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“Shades of Resilience” conference leads discussion of mental health in communities of color

“Shades of Resilience” conference leads discussion of mental health in communities of color

It was Mental Health Awareness Week in October 2017 when Jouvanna “Jojo” Brame ‘18 realized something was missing from the mental health conversation on campus.

“I just felt like they weren’t highlighting people of color as a focus,” Brame said.

She started working on her plan in May 2018 and after several months of preparation, Brame and a committee of other Loyola students and faculty held the first “Shades of Resilience” conference on campus this past Saturday. The conference hosted guest speakers and discussions of mental health with a special focus on the way mental health is addressed in communities of color.

The keynote address was given by Washington D.C.-based blogger and spoken word artist Whiskey Girl. Loyola graduate students, as well as mental health professionals, were also among those who spoke.

Whiskey Girl opened her address with a spoken word performance and discussed the mental health stigma that exists toward black women. In her experience, Whiskey Girl found that black women were expected to fight through mental stress and not seek help.

“In the black community, I was taught that you don’t need medication, you need Jesus,” Whiskey Girl said. “You don’t address mental health issues, you just deny their existence.”

Whiskey Girl also emphasized the importance for individuals to take time to care for themselves. While her blog, “Embrace The Crazy,” focuses on lighter topics now such as relationships and dating, Whiskey Girl once discovered that blogging about her mental health was a form of self-care that helped her find peace.

“Self-care is an investment in your own mental well-being,” Whiskey Girl said. “You have to make decisions for yourself.”

Following the keynote address, there were various presentations held on the topics of mental health education, stigma, and care. Dr. Emilie B. Joseph, a psychologist from Washington D.C. and former postdoctoral fellow in the Loyola Counseling Center continued the overarching theme of self-care by discussing self-awareness in relation to cultural identities.

“It is especially important to think about our racial and ethnic identities,” Dr. Joseph said. “We may not see the impacts on the surface every day, but we are carrying them with us.”

Loyola doctoral candidate Oluwatofunmi Oni discussed her research to the audience in a session titled “Perceptions of Mental Health Services: Second Generation Nigerian Immigrants’ Perspective.”

In addition to being a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program at Loyola, Oni was born in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States when she was 9 years old. She decided to research the population of second-generation Nigerian immigrants in the United States and how they utilize mental health resources.

“In Nigeria, there tends to be a negative view of mental health. People don’t view mental health as real,” Oni said.

Oni is currently researching second generation Nigerian immigrants that have taken advantage of mental health resources. Being a Nigerian immigrant herself, Oni felt a personal connection to her study.

“The reality is that I am not separate from my research. It is very much a part of me,” Oni said.

Other presenters at the conference included aspiring writer and single father Ashton Horne as well as a fashion photographer and former Loyola student Gabriel Perez Silva. Both men discussed their struggles with mental health and how they were able to succeed despite these obstacles. After overcoming anxiety, Silva was able to find his passion for photography and now works as a professional photographer in New York City.

The day concluded with a movement-based presentation by Washington D.C.-based life coach Shatiea Blount and interdisciplinary performing artist Jessica Denson. The workshop titled “STATE:TRAIT” focused on mental health through movements and interactions with others. This presentation encouraged attendees to create physical actions in order to share their emotions with others.

For Brame and her committee of volunteers, the Shades of Resilience conference was the satisfying result of months of planning and organization. “It’s been a wonderful experience and I’m glad that God blessed me with the vision and told me to execute it” Brame said.

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“Shades of Resilience” conference leads discussion of mental health in communities of color