By Ernie McCray
She’s really something, my Maria. Maria Nieto-Senour. College professor by way of the Mexican barrios of San Antonio and Austin and the inner-cities of Detroit. Mo-Town.
At any moment she’ll be retired which means she gets to hang out with me more. I can’t wait because she’s fun to be around and she’s about as loving a human being as one could be.
That loving nature of hers has served her well as the Director of a master’s degree program at San Diego State University called CBB (Community-Based Block).
In such a role she has been a tireless “keeper of a dream.” 40 years ago, David Malcolm, a true “visionary,” created this wonderful program and she, setting a tone of love one can literally feel, has played a large role in keeping what he desired alive, developing and nurturing counselors who are sensitive to the needs of people from all cultures.
In line with that, CBB classes and client services are held and rendered in two multiethnic communities. CBB wants to be where the needs are.
The program is raw and human to the bone. Students have to confront their own demons, and expose their raw emotions with each other, bonding, though, all the while. And, very importantly, they deal with and confront themselves because to keep the program vital and relevant they’re required to seek counseling from a trained therapist to work on their own personal issues that could interfere with their work with clients.
The tone in all this: loving. Very loving.
And continuing with this love thing, a little while back I accompanied Maria to an event where CBB was celebrated for its years of success and for being dedicated to making its future as a “Multicultural Counselor Preparation” program equally as promising. I had planned on writing something but I had no idea what. I decided to write about whatever jumped out at me during the evening.
And once things got going I found myself in a room filled with people who were itching at the bit to just show Maria how much they loved her.
She got introduced and the room of over 500 people erupted into a standing ovation that seemed as though it would never end. And it sounded so beautiful I didn’t want it to end. I’ll always remember the smile of appreciation on her face. Her beautiful face. You would have thought that she was some heavenly being who had come to announce peace on earth – in a really sharp black evening pants ensemble (that blended well with my little “old-school” sense of style).
You can’t imagine what it’s like to have a woman in your life who is that admired. And it’s especially heartwarming knowing that most of the people in that room were committed to Paulo Freire’s (the renowned 20th Century educator and philosopher and hero of mine) notions regarding “critical consciousness” that calls on those who counsel the oppressed to work with them in their struggle to maintain their dignity. It sent thrills through me to be among people who inspire such hope in a troubled world.
Dr. Joseph F. Johnson, Jr., Dean of the College of Education at SDSU, spoke to Maria and her colleagues’ work over the years, saying that CBB stood for:
S – sensitivity to students;
C – creative community;
H – history with a focus on multicultural diversity;
O – ongoing collaboration;
O – ongoing support from graduates; and
L – loving leadership.
His words rang true in a segment of the evening’s program when some graduates of CBB from the same family, a father and a daughter and a few mothers and daughters, spoke volumes about what Maria and CBB have meant in their lives, how she was always there for them, always listening to them, and encouraging them to “trust the process.” Oh, I could surely validate that.
There have been so many times, just in my short time in her life when I’ve heard Maria talking to students over the phone or in her living room, pushing them, lovingly, to think “out of the box,” to remember to put themselves in the place of their clients and respect their cultures and outlooks.
Collaboration is a way of life in CBB. Graduates, in large numbers, have stayed in touch over the years, many teaching classes and/or volunteering their time. Nothing short of “loving leadership” could create such an environment of commitment to a better world. That room in the Aztec Student Union was some place to be that evening. Love flowed.
So many of the CBB family refer to Maria as “Mama” which encouraged me to write these words to her for Mothers Day:
“Maria, my love,
you are a mother to so many.
You carry the love of a mother
with you everywhere you go,
You’re a mother in your soul,
accessible to all who need mothering.
You are loved by multitudes,
and I’m glad to be among the number,
especially as one who gets to do so
so up close and personal
in your heart
You make me feel exceedingly special.”
Maria makes everyone feel special. So it’s no wonder that CBB is special. She’s retiring but I know she’ll always be close by to help out when needed, to take time to help some budding counselor find his or her way.
Along these lines we all can help the CBB Program continue to prepare low-income students to become counselors dedicated to serving the mental health needs of marginalized communities.
Here’s a link to how you, in a spirit of love and human understanding, can contribute: https://fundly.com/cbb-