Lydia Willingham is a National Certified Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Licensed Addiction Counselor. As a behavioral health counselor, she has dealt with crisis intervention, addictions, and suicide prevention in the Midlands region of South Carolina. She was a certified administrator of residential treatment centers before retirement and provided 30 years of meritorious service to the State of South Carolina, during which she received numerous awards. Lydia holds a B.A. degree from Benedict College, an M.S. degree in Counseling from Webster University, and earned a DPC in Counseling from Mississippi College in 2017. She states, “I like the wellness piece of counseling and helping others to better themselves.”

Radiating Smiles

Alongside her counseling practice, Lydia also became certified in mediation. “With mediation,” Lydia begins, “It helped me to help people help themselves. You’re there as a neutral person, still listening, but you are letting them settle their disputes”. She began performing truancy mediation with children. Truancy mediation is the process that brings students, faculty, and parents together to discuss a child’s reasons for poor performance. Lydia facilitates peaceful interactive dialogue between the children and their parents, aiming to establish a plan of action for the kids. After working there for four years, Lydia admits, “I just really like working with kids. Just getting them to smile again was so beautiful”. She notes further that we must begin with kids because “they are the ones that will make a long-lasting difference”. 

Through her counseling practice, Lydia learned, It’s always important to allow people to make their own choices. Humans are always in conflict about something. It is important that clients can make their own decisions. Whether it is what they want for breakfast or their outfit of the day, people are always faced with choices. Lydia advises that although everyone is in constant conflict, we need to complete an activity list focusing on our conflict areas and strengths/weaknesses. Then gradually, we must try and eliminate some of them.

She relates this to the 2020 U.S. elections, saying that the other side would be upset regardless of who won. Mediators have a great job in preparing those for the next action”, as polarization deepens within communities and families. Lydia stresses the importance that families do not divide over the electoral tensions and the choices made and that we continue working through the differences together. The benefit of mediation is that clients control the outcome of their dispute. More importantly, clients can maintain relationships when using mediation, and mediation is affordable.

Connecting the people with the people

Although Lydia is retired, it does not prevent her from continuing her expertise in mediation. “There is conflict everywhere”; therefore, her mediation practice does not cease to function. Lydia has participated in church pro-bono mediation in South Carolina, performing listening sessions to bridge the racial divide within communities. Here, she provided individuals three listening sessions and gave them feedback on peaceful dialogue techniques. “We provided a safe place where they could come and talk about issues and find commonality about contentious issues”, she says, “and we had snacks!” Throughout her retirement, Lydia has been connecting with women in churches. She suddenly exclaimed in the interview, “I have received a Humanitarian award, and I’d love to show you, may I show you?” With her beaming smile and humble persona, Lydia displays the Human Rights Certificate of Appreciation from the Church Women United of Columbia. She also is the president of the Fairfield McClelland Chapter of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus. “We equip the local Black Churches and pastors as much as possible to fight for racial equity and resources to support their communities. Since the global pandemic of COVID-19 has caused us to social distance, our chapter has continued to give support and encouragement to the community through calls, visits, and discussions”. 

Lydia also serves as President of the National Black Presbyterian Women, where she meets with other Black women in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to discuss issues occurring in the organizational structure of PCUSA and process, advocate and support the concerns of Black women. “We connect Black women with other Black women, through a networking process of meetings, workshops, newsletters, telephone, and conference calls that we support each other”. 

The organization that keeps you coming back

Lydia became involved in MBBI after she heard Veronica Jacob, the Innovation and Impact Investment Director of MBBI, speak at a meeting. She began to be involved in planning and coordinating conferences with the organization. Lydia admits that she loves MBBI because So many team members wanted something major to happen”, and “they are always looking to expand and grow”. Other committees she has worked on within MBBI included Member Engagement, where she and the team focused on membership retention and recruitment. Secondly, the Children and Youth ADR Group worked on concepts and approaches implemented in a model for bullying interventions. Another factor that drew her to the organization was the partnership with Rotary International. Lydia says, “MBBI keeps me coming back because I want to hear and learn more so I can disseminate this to the communities I help. It just radiates everywhere, and you want to offer expertise and support others so they can make the changes if they wish to.”

“It starts within the home”

Perhaps most fundamental in Lydia’s mediation and counseling career is her family, which influenced her peaceful dialogue. Both her parents were educators and practiced mediation with the kids. She recalls, “the angrier my father got, the softer his voice became”. The way your parents solved conflicts is passed on to the children, she explains. Applying these mediation skills inward, she exerts this on to her family. “It starts within the home”, Lydia says. Lydia reflects on her mediation career, stating, “It’s been a blessing to me, so I want to be a blessing to others. It’s like I’m putting myself in a salt shaker and sprinkling myself all around”.

Article by Emily Shultis, MBBI Writer