Lived Experiences of African American Women in Counseling Leadership
3:28PM Sep 11, 2023
Michael Jones, PhD
african american women
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want to welcome everybody to our new episode of the thoughtful counselor. My name is Dr. Michael Jones and just glad to be here with you today. Today I have a very special guest who I've had a great opportunity to know for over a decade now and it's decided just about being able to have her on here with us. My guest today is Dr. Aisha Dickerson. She is a nationally certified counselor, licensed professional counselor and certified professional counselor. Although she made her home in Georgia, Dr. Dickerson provides workshops, training and other services throughout the United States in another country. She's actively in several organizations and she currently serves as a president of the Association for multicultural counseling and development, better known as AMC, D. Dr. Dickerson's clinical and academic specialties include social and cultural diversity, addictions and blended family issues. Her goal is to educate, encourage and enrich the lives of her clients, students and community through her commitment to advocacy, mental health, family wellness and leadership. So I'm just glad to have her with us today. So um, our topic we're gonna be talking about is the lived experiences of African American women in counseling leadership. So we're gonna we're going to count, we'll get into that part a little bit later on. But I just want to kind of start this thing off. First of all, I just given Dr. Dixon opportunity to tell us from her perspective about herself and why in the world she got into become became a counselor.
Okay, so you want to start with why I became a counselor, and I think everybody has this one idea, or this one story for how they became a counselor. For me, it's more like two or three stories that kind of came together to make this one career for me first being that I'm gonna say, when I was an undergrad, I had a great time. I played the best sorority in the world, I had a lot of friends, I maybe had an ankle problem. I don't think it was an ankle problem. But I'll say I had an incident where I had to go to anger management counseling. And I remember sitting with this woman who did not know what she was, she was an intern. Now I know that now. I don't remember her saying she was an intern, but she was recording and anger management, counseling. Wasn't that great. So that was my first thought of okay, I could do this because I had no idea what I was really going to do after I graduated with a psychology degree. And then I had a another counselor. This was shortly after a big break up. someone's like, you should see this counselor. And I was like, Okay, I'll see the counselor. And I'm telling mom about the breakup and how horrible it is. And then she goes into telling me the story about how she was engaged, and she and her fiance, were going to buy a car. And on the way back from buying the car, he was killed in a car accident. So it could be worse, because the person that I loved, could could could be dead. And I was like, okay, so I could definitely do this better than what other people are doing. Now, lastly, I had an academic advisor who was also a counselor. She was an adjunct in the counseling program at the school where I was going, and my GPA was, let's just say, I, like I said, I had a great time in college. So it wasn't below 2.8. But you know, it wasn't super high. So I'm sitting up here talking to this woman about what graduate school I should go to, what kind of programs I should go into, because I don't know what I want to do. I knew I had to go to graduate school because both of my parents had graduate degrees. And this woman said, I'm looking at your grades and you probably just better get a job. And at that point, I say, you know, I'm not going to go to school and get the same degree you got no I'm going to be better than you. And when I did finish school and including getting a PhD and get to the point Were I not where I am today, this was even before the point where I am today, I made sure to go back to campus and remind her of who I was, I'm sure she didn't really remember because I mean, I'm sure all of us blend together for her. But you know, just let her know that I did it got the same degree, you got in some more, and I'm better than us time for you to retire. So that that's that now those are my petty reasons for becoming a counselor. But also, the first job I got with a psychology degree was working in Child Protective Services, I worked with teenagers, I still work with a few teenagers. And no matter where I placed them, like I placed a child in a home that had like a Chucky Cheese on the inside of it. These babies always want to run back to their moms, I don't care where they were, what projects they were in, if it was on the streets, if they were told that they had to be prostitutes, they want to be with their parents, and 85% of the cases I was working with and 85% of cases, the parents were using drugs. So I was like, you know, I should fix the root of the problem. Can you help these kids without helping their parents and addressing trauma and stuff there? So I started out in my counseling career working as a family counselor in an addictions treatment facility. And no, that was a long explanation. But it made me who I am today.
Oh, no, I like that. And I like how when as your as I was listening to you, as you quoted, say, No, you start off with your pity reason. And so regardless of what reasons, you got into counseling, those things still like said shape and form who you are as a person. So whether it was the bad therapy received or the comparison the counselor was doing, or for seeing the need, you still felt like this was a good career field. So I think to me, it's always it's always interesting to find out why people are in that. And now as a council educated young, I'm sure you're able to kind of spread that and help your students to kind of understand those different reasons for getting into this field.
Yeah, like, I'm not going to let anyone graduate and be like the counselors that I came in contact with, like, you're not going to be able to say that I was your professor. And you told an undergraduate student that they need to just go to work. Instead of helping them figure out what their next career global our next career step would be.
And I'm glad we have counsel educators out there like you because there's so you know, our topic today we're looking at, specifically in African American women and getting into teen counseling leadership. And so I'm kind of curious like how you first got involved in counseling leadership, and regardless of which did what what division it or committee it was, but What the How did you what was those things that helped you get involved in counseling leadership?
So I mentioned I mentioned this all the time, without he he hasn't gotten the big hair from he mentioned his name all the time. But Dr. Michael Brooks was my was my professor, and my master's program, and at our school, and I can say the school name right is University of Alabama, Birmingham, UAB, I went there from an undergrad, as well, when I was an undergrad, we called you a BS University against blacks. There weren't a whole lot of us. We all knew each other. And I will say that the master's program was probably worse than the undergraduate program. There was a new black professor there every two years, but some way somehow they kept Michael Brooks for a while, I don't know what it is, he would have to tell you himself. But because I was such a great student, I've always been a wonderful student. I built a connection with them. I was his first student, maybe to go in get a PhD. And because they're already worn a whole lot of black students, there were maybe two there were two of us, myself and Jason branch, and both of us went back and got PhDs. You know, Dr. Brooks not talked us into it, but showed us how he thought we will be helpful in the field. And then when we were in school, he helped us as much as he could on his end, because then when I went to my doc program, I was still in one of two black people getting they pick always pick a black woman than the black man. So I was the black woman and whatever, I could not get all the way down there and all burn. I got in Birmingham with Dr. Brooks, and he gave me my first leadership position as secretary of the Association for multicultural counseling and development. It was a perfect fit for me Because of the family that I come from, I am from Montgomery, Alabama. I have a lot of family members who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. My father was the first and his strike. I never looked at this until years later, my father was the first black school counselor in Shelby County, Alabama. He was the first black administrator to win the lawsuit against the state for being fired for race issues, you know, that somebody was fired and got and moved on my dad's suit. And I actually remember him being and this was in the 80s being unemployed for a while, that my family was a part of the Selma to Montgomery march. He's my dad is in his 80s. And so it was always taught to us to fight for not just people of color, I believe in fight for people of color, but specifically black people. It's not that long ago that black people couldn't vote, like my dad is alive and well and driving in even he could not vote as an adult male in Alabama. So I was somewhat militant, I think. And I've learned to steal military. I haven't learned enough about the lives I've learned on the dam, but I have not, but AMC D was the best division for me. And I've looked into others, and I'm involved in aces as well, because I am a counselor, educator, but AMC D is my home.
So it sounds like No, obviously from the no the influence of Dr. Michael Brooks, that kind of helped it too. But it sounds like it started well, for the end with this aspect of leadership. And I come from your family and your parents, it seems like they're just like, leadership has been something kind of you've been involved in, in a lot of fashions already. But now you're specifically doing it in the counseling room?
Yes. And you're right. I've always been a leader. I think some people have to force themselves to push past whatever they have going on, to seek leadership positions. I know that from being in a leadership position that sometimes we have to drag people in, taken over positions we've had for two and three years. But that's never been me whenever I've had the chance to lead a lead in school. I've been class president. I've been President of other organizations as a child as a teenager, sorority, other adult organizations is what I do. I had a supervisor tell me one time, you are a great counselor, but you're a much better supervisor. So I didn't know whether they'd be offended by that. But you know, I ran with it was worked for me.
So I would imagine, you know, being in counseling leadership, and also being an African American woman, there would probably have been has been some hurt. I'm not sure what I'm saying probably. I know, there's been hurdles that you've had to face throughout time. So let's talk about that a little bit. What are some of those hurdles been for you as African American woman as you're trying to step into counseling leadership specifically?
I would say that the majority of my hurdles have come from work leadership type positions, not so much Oregon, not so much age nimble, yet agency, not so much organizational leadership issues, but the being a supervisor in the counseling role. And being a leader in the counselor educator role. That's where things come in. Because, you know, we're talking about AMC, Dr. Even aces, I'll say ACES is very, and for those who aren't familiar with aces is the Association for counselor education and supervision. It's a more diverse organization, not as diverse as AMC, but you know, don't have to deal with too much there. Now, I was fired from my first counseling job. And that's a long story. But I will say it was an ethical issue that resulted in me being paid from a lawsuit, which means that I was right. So every time not every time, sometimes I have tried to stand up for myself or my clients, and I have been slapped down because of that by being fired from their job. I have advocate for my employees. I do that a lot and an agency that I work with now. And people just assume that you're gonna sit there and you're gonna take it. And I'm real. I'm going to use the word rude. I like to poke and hit people where I'm like, you know, I'm not a weak woman, like maybe your mama was I'm a little bit stronger than that. So I mean, I like to go hard at people. And it's backfired a few times, and then I always end up winning. So I've had times when I'm in classrooms, and I'm the only black person in the classroom as the professor. And if I bring that up, there are people who don't like that. I've had that in my teaching you guys that I talk too much about race, or I talk too much about money. Because I might talk to you about how to make money. In a certain class, I talk too much about my job and graduate school because you want to make more money, I don't know. But my point is that people will always find something to pick with you about now, I'm gonna say Michael Brooks's name again, because one of the best pieces of advice he gave me, one time, I was talking about how the students want to make me out to be an angry black woman. And he was like, at some point, you just gonna have to get comfortable with being called an angry black woman, then you stop coming in here complaining about it. I was like, Oh, okay. Not that I have to change that I'm going to be able to change them. And not that I have to stop being angry. But I just got to understand that it's gonna happen and get comfortable with being called that.
So I guess for you, what was the, I guess, the turning point for you? As you go, you've done a lot. You've been a lot of different leadership roles. Honestly, you know, just off the top of my head, I know you've been in Georgia specific title in Georgia. So I don't wanna miss that when?
Well, I was the president elect. I was elected into that position. And then ACA changed the format of our organization. And I was the chair. And I was the chair for a long time, because nobody else wanted to be it. An ACA didn't want me to leave for a while. But now I'm the past Chair immediate past chair rather of ACA of Georgia. And before I was President of AMC D. I was the Southern Regional Rep for AMC D. I was the secretary for AMC D, I was the president for Alabama association for multicultural counseling and development, and the treasurer for the Alabama association for counselor education and supervision. And I've been the chair of the NBCC, Ms. P doctoral Council. I think I go into organizations and I know for sure jobs, just trying to figure out how I'm going to make my way to the top and how long it'll take me to get there.
So when did that for you? When did that switch? I guess, knowing you've been in all those different leadership roles, and have an opportunity to be able to know. And many of them, you know, rise up to the position of being President, when they kind of switch for you and your, for you to realize, okay, like, how many needs rose, I'm going to end up rising up and getting get in get into a higher position. How did that how did you maneuver that transition?
I wouldn't, I don't think there's a transition, I think I go into not wanting to be told what to do. And trying to figure out how I can get in a position where I'm least likely to be told what to do by someone else are, where there are as few people as possible above me to tell me what to do. I'm defying it. I was I was difficult child. I used to fight a lot in suspended all of that I don't work well, with certain types of authority I can I can follow rules. But I've learned that in order to avoid the anger that comes with assets, people who I think don't know what they're talking about telling me what to do, is to get in a position where they can't tell me what to do.
So it wouldn't be a fair statement to say no. But the different organizations that you've been involved in, there have been some people who've been pro you being physicians, and maybe some people were like, we're ready for her to move on.
Yes, definitely. Yes, there have been some that were you know, like thank you for your time. I'm never going to retire out of this position. I'm going to be here forever. So this is as far as you're going to be able to move if you don't like that. Move on. And, you know, we'll and thank you for your time I'll be putting this on my veto. And I hope that if I ever need a reference from you, which I probably won't, but you will make it a good one.
And this question is kind of liquid kind of off topic but hopefully I'll bring it back into it. So no, I know you've personally I know you have daughters and things like that how how how has that you felt like that that's affected you? Well, I guess affected them seeing you've been in these in these places of authority. Where know many African American women aren't in places of authority how you Think constipated now,
I would say that it's affected each of them differently. So my oldest child I had her right at the end of me being in college and 21 year old Aisha is a lot different than 25 year old Aisha that had the other kid 21 year old Aisha was even she was still her prefrontal cortex been fully developed. So so my oldest child has my assertiveness, but also she see me work so much. That is just not what she wants to do. She refuses that she'll Helsel, but she doesn't want to be burnout. And she has no intention of going back and forth with people by being their leader. I remember her being named as the what is it? The her volleyball team, the captain, she was the captain, she did not want that position. And because she used to get so mad when other people did poorly, and they said it's okay. It's just for fun. And she's like, No is not okay. Like you need to practice, get some extra, some extra lessons or something. And I would have to tell her chill out, you know, you don't have to be that aggressive. And she wouldn't tell the coach, look, I don't think the captain position is for me, I think you need to pick somebody else. And the coach is like, no, it's, it's gonna be you. But she would avoid that she was chosen one time to be in the gifted program based on her test scores is she saying I remember her saying this. They are classes are accelerated and there's just a lot more homework that I don't want to do. So if you don't mind, I'd rather stay in the regular classes. Like she straight up like I don't want to do it. I just want to chill. Now my youngest, she's different. But she's got to see me as an older leader, more laid back and willing to let some things go. And so she's appeared leader at her school sees in junior beta, and she's involved in other organizations and she's like in lead roles and play, she will jump she's like I am now when it comes to leadership, and I think she'll continue that in her life.
And it to me is neat, being able to hear you know, that, okay, now, not only are other people recognizing, okay, universe leader, leadership position, and how that affects them, but also have affects your family too. So isn't to me, it's being hidden here and how that connection is made. Now one of the things that, especially when we think about leadership is mentorship to me, it's like kind of goes hand in hand with leaders. What, what are some of your experiences been like, I guess whether I guess as as a mentor, when you're looking at cars, I would imagine there are a lot of African American women who are looking up to you and seeing the position that you're in is and hey, I want to be in that role, too. So how have you navigated that mentorship piece of that,
I had to learn to limit myself, because like you just mentioned, I have two daughters and some aspects and like I'm a mentor to them as well. Anyone who's seen me at the conference has seen my babies with me, I'm I'm a single mother, I've been single mother for a long time. Other people might be going to conferences, kicking it, and that might kick it a little bit. But I've always, I always brought my kids with me. And like they will play my oldest will play with Barbies. And they will be at conferences during presentations, and stuff my younger she like Barbies, but they got to travel because of that, that that takes up a large amount of my time. And at some point in my life, I was like, yes, we need more black women as leaders, and I'm going to mentor them all. And then I found myself with like, seven mentees, which is okay, until your phone is always pinging, then you got 100,000 emails, and I already have seven email addresses from everything I do. And so as they graduated, or they got jobs and stuff, and they kind of moved out, I limited myself to two, because I'm willing to when I do something, I do it fully 100% and I'm not gonna burn myself out trying to drag other people through the finish line and make them be great. So I'm down, I'm down to two. Now. One, which means I'll have space for another. And trust me they always ask can you be my mentor? Do you have any space for a mentor? No, I mean for mentee, no, I don't only have space for for paid things. And being the mentor is not paid position.
And I think that's just important for people to realize is that know when you are in leadership, there are going to be opportunities for you to be able to mentor. But like you said, that doesn't mean you have the cap the capacity to mentor everybody. So you have to be pretty specific about, okay, who am I going to be investing my time in? And also looking at, okay, come up with some type of way of assessing who those people are that you are going to invest your time, man because that that, I think that part of that process can can be difficult too. Because if you have 10 people in wrestling working with you, you have to have some process of being able to narrow down okay, who's who those two people want to be?
Yeah. And that's something important that you said there is picking who I'm going to be able to mentor. And what I found is, if you've already kind of been hovering in my circle in a helpful role, I will choose you. I hate the question. Can we sit down? And can I pick your brain? No, you cannot pick my brain. If you want to pick my brain, you should have been at that meeting, I had asking questions, trying to find out if you could sign people in carrying my bag for me, picking up some boxes, laying out cups on tables, like I've been to a conference where I had my daughter there with me helping me put stuff on the table. And this ran, I'll say, I will miss her name today. But at the time, she was random, she came in and asked me because she helped me. And you know what I've been helping her ever since. When you want somebody to help you think of how you can make a mutualistic relationship stop trying to leech off of other people.
And I will say this knowing you personally and have I've seen you work, when you're at conferences, you are working, but you're you're very rarely by yourself, at least, at least one or two of the children with you. So and or at least to have with you. But then there is always the other person that is there. And you can always tell them that this person is trying to learn from you. But they're not taking notes, they're doing things. And so you have this active leadership style, where you're trying to help them to do the things that you're doing, but not through like taking notes. But as an like, hey, this needs to be set up, this needs to be done. And so I think to me, that's been that's been really neat to kind of watch that process from you, as you're motivating and mentoring leaders, but showing them that leadership means okay, at work involved. And so,
but also is, is literally the only time I have to talk to you is while we're doing something with our hands, and I'm not already in a meeting, or a session, or a speech, or a class, if you want things to come from my brain out of my mouth to talk to you, we're going to be doing something else during that time getting where you fit in.
So another question I was thinking about, you know, like, if what advice would you give to other African American women who are seeking to get into counseling leadership? Because I you know, there's, there are roles that open up. And now we'll even get into all the different letters and of the different organizations we're both involved in. But there's always opportunities to be able to run for office and things like that. So what would be some, I guess, tips you would give them if they're interested in getting into leadership? What are some things need to be maybe mindful of?
First thing I would say is, don't always just try to pick up something new, find a position that's in line with what you're already good at? Are you like a Canva genius, go be the chair of someone's newsletter committee or help design something. Don't take on more than you can do. It is not just about the title, title. Don't get me wrong, sometimes titles are nice. But having a title that you are having a position that you do poorly will ruin your leadership career. Like you finally win, you win this position against other people and then you get in there and we don't see you for a whole year. Your organization's having meetings and you show up twice throughout the year and never returned in the report. And then you got somebody like me as the president in the position, chances are I'm gonna I'm gonna make a motion to have you replaced is going to go in the minutes and everybody's going to know that you got replaced because all the other stuff I say this in two minutes. Is that what you want on your leadership record? If it's too much for you, either. ask for some help build a committee or gracefully stepped down there is nothing wrong with gracefully stepping down. When you can't get the job done instead of making everybody else suffer because you got stuff going on.
Why are you talking about being involved in stuff that you're already have some type of experience in. And I just want to kind of follow up on that love it because I do see people who will not necessarily just African American males, just just people in general who will run in leadership positions. But that's what the ones are getting into, aren't really suited for them. And so if so they stay spin their wheels the entire time while they're in that position, and then they don't really get any traction. But then at the end of the day, they're concerned wondering why well, why why am I can't why I cannot move further in in another nother division or organization. And part of it is people have seen your record and already, so it's like, I think that I think that is really good advice. Just I know, find what you're already passionate about. And put your time into into that. I mean, obviously know what AMC D, you've been, I mean, passionate about that for years. I mean, I've tried to recruit you to Todd, other thing would you do? You got a few things where they
help you. But you know, when I'm passionate about?
Yes. And I think that's why, for me, that's one reason why I feel like you've been very successful in that organization is because you that has been something that has been passionate about. And I feel like there's something you've poured yourself into. And it's also been something that's best for yourself back into you as well.
Yes, definitely. 100%. I mean, like, I'm a Christian, but you're gonna find me trying to lead some Christian counseling, organization or agency, I can Bible thump with the, with the best of them being from the south, but I can't run the organization. So find what you're good at and stick with it. And if you haven't found what you're good at, then you need to be, you know, just stepping back and working on that and stay it.
Yeah, to me, no, it also seems like seasoned to win leadership is you can be affected by the leadership and the seasons when it is not effective to be in leadership. Because there may be times where there may be a role you really want to be in, in for and you may be qualified for it. But the timing may not be right for you to be in that role. And so I guess trying to understand, I mean, to critically probably be another thing to think about.
Yeah, I'm gonna tell you a little secret that I don't I don't use the actual say out loud, but I guess you'll have it recorded now. For me when it comes to leadership and scholarship and presentations, very few people pay attention to when when I'm doing but I alternate yours. I'm going to like right now I'm the president when I move into the president, past president position for AMC D. Then I focus more on my scholarship and my presentations. And then the next year, I'll be deciding what my next leadership position will be. And then the year after that, I'll do more publications and presentations. So I alternate my focus, I'm not going to be writing textbooks, while I'm the president of something, I am not going to try to attend every conference, well, I'm still going to attend every conference. But some years, I go to conferences, and I'm presenting four or five, six times and the other years, I'm going to conferences, and I'm going to four or five, six meetings, but I'm never going to be doing six presentations and six meetings, and not have time to visit what ever attraction is in that city for me to visit when I'm at a conference.
So I need to take some advice from you. I like it to me, I like the fact that that is you're being very purposeful about okay, I'm going to be in this space for this time period. So and during that time period, that is what my time my focus is going to be on during this time period. And when that time is over with and you transition now it could be now like you said, now can focus on something different. And this will matter how long we spent on and that way you're it's you're not getting overwhelmed with trying to catch up in everything else on top of that,
when you run for position and you are elected to that position usually takes about a year for you to be in for you to actually be working in that position. And then when you those of us who have done research in published and all that, you know that you submit it to a journal and you get rejected, you submit it to another journal and you edit and it takes sometimes about a year before it's actually published to and you submitted these proposals for ACA now, and what is this July August that we did those in the conferences in April like it's almost a year away. So, I mean, the timing has has worked out. I should probably have written that down somewhere. And now that this record is mine, nobody can steal my they write about it, I will pull up this recording ensue.
So, anything else you want to add to this? This just has been, it's been fun is this kind of just talking to you about this, but like any, anything you felt like I didn't cover with this, just being in leadership or things to look out for or anything like that. So add to this.
Yeah, the only thing I think I would add is be aware, if you don't know already of what your reputation is, there are some people who will say things about you behind your back. But there are some people who've heard will say it behind your back. And they will tell you what's being said. And when they tell you don't listen with. Don't listen and be offended. Listen with the purpose of adjusting as needed. And I'm thinking about some people in my mind who have run for different positions are trying to do different things, and they haven't gotten those positions. And like, I don't know why it might be because you're that person that's known for showing up 30 minutes late to everything. That's something you need to fix. And maybe because you don't own any professional clothing, because you don't think you should be judged on your clothing. And that's fine. I don't think you should be either. However, there are other people who do, and they have kept you out of leadership positions. Because of that, it may be that you cuss too much, and I get it, I cuss a lot. But maybe you want to pull back on that in certain spaces, just get some if you've been running and you haven't been getting what you've been running for, it might you might need to get a little awareness, consult with others, before you throw your name in the hat for yet another position that you don't get.
One of the things that struck me, the most of what you said is having that person who you can go to, and you can say, hey, this is a roll on running for what do you think about that, and actually, and actually have them be honest with you. And you can you can, you can take what they say, you know, what made this about me, but there's been times when you know, those types of situations have been very, very fruitful. Because when you know, other people are saying you have two choices at the one you can ignore it and continue to get disappointed. Or two, you can say, hey, this person who, who is really looking out for my best needs are saying this stuff needs to be adjusted before you can move forward and try to get into that. And so like, it's a it's a humbling It's a humbling process. Process but and having thick skin is another as a whole nother podcast in and of itself,
I can definitely teach you how to do that. Got that down, Pat.
I know I just think that's that is very helpful. But um, this is this has been fun. As usual. It's been fun just talking to you about this. And this very, I'm very excited about the contributions you've already had to our counseling field. And we're gonna we have a conversation about the future of what you will you may be doing in the future and things of that nature. And, and so I'm just I'm just really excited to be able to just talk to you today about about what leadership looks like, as an African American woman, I know that, especially with the mentorship you're doing especially to your daughters and the people who they affect and also with the students that you're working with that they are really getting a lot of great. Good Nigar a great example of this is a place that you can be, but there's stuff that you have to do to prepare yourself to get there. So it's been neat been able to watch your process over the past 1011 years. And I'm looking forward to next 1011 years and seeing what that looks like as well. So
thank you I appreciate you inviting me it's been fun as always.
But thank you everyone for joining us today and I'm looking forward to talking to you again on another episode of the thoughtful counselor job Great.
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