Best of At­lanta win­ner Keith Xavier Hard­ing

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We’re not ge­niuses or any­thing ex­cep­tional as far as our abil­i­ties.

My older sib­lings had all been through the same thing, so we kind of had our own lit­tle pro­gram de­signed around it. We fo­cused on prep­ping on the en­trance ex­ams. In Alabama, we just did the ACT, which is what I took. We would kind of prep the ba­sics of what you needed apart from our in­ter­ests and what we wanted to ma­jor in. We fo­cused on the core sub­jects and pre­par­ing for those, but it was a lot of self-led learn­ing, as you can imag­ine.

What drew you to be­come a mu­sic ma­jor?

I was 9 years old and I started play­ing vi­o­lin. My sis­ter had a vi­o­lin that I think my mother’s cousin gave to us, and it was just

Au­gust 18, 2017

sit­ting in the closet. I found it one day and was re­ally fas­ci­nated by it. I started ask­ing my mom, “Can I start les­sons?”

My older sis­ter had a friend from her col­lege just down the street who was a mu­sic ma­jor … and I just started learn­ing from that friend over time. I went into the pro­gram just be­ing re­ally ex­cited to learn more about mu­sic, not hav­ing a lot of prior ex­pe­ri­ence. I didn’t do band in school — I didn’t have school in the tra­di­tional sense — so I just had ex­po­sure to a lit­tle bit and was re­ally in­ter­ested.

Vi­o­lin was my fo­cus as a mu­sic per­for­mance ma­jor, and then I did things like band and choir. I was a boys so­prano the first se­mes­ter, which was very ex­cit­ing for the choir di­rec­tor be­cause he’d never had that op­por­tu­nity.

How did you go from mu­sic to coun­sel­ing for your grad­u­ate pro­gram?

I was re­ally drawn to coun­sel­ing when I was 15, when I was grad­u­at­ing. I was tak­ing an in­tro­duc­tion to psy­chol­ogy class and was fas­ci­nated by per­son­al­ity the­o­ries and the work­ings of the in­ner mind. I was also re­ally go­ing through a lot with be­ing young and re­ally rec­on­cil­ing be­ing gay and be­ing in the South, and how to ap­proach that.

To see that I wasn’t alone, that there were many other LGBT youth who were feel­ing the same, and I was watch­ing “Glee” and I saw the guid­ance coun­selor in “Glee” and I was like, “Oh!” That re­ally stayed with me.

Do you ever think you missed out on that tra­di­tional col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing gone through it so young?

That’s a ques­tion a lot of peo­ple ask. My an­swer al­ways had been, “I feel like it was dif­fer­ent, but I still had a great ex­pe­ri­ence.” I still be­lieve that.

It’s a hard ques­tion, but I think that I don’t feel a sense of miss­ing out, but more the thing I have to think about is the sense of be­ing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, and how I can re­late to peo­ple and find com­mon ex­pe­ri­ences.

[In col­lege] peo­ple were very pro­tec­tive. I think they saw a bit of them­selves in me at first — that kid seems a lit­tle lost. There were a lot of moth­ers who came out of the wood­works to help care for me and make sure I knew where I was go­ing.

How did you come to find Thriv­ing Heart?

I was re­ally drawn to work­ing with trans- gen­der in­di­vid­u­als be­cause I did an in­tern­ship in Mont­gomery and I worked with LGBT youth. I re­ally liked the holis­tic fo­cus at Thriv­ing Heart and car­ing for the whole per­son, so those two things are re­ally im­por­tant to me.

I felt like some­thing was kind of draw­ing me here, so that was great, and since be­ing here I’ve learned a lot and it’s been a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

Where do you see your­self in, say, five years?

I’d like to have a very fo­cused and es­tab­lished prac­tice that al­lows me to re­ally work with clients who maybe have com­plex is­sues, such as lay­ers of things they’re work­ing through — maybe trauma as well as iden­tity con­cerns. I’ve been re­ally in­ter­ested in pop­u­la­tions that have more ac­ces­si­bil­ity con­cerns, like I’m learn­ing Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage and that’s of in­ter­est to me. I re­ally like work­ing with chal­leng­ing con­cerns for clients and I want to be­come an ex­pert. I don’t know if five years is enough to call your­self an ex­pert, but it will be a good start in terms of work­ing with LGBT youth.

Keith Xavier Hard­ing, 19, is an as­so­ciate coun­selor at Thriv­ing Heart in At­lanta. He hopes to have his own prac­tice within the next five years, work­ing pri­mar­ily with LGBT clients. (Photo by Dal­las Anne Dun­can)

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