Today, we’d like to introduce you to John Sullivan. John was introduced to us by the brilliant and talented Venessa Abram.
Hi John, we’re so thrilled to have you sharing your story with us today. Maybe we can kick things off by having you introduce yourself to our readers? We’d love to have you go into your story and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Between kindergarten and the second grade the school went from being mostly white kids and teachers to me and a girl being the only white kids. What was referred to then as “urban renewal” is today called “gentrification”. It was during this crisis imposed on black St. Louisans when the demographics of my school changed. We called this “the same game with a different name.” Uprooting black folks by tearing down their housing forcing them to move and white folks running away from where the black folks moved to, none of that was or is a “game.” My dad had promised himself he was only going to move once which when he retired. We stayed as the “neighborhood changed.” Growing up in a predominately African American neighborhood was actually not a big deal. There were no white folks around, so race wasn’t an issue.
This early childhood experience afforded me a view of white people that not a lot of white people have. You have to be black to know what that is like, however, black people know a whole lot about white people since a big part of their survival here in America is understanding how the majority operates.
The first time I came home from college for Thanksgiving break and went back to the schoolyard to play basketball like I did so often growing up, I never told anyone where I had been. So, since they knew I hadn’t joined the Armed Forces, I must have been in prison. I would rather they thought that than say I was “away at college.” To readers who truly understand the context in which I spent my formative years it is totally understandable why I chose to not comment on where I had been.
I earned an MSW degree at the University of Missouri and began a 47-year career as a psychotherapist at a local Community Mental Health Center. My wife and I and our two children moved back to St. Louis in 1972. Then in 1974 my life changed in what has turned out to be a very positive direction.
My wife was invited to visit an old friend who has just married an African American fellow from Brooklyn, New York. He had embraced the faith of Islam prior to their marriage. During her visit my wife chose to embrace the faith as well. When she returned home, she announced that now she was a practicing Muslim. Given this was nearly a half century ago, Islam was not a topic of discussion in most of America. It was not like it is now where more is known even though so much of what is known is incorrect. Before that Summer ended, I decided to make Islam my Way of Life.
In 1978 we moved to Indianapolis where I took a position with the Islamic Teaching Center of North America. My first wife passed away and I remarried. My stepson and his family currently live in the Atlanta area. I retired a few years back from 26 years as an Adjunct Professor and 47 years of clinical practice. I’ve learned that “retirement” is a relative term. Now I am involved with the Conscious Works Project here in Indianapolis and I continue to write professional articles. I authored the book Subhuman Behavior published in 2008. I am grateful to the Creator for continuing to bring to me projects that stimulate my mental, physical and spiritual faculties.
Let’s talk about your work and career – what else should we know?
It took ‘retirement’ to fully appreciate that this a relative term when describing my life at this point. I continue to be involved in many projects allowing me to work with various creative people. Ms. Vanessa D. Abram ranks highly on that list. We have collaborated on several projects. My work as a psychotherapist involved a variety of settings including Community Mental Health Centers, State Hospitals and on separate occasions in the Veterans Administration hospitals. The Vietnam War ‘bookended” my career. When I began my career on an inpatient unit of the Mid-Missouri Community Mental Health Center young men were seeking a psychiatric record to avoid the war and 47 years later when I retired, I was working on a trauma team at the VA. Most of the patients in our program were Vietnam Veterans with untreated PTSD. Mixed into nearly five decades of treating patients was the opportunity to work on two marvelous treatment teams. The first was in an exclusively psychiatric emergency room in downtown St. Louis. There were only six such emergency rooms in the entire country at that time. I saw a wider range of clinical presentations in a few weeks than I would have experienced in perhaps three years of practice elsewhere. It was tremendous training in what I came to call “the trenches.” At the same time, it could have been unbearably stressful save for the fact we had a team beyond description. The second team experience that is noteworthy was at the VA hospital in Los Angeles. I worked in the original New Directions Program. It was a residential substance abuse program located on the vast hospital grounds. I learned so much from each team and have not forgotten those wonderful professionals. I mention these experiences because having worked with those teams and within such an assortment of settings enabled me to be prepared for just about anyone who came to me in later years for individual treatment. It was hard for them to bring anything new. From 1978 to 1986 I headed up a Department in the Islamic Teaching Center of North America (ITC) which is no longer in existence. This position involved a great deal of travel. I worked with State and Federal Prison Wardens to clarify the legitimate requests from inmates who had embraced the Islamic faith while in prison. The reason some inmate requests were not ‘legitimate’ was their lack of knowledge about their newly adopted faith. My task as a consultant was to explain to wardens and inmates alike which appeals were in fact valid according to the teachings of Islam. Other duties at the ITC involved travel to numerous countries. This was an opportunity to meet some amazing people and see some amazing sights. There is a big world out there and many wonderful people human beings. These experiences have taught me to take what I hear on the Evening National and International News with a giant “grain of salt.”
So, as we mentioned to our audience earlier, you were introduced to us by Venessa Abram and Self-Discovery: Pain, Positioning & Purpose, Inc. and we really admire them and what they’ve built. For folks who might not be as familiar, can you tell them a bit about your experience with Self-Discovery: Pain, Positioning & Purpose, Inc..
Ms. Abram wears many hats. I chose to begin with this blatant understatement since most of what can be said about the work, she does ends up being just that, an understatement. Here’s another one, she is a tireless worker. A glance at her Self-Discovery: Pain, Positioning & Purpose website reveals her “multiple hats”. From my experience with Ms. Abram, the 2019 “Taking off the Mask” tour was her signature statement in that it epitomized her approach to combating the stigma associated with mental/emotional issues. She has long sense taken off her mask.
I met Lady Vanessa in 1998 when she joined an outpatient program, I was conducting that addressed emotional issues. As I stated in a recent documentary on her life and works regarding my first encounter with Venessa, “Her potential to fight through and overcome adversity shone through the gloom she was experiencing.” The most important thing I need as a therapist is at the same time the most difficult for patients to give me and that is trust. Vanessa was no different. However, when the trust between us set in, we have never looked back.
We were not in contact after she completed the program. She was doing well and moved on with her life. After some years, she again sought help. Not knowing where my practice was or even if I still saw patients Ms. Abram made an appointment as it turned out at the clinic where I worked. Not knowing who my next new patient would be coupled with her wondering who her new therapist was, led to an astonishingly joyful reunion. Lady Vanessa moved to Atlanta in 2014 and this time we were out of contact for several more years.
Looking for someone I needed to contact I joined Facebook attempting to find them. ‘Somehow’ Vanessa found me on Facebook and again our paths crossed. I could also say ‘somehow’ we reunited in that waiting room in Indianapolis, but given our understanding of how spiritual affairs manifest, she and I know that claiming it was ‘somehow’ would be inappropriate. This time we decided that instead of our paths continuing to cross, I would agree to the role of Spiritual Father in her life which is a way of saying we are now on the same path.
Ms. Venessa and I are an able team. I perform best when given assignments and with her rich imagination and seemingly inexhaustible creativeness, she gives excellent assignments. Our most recent collaboration was on the documentary I referenced earlier. In addition, I felt privileged to be a guest on her Steel City Gospel Radio Show. Lady Vanessa and I collaborated on two essays of mine she published in her Anthology: There is No Health Without Mental Health. Needless to say, I look forward to more involvement in the much-needed work being done by her organization SDP3.
Other: email: firstname.lastname@example.org