Updated: Aug 22, 2018
How a community support model of mental wellness can change Black communities.
By: Camesha L. Jones
In 2013, I was diagnosed with the mental health condition of bipolar disorder and experienced many obstacles to be mentally well. Even when I gained access to resources and mental health information; it was not enough for me to thrive. I could survive with just resources and information but to thrive I needed a community of people who would believe in me; especially when I was at my lowest and could not care for myself.
Through the trying ups and downs of bipolar disorder, I realized that my saving grace every time I became ill was a community of support. My mother, my grandparents, friends, and colleagues all came to my rescue when I could no longer care for me. The most important anchor of my community support were people from my home church. From this experience of having the church surround me with love and care, I realized that the only way I would heal was through faith, community, perseverance, and support.
Fast forward 4 years later, I created Sista Afya a social impact business that centers the experience of Black women living with mental health conditions. Through my business I decided to make a conscious effort to create communal spaces for Black women to advocate and support one another, share resources, and most of all to release their destiny through mental wellness.
This November, I wanted to take a step further and try a new approach of engaging the Black community in mental wellness by creating a way for people to engage in mental wellness in a fun, warm, and inquisitive way. A wonderful support staff, volunteers and I put out the word for Chicago’s Black Mental Wellness Weekend (BMWW). BMWW was a weekend filled with a multitude of ways for our community to be engaged in mental wellness. By the time the word got out on social media, over 3,000 people became interested in the event and about 250 attended. Which is a huge deal given the myth that ‘ Black people don’t want to engage in mental health.’
Black Mental Wellness Weekend was beautiful and filled with people who were full of gratitude that the weekend took place. There were some people who came to Chicago just for Black Mental Wellness Weekend. One woman I spoke to came all the way from Kentucky and another man traveled from Wisconsin just to attend one session that spoke to his experience as a Queer Black man. People who attended asked many times, ‘ When is the next one?’ ‘ How can we create more spaces like these on a regular basis?’ What this showed us was that Black people care about receiving quality mental wellness care; it just depends on how it is delivered.
A free environment was created where people could leave and go as they pleased. Free space was graciously donated by small businesses for our workshops. We also provided food and supplies for workshop facilitators and attendees. Those who could not attend BMWW were able to view all the fun through social media.
Once we provide a way for Black people to engage and incorporate mental wellness through community; healing can happen. The time is now for us to focus on how we can come together as a community and responsibly love and care for one another so we can ALL experience the freedom we not just desire, but deserve.
In the words of the United Negro College Fund, “ A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
To see the events that took place use the hashtag #chibmww on Facebook and Instagram.
To learn more about Sista Afya visit: www.sistaafya.com/about