In recognition and celebration of Black History Month in February, we honor all of our team members of color today and every day. Read story highlighting three of our team members.
Can you speak about the stigma that mental health has within the Black community?
Shawnte Boggs, homeless outreach specialist, was born and raised in Lawrence. Her grandparents moved to Lawrence when Shawnte’s mom was 2, from Mississippi. Her grandparents left the South for better educational and economic opportunities.
“Mental health was not a topic of discussion. In this hardworking, Southern Baptist family, the way you dealt with any mental health issues was to go to church. You know, give all your problems to the Lord. Everything was intertwined with prayer.”
Lisa Cyrus, peer support program manager, was born in Grenada, an island country in the Caribbean, and spent the first 11 years of her life there:
“Mental health isn’t something we talk about. I’ve heard comments that, oh, that’s for white people. And I can’t help but think that such a statement is a reflection of the work needed within healthcare systems to provide care in which no individual sees themselves on the outside of care. Currently, the sigma of mental health in the Black community leaves people feeling limited to the option of just talking to a friend or family members about mental health struggles. Some self-medicate, and others feel like they don’t have the extra money, time, and efforts it takes to reach out for help. And let’s not forget those who have accessed care in the past and have encountered barriers that caused traumatization.”
Dr. Nana Dadson, Chief Medical Officer, is from Ghana, a country in West Africa, but grew up in Maryland:
“Mental health is not a topic that is talked about much. It was pretty much known that in a family where there was a family member with a mental health issue, that family member was kind of shunned and pushed into the background and not really acknowledged. I don’t think the culture I grew up in is very supportive of talking about mental health. There are still very few mental health professionals there.”
Can you talk about the importance of having a Black clinician as a member of the Black community?
Shawnte: “When you see someone who looks like you, it immediately puts you at ease. There’s an element of trust that happens. That’s why diversity is vital. You have somebody you can identify with.”
Lisa: “Representation is really important. It’s also important to have clinicians who are willing to learn from the people they are serving and let the individuals guide them.”
Dr. Dadson: “It’s extremely important to have a Black clinician as a member of the Black community. It serves as an important sign of representation. It’s just as critical to have a support system of clinicians who aren’t Black who have the willingness to educate themselves about what a Black person might be facing when they seek help for a mental health challenge. It’s very affirming to have a mental health clinician who doesn’t look like you but can demonstrate genuine understanding of what you are going through.”
Can you talk about where we are going as an organization with IDEB (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Belonging) work and creating a safer space for our Black community members?
Shawnte: I think anytime an organization acknowledges they need this, it’s a step in the right direction. Also, the hiring of the first IDEB manager. That’s amazing and makes people of color feel more valued, that this organization cares about them.”
Lisa: “IDEB work is individual first. We can’t impact the community, we can’t impact our workspace, until we impact ourselves. We have started the work, but we are still in the beginning phase. There’s a lot of work that has to be done for people to be comfortable talking about race. We’ve taken a step forward, and I’m encouraged to see where we’re going. The goal is to be able to better our serve our community and to make this a place where individuals of color can really see themselves here doing the work and working alongside their white colleagues.”
Dr. Dadson: “Doing this IDEB work as a collective is very important. I applaud our leadership for recognizing the importance of delving into this work and doing a better job of reaching out to our African American community and our marginalized communities. Now I’m looking for the intentionality and a re-commitment to why we are doing this work in the first place and a demonstration of that.”
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Shawnte: “An acknowledgment is always nice for any group of people, but every day we are reminded of our blackness for better or for worse. Every day I go to work, I’m trying to make all those who came before me, who made a sacrifice for me to do the type of work I do, I want to honor them. I want to live as an honorable Black woman. I want to present that every day to the world. That is my contribution to my culture. Hopefully the sacrifices of people who came before me are served well by what I do today. Maybe I’m making my grandma proud.”
Lisa: “For me, Black History Month is an opportunity for reflection. However, for me, it’s more than one month. I am a Black person every day of the year. We make contributions to our society, our communities, every day. It means celebrating where we’ve come from because I see myself and I see my children in that history. Each generation builds upon the previous generation. It’s important to know our history and where we came from to know where we’re going.
“It means celebrating where we’ve come from, what we have overcome, and to acknowledge the challenges we currently face as well as what the future holds. And these are things you just don’t deal with during Black History Month. I see myself and my children in Black history and Black future every day.”
Dr. Dadson: “It’s a time to reflect where Black people have been in this country, the struggles they have had to endure, as well as a time to acknowledge their successes and achievements. It’s a time to look back at how far Black people have come, but it’s not a time to pause. The spirit and meaning of Black History Month would be best served if expanded, celebrated, and integrated into all our lives — 365 days a year.”