A Reflection from APC Past-President – Feb 2021
In 2011, I received the invitation to run for president of APC. No person of color had received such an invitation during the organization’s 16-year existence. There was one person who broke the barrier for one of the organizations who merged with others, to become the Association for Professional Chaplains. I stood on those shoulders as well as the shoulders of other informal leaders within our organization. I love meeting challenges in life, especially in the arena of racial barriers, but this was different because it was on a national level with an organization that had shaped me as a clinical chaplain. I accepted the challenge, especially when I was aware of all the support and help I would receive from my APC colleagues and leaders who had served before me. I figured that I would not do too much damage and leave a negative legacy within this cherished organization. In addition, I hoped that I would do a lot of good, too.
I ran for the president-elect office and would see if the membership would gamble on me as its first black president of APC. (Thank you, Barack Obama, for being America’s 44th president during that time – so I’d break barriers simultaneously). After the election, I remember someone suggesting that I needed to be as good as some of my predecessors for various reasons – I remember making the mental resolve that I had to be myself as I had in other life experiences. I had to mentally and emotionally decide that I was fine in my own clothes and not that of another person who is white. My blackness is just as great! Those voices of comparison were not many and never came from negative places, but my inner dialogue took the suggestions to other places because of being a black in a predominately white organization. In white America, the standard is always settled for how things should be and if you’re labeled good, it is because you fit that mold and don’t attempt to break it. I wondered if or how I would break the mold. I didn’t know but I stepped out in faith and trusted that everything would be okay.
It turned out to be better than okay. Some of the accomplishments that APC achieved during my time as president was being the first in the one-term presidential role, allowing the organization to be more board-centered than president-centered; increased membership and finances. Though I felt the support and encouragement of many APC colleagues, there were some names who stick out more than others who affirmed me and were there to support me in this novel role as a staff chaplain. Serving APC in various ways has led to other opportunities for me to give back to the world of chaplaincy. It is with gratitude that I look back on being the first president of color and I am proud to be part of an organization like APC.
To future leaders in our field, I offer you some parting words: Be the person your Creator has made you. Do not allow other people’s life experiences and standards to dictate how you will serve and lead in your own way. Accept challenges as opportunities to become more comfortable in your own skin as a child of God. And never stop looking for ways to break the mold in the best kinds of ways, leading with the gifts and graces you have been given.
Rev. Darryl Owens BCC is a woman’s services chaplain and grief counselor with UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Chaplain Owens served as APC President from 2014-2015. He can be contacted at Darryl.Owens@unchealth.unc.edu.