Sacramento native Corrine McIntosh Sako is not only an experienced, educated, licensed mental health practitioner, but a fierce social justice advocate in our community as well. We caught up with her to learn about her journey to anti-racist practice - both in the office and outside of it.
SJPC: What Does Social Justice Mean to You?
CMS: "In one of the very first psychology classes I ever took, introduction to psychology, I learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is a theory of motivation which states that five categories of human needs dictate an individual's behavior: physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter, etc.), safety needs (physical safety, employment, security, etc.), love and belonging needs (friends, intimate relationships, etc.), esteem needs (personal accomplishment, respect of others, etc.), and self-actualization needs (desire to become the most one can be). According to this theory, some of these needs must be met before an individual can turn their attention toward others while certain universal needs are the most pressing...
"Social justice, to me, means that everyone deserves to have equal access and opportunity to meet their physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs. And for those who have a history and a present reality of having the doors of access and opportunity closed to them, it is my duty to do what I can to open those doors for the greater good of us all."
SJPC: Why Are You Involved in Social Justice?
CMS: "I feel a deep personal responsibility for our community’s welfare. I am acting from my authentic self when I take action on this conviction.
Civil rights and social justice has always been a major interest of mine. When I was an 18-year-old student at Sacramento City College, I would walk across the street to Land Park in between classes – sit underneath a tree, and get lost in reading books about the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and the poems and prose of Nikki Giovanni. Throughout my undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral studies, I immersed myself in studying cross-cultural psychology. The internships I enjoyed the most were the ones where I worked with members of marginalized and at-risk communities, as I felt that I was able to understand & speak their cultural language where most white mental health professionals didn’t.
My passion for activism was ignited after witnessing the grave disparities for communities of color due to the COVID pandemic coupled with the killing of George Floyd. I couldn’t not take action.
Since then, I have volunteered with local racial justice organizations to foster awareness of social injustices and to promote community solidarity. My involvement has included giving public comment on agenda items for city council and board of supervisors’ meetings, participating in mutual aid projects, consultation regarding the importance of self-care for activists, design & co-facilitation of healing spaces for community events, promoting awareness and organizing support for non-law enforcement response to mental health crises, and working to shift county funds away from policing and incarceration and towards community-based systems of care. I strive to not just be a culturally competent practitioner, but an anti-racist psychologist. I believe that to be an anti-racist psychologist requires not only acknowledgement of racism but active opposition to racism within ourselves, our research, our teaching, our organizations, our practice, and the policies shaping our society. This is not only how I can best practice allyship, but I am also helping to shape a more just society for my young son to grow up and live in as an adult."
SJPC: How Do You Self-Care to Keep Fighting for Social Justice?
CMS: "I first learned about the importance of self-care for protecting my overall well-being while also maintaining stamina and endurance when I was a psychology graduate student – 'you can’t take care of someone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself first' was the motto. Since being involved in social justice work, I continue to honor the practice of self-care with a deep reverence for its radical practice being a form of resisting the tactics of oppression, as described by Audre Lorde: 'Caring for myself is not self-indulgence – it is self-preservation – and that is an act of political warfare.'
For me, self-care is intentionally broken down and practiced in five domains: physical, social, mental, spiritual, and emotional. On the physical tip, I like to put my headphones on and go for a long run around the city streets or the park a few times a week. On the social tip, I make sure I plug in to my relationships where I feel seen and heard. My husband and my son are the greatest loves of my life and my interactions with them have this uncanny ability to both feel restorative and preventative for me as far as self-care goes. On the mental tip, I enjoy reading for both education and pleasure. On the spiritual tip, I practice mindfulness and gratitude daily – even if it’s just for five minutes. On the emotional tip, I make sure to acknowledge and express my emotions any chance I get, either to others or to myself via affirmations. 'I belong on this planet, I am a precious resource, I have a right to health and peace of mind, and the whole world is better for having me in it' and 'Do no harm, and take no shit' are frequently used and favorite affirmations of mine."