Behaving Differently to Establish a Healing Culture of Love

By Nikki L. Smith

I interviewed Howard and Vickie Denson in their living room which is filled with the art of our people and our ancestors.  For over 20 years, they have published The Black Pages Business Directory & Magazine and now are launching programming for The Transformational Agenda, a “catalyst of community healing.”

Howard Denson developed the curriculum for and leads The Transformational Agenda Retreat.  For more than 40 years he has struggled to determine what constrains us as a people and how we can heal our own community.  He stated, “All of the wacky self-destructive things that we do today were absolutely necessary to survive the harsh reality of American slavery.  I call them the ‘negative mental legacies of slavery,’ and they are destroying our community.”

“Because we have not explicitly and carefully examined and deconstructed the culture of our enslaved ancestors,” he continued, “we exhibit self-destructive behaviors, and don’t even know from whence they came.  We bemoan the harmful things which we do to one another, yet because we know not why, we accept it as a part of our culture.  Because we can’t connect to the root cause, we can’t fashion viable solutions, so we hopelessly wonder in an ever more destructive wilderness.”

Howard reveals the “root cause” and calls for practical solutions during his nine hour retreat. Participants were eager to share a testimonial of their experience during the retreat.  An inspirational high school student named Arielle displayed a brilliant smile when asked about the retreat. She described it as being “a learning experience that taught me what my ancestors did to provide a life for me and how I can go out into the world and make a difference.” Still smiling and beaming with excitement, she shared how the retreat made her more aware of what was going on in her community and that even in her young age; she is determined to make a change in herself and those around her.

Another participant named Richard had a similar take on it. When asked about his experience his eyes seemed eager to share what he knew. With thoughtful consideration he replied, “The Transformational Agenda Retreat gave me something that I feel was taken away from our ancestors. And that’s the power to not only help ourselves and our immediate families, but also be a driving force in our communities. A band aid had been placed on our wounds. It’s like we woke up one day with scars and had no idea where they came from and didn’t bother to ask. But we hated ourselves for having them. The retreat gives us the answers for the origin for our wounds. Now we can take the band aid off, and truly begin to heal.”

When asked why the gatherings are so long, he responded, “The retreat experience involves far more than fully understanding the root cause, the retreat establishes that we can control our destiny by recreating our culture.  It explores the definition of true empowerment and how it can be transmitted to one another.  It motivates us to ‘rethink everything’ to better serve our community and institutions, and it presents how we can, step by explicit step, heal our community without the aid or assistance of anyone else.  It takes the entire nine hours to be transformed, anything less would truly shortchange you!”

By connecting the dots, Howard argues, we can leave behind the negative legacies and choose to create “a healing culture of love.”  He and his wife are confident that The Transformational Agenda will be the catalyst of this healing and that our African American community can thrive beyond our wildest dreams.  Howard looks forward to the time when “then the ancestors will smile, and future generations will call us blessed.”

Vickie too awaits this “healing culture of love.”  She confided, “We boxed with God for four years.  We gave the Retreat 35 times to over 300 people.  Participants reported personal healing, a completely different perspective of the African American experience, and a burning desire to help heal our community.  They were transformed.  In turn, we have concluded that we were put on this Earth to seek, to receive, and to communicate The Transformational Agenda, so we, the African American community, may heal!”

To learn more about The Transformational Agenda Retreat, visit or call the St. Louis Black Pages at 314-531-7300.  Additionally, The St. Louis American will continue to report on this retreat and the key initiatives of The Transformational Agenda.

Nikki Smith is a Cum Laude graduate from the University of North Texas and a candidate for the degree of Masters of Arts in Advertizing and Marketing Communication from Webster University in Saint Louis Missouri.  She is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.