February 21, 2019 | By Jack Harris | #WeAreArtTherapists

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Laura Greenstone died on July 18, 2018 suddenly, but not necessarily unexpectedly. In the year before she died, she had begun increasingly to talk about where she had been and where she was going, as well as where her profession had been and where it was going. Together we began to take steps to secure Laura’s work and legacy as we began some intensive estate and disability planning. As part of these efforts, Laura made a bequest of $25,000 to the American Art Therapy Association for the establishment of a scholarship to support masters-level African-American and Afro-Caribbean art therapy students. Laura’s rationale was that addressing the legacy of racial violence in the United States will require a diverse and inclusive profession serving very diverse communities in a very inclusive way.

The goal of this scholarship is to provide robust support to 1-2 students per year over time.  Laura and my long-term plans were to significantly increase the bequest over time as our assets and retirement plans grew.  We are hoping Laura’s bequest of $25,000 can be donated in the summer of 2020 once the estate is settled.  However, we have a great opportunity to launch the scholarship this year, on the 50th anniversary of The American Art Therapy Association.

In order to launch this year, we need to raise a total of $5,000 by March 31, 2019.  To date we have raised $3,092.  If we raise $1,908 more, we can launch the first scholarship at AATA’s 50th anniversary conference this fall in Kansas City.  Donations can be made to the AATA general fund (be sure to write in a note designating the donation to the Laura Greenstone Scholarship) or by check to the National Office.

Laura is best known for her compassionate and transformational clinical work with children and families impacted by trauma, her passionate advocacy for arts policy, and detailed, intricate knowledge of the licensing and credentialing issues facing art therapists and the broader creative arts therapies community at state and national levels. So why then did Laura establish a scholarship for African-American and Afro-Caribbean masters students, rather than focusing her resources and limited time on a scholarship or program initiatives focusing on public policies that positively impact the creative arts therapies?

Throughout Laura’s career, she has felt that same passion for the need to diversify the art therapy community and for art therapists to be more active and present in serving underrepresented communities. Over the last few years those interests began to gel and she began trying to articulate the importance of understanding art therapy in the cultural context of trauma, which she wrote about in this blog in 2015.

In 2017 we read an article in The Guardian the about the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent’s visit to the United States. . One phrase in particular struck Laura as I read it aloud to her from my phone:

Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another, continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today. The dangerous ideology of white supremacy inhibits social cohesion amongst the US population. Lynching was a form of racial terrorism that has contributed to a legacy of racial inequality that the US must address. Thousands of people of African descent were killed in violent public acts of racial control and domination and the perpetrators were never held accountable.

Laura looked at me and said “I want my scholarship to be about that”. On the wall overlooking Laura’s “crap table” (her words for the space in her office at home where she did art and played with materials) is a photo from the early 1960’s of Laura’s cousin Mindy sitting on a rural Mississippi porch with Bob Dylan. Mindy and his wife were active in the civil rights movement and participated in Freedom Summer. Over the last several years, I slowly watched as Laura began to become more connected with her family’s legacy and sense of inclusion, and her own place in the profession as a white middle class, middle aged, professional. She wanted to do more. And she wanted a profession that did not look like her. As white Americans, we cannot begin to know or feel the experiences of black Americans who struggle daily with the inherited prejudice, biases, and structural inequalities from a legacy of enslavement in the Americas. However, we can work to become aware of these issues and seek a way to address the horrible legacy of racial violence by taking action to provide support in whatever small ways we can.

As we put the scholarship bequest together, we chose to distinguish African-American and Afro-Caribbean students in the scholarship language because both groups have different national experiences. The Afro-Caribbean experience in the U.S. is often wrapped up in an immigrant experience as well, and the African-American experience is wrapped up in a legacy of Jim Crow, lynchings, and night terror. Both peoples however, share a legacy of enslavement and forced removal from family and community. And it is this legacy of enslavement in the America’s that the scholarship is aiming at. Laura hoped her bequest would be a tiny gesture towards healing and inclusion.

As we continued to work through the ideas, language, and logistics of such a scholarship, Laura and I took a river cruise down the Danube through the heart of Central Europe in May 2018. One of our stops was in Linz Austria where the mother of a close high school friend of Laura’s had been interned in a displaced persons camp after World War II. We saw bullet holes in the walls of the Jewish ghetto in Budapest, and Shoes on the Danube which commemorates the men, women, and children who lost their lives to Fascist firing squads on the banks of the Danube between 1944 and 1945. In Bratislava we had read about and later talked with our host, the artist and art therapist, Jaroslava Sickova, about their uncertainty of place and home as artists and Christians in cold war Europe. We heard from a fellow passenger in his 80’s who was told to hide his Star of David as he traveled from Prague to Bavaria by bus and train to meet our river cruise. These experiences impacted Laura quite deeply, and throughout our journey through Laura’s historical homeland “to see pale people like me” as she often joked, she talked more and more often about the legacy of historical trauma from genocide and enslavement on people’s lives and well-being.

As Laura began to read and think more about historical trauma and the legacy that violence, abuse, and enslavement leave behind, she really began to speak passionately, and sometimes annoyedly, and even on a few occasions angrily, to me about the lack of representation among creative arts therapy professionals and the lack of creative arts therapies in underrepresented communities for families entangled in interdependent webs of historical trauma, school crisis, family violence, and relational breakdowns. She began to speak more and more about “my scholarship” and was beginning to talk with me about steps we could take to foster the ends of the scholarship without her having to die. For those who know Laura’s legendary sense of dry, dark, sarcastic humor, you know what those actual words must have sounded like in a context where her passing was highly unlikely at the time.

My current goal is to eventually launch The Laura Greenstone Foundation (within 1-3 years) to support the scholarship over time and to raise public and legislative awareness of the importance of the creative arts therapies in addressing issues of historical, generational trauma and everyday health and healing.

I hope you will join us on this journey.

Jack Harris is Laura’s husband and she is the love of his life. He currently works at Northwestern University’s Network for Nonprofits and Social Impact and teaches Nonprofit Leadership in the Professional Masters of Science in Communication program there. In August, he will become Assistant Professor of Communication at the State University of New York at New Paltz. He holds a PhD in Communication from Rutgers University and was a Graduate Fellow at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. He previously served on the Board of the National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC) and serves currently as Secretary and Executive Board Member for the Monmouth County Coalition of Organizations Active in Disasters.

For more on Laura’s legacy, read a tribute article of testimonials from friends and colleagues in Art Therapy Today and her obituary.

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