I first learned of the Minority Fellowship Program, but I decided to apply for it after talking with Dr. James Jones of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Q: Where are you from, and do you recall how you first got the notion to pursue psychology?

A: I'm from a sleepy little town in eastern North Carolina, called Snow Hill. I had toyed with the idea of psychology as a freshman and sophomore at A&T State University in Greensboro. I did some work in behavioral health in the military, and that pretty much confirmed my interest. I transferred to the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (UNC–G), where I returned after my military service, and decided to major in psychology. UNC–G had a really strong psychology department, and the chair, Dr. Robert Eason, was really supportive of my being a returning student. Dr. Eason was one of my mentors.

Q: Tell us about Dr. Eason.

A: Dr. Norman Anderson, former CEO of the APA, came through that same program. I was in undergrad, and Norman was in grad school at the time. Norman and several other students—all black students at UNC–G at the same time—earned doctorates and have made significant contributions over their careers. Four of us went back about 7 years ago to honor Dr. Eason, who was white, and thank him as a group for what he did, because each one of us was classified as a "special student." Norman was a special student, as he had come from a historically black college, North Carolina Central. Me, a veteran returning to school. And in each of the other cases, if Dr. Eason had not been there, we would likely not have been there. That was one of the highlights of my career, to thank Dr. Eason as a surprise. He had long since retired. I presented at a colloquium, and Dr. Eason's children brought him down there without knowing the true intent. We publicly thanked him, and we had a reception afterwards.

Q: What was the emphasis of your work, at U.Va. and as a Minority Fellow?

A: I wanted to look at networks—the healing and restorative power of human networks, of community-based networks. Systems of care. And also to understand how systems could create deleterious situations for the individuals in them. I wanted to skew more toward the healing and restorative aspects of care.

Q: Did you have mentors at U.Va.?

A: I finished my master's at the University of Virginia, and what I found is that Dr. James Jones was a real mentor to me, but I had no mentors that I could identify at U.Va.

I had instructors, and I had others whom I sought out, but I found no one there to mentor me through the process. So I identified the Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology in Boston (which I'm now directing) as the internship I would seek, and the minority training program in psychology at Boston Medical Center. I came up to Boston to interview, received one of the positions, and Dr. Guy Seymour eventually became a mentor. I continued to maintain contact with other mentors as well.

"They were there to catch me and tell me what I didn't do or should have done. If they saw the truck coming down the road, and I was walking in the middle of the road, they'd tell me, 'You might want to think about getting over to the side.'"

I left U.Va. for the internship pretty much ABD [all but dissertation]. After I finished the internship, I really liked Boston. I liked the feeling and the support I got through the internship training program and felt that I could not return to U.Va. Although the faculty said they would welcome me back to finish my dissertation, I just couldn't bring myself to return.

Q: What especially attracted you to Boston?

A: The multicultural internship, initially, and the people who were part of the program, such as Dr. Guy Seymour. Mentorship has always been important to me in terms of my progress and advancement, through all phases of my life. I sometimes didn't recognize this until later in life. Mentorship is what we built this program on—the mentorship model—because we know it's so important to so many people.

Q: Were there other mentors you had through the Minority Fellowship?

A: Oh, yes. For the Minority Fellowship, the funding was almost secondary to the mentoring and colleagueship and networking. James Jones was there. And so many others. Wade Noble and Dalmas Taylor. All these people at the time were part of the innerworkings of the Minority Fellowship Program. A big part of the reason I was able to stay at U.Va. as long as I did was because I got so much guidance and support, which came from the mentorship that was wrapped around me as someone with potential through the MFP.

James recommended that I connect with the people who were part of the MFP. "They're doing the kind of work that you're doing," he'd counsel me. "They're interested in the kind of things you're interested in." He would tell me: "Kermit, you need to get this part together. Nobody else can do that; you need to do that." It was the kind of pointed and clear advice a parent would give—something that someone with significantly more experience would give to a very junior person whom she or he cares about. I felt it.

In a lot of ways I was naïve, and in a lot of ways I was inexperienced. The MFP allowed me the opportunity to grow, but sometimes I made mistakes. The mentors were there to catch me and tell me what I didn't do or should have done. If they saw the truck coming down the road, and I was walking in the middle of the road, they'd tell me, "You might want to think about getting over to the side."

I wasn't always the easiest person to get along with, because I was trying to find myself. Also, there was an aspect of rage in having grown up in the "Jim Crow" South and under the persecution of racism. In addition, I was trying to break away from a domineering dad whom I have grown to love and understand over the years, and I miss him dearly now. For someone to really care that much about me, not to give up on me, it touches me right now.

Q: Surely some of the Fellows reading this interview are busy finding themselves right now. Can you say something about how that journey was for you?

A: People tell me now: "Well, Kermit, you're so self-reliant. You can do it yourself." But you know, us big guys need love too. I readily accepted the last name Crawford, but my challenge was finding Kermit. And I needed to subjugate the Crawford part of me to an extent so there was enough room for me to truly find the Kermit part of me. Most all of us go through this process at some point, separation and individuation, and our children go through it too. I wish I could have been a little more aware, so the response wouldn't have been as harsh as it was for me, trying to individuate. But at the same time, I needed to become the person that I am, so I'm thankful for that too.

Q: We were excited about talking to you for the newsletter, because we've heard from several people that you are an MFP alumnus who has given a great deal back to the program. Please tell us about that.

A: I was on the technical advisory committee for the MFP for a number of years, and every year I taught at the American Psychological Association Summer Institute. For a number of years I was also on the Clinical Guidelines Steering Committee at APA. And any time I'm at APA, I'll go up to the seventh floor—whatever floor they're on—and visit them. I call Andrew Austin–Dailey from time to time, and Kim Nickerson—he was James Jones's second, the associate director for many years.

"If I had not been a Minority Fellow, then directing two multicultural centers would not have been on my career trajectory. The reality is that I'm standing on the shoulders of other people. I'm here because they were there for me."

I served for several years on SAMHSA grant review panels. I eventually chaired grant review committees, and once was asked to sit on the committee to review the Minority Fellowship Program at APA. [SAMHSA's Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Equity] Dr. Larke Huang and I were asked to review the Minority Fellowship Program and, citing potential conflicts, we said to the project officers: "We were both Minority Fellows. Are you sure you want us to do it?" And they said, "Yes, you go on and do it." With that clearance, we were happy to support the process. Each year I also write a letter to all the APA Fellows who are seeking internships to tell them about our multicultural internship training program and encourage each of them to apply. Many years we have had at least one MFP Fellow. That's really important. If there are programs at APA, or back in Washington, D.C., and I am requested, I will come back and speak. And when SAMHSA had the conference in spring of 2011 with the Minority Fellows from the other disciplines, I took part in that. I try to do the same for them as was done for me.

The reality is that I'm standing on the shoulders of other people. I'm here because they were there for me. My commitment is to be there for our interns, to be there for our Minority Fellows, because we're all engaged in a movement to make the field more inclusive, more equitable. We're all on a crusade. It's nice to say "thank you" to the people who were there for us. But I am confident that in every case, their return statement would be: "It's nice to hear it. But pass it on."

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