Community organizers get help from the Black Community Ambassador program

Sometimes Adrienne Hood has to say “No”, and that’s okay.

Since her son, Henry Green, 23, was fatally shot by plainclothes cops in Columbus in 2016, Hood has been on the front lines of community advocacy, propelled into a vocal and prominent role among activists pushing for criminal justice and other reforms.

It’s heavy and exhausting stuff, even more so last year.

“Just the expectation of needing to be in all of these spaces… It’s tough,” Hood said. “Something was happening every day. “

But Hood has sometimes learned to say “no”. “And my ‘no’ is a complete sentence,” she said, in part thanks to the Black Community Ambassador Support Program. The innovative initiative highlights the importance of mental health services to activists and other members of the African American community.

“Mental health is a real thing, it’s a real need,” Hood said. “If you need it, you need it, put us in touch with the right people. “

Last year, the Franklin County Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health provided the initial $ 180,500 to start the Ambassador Program. Spokeswoman Mackenzie Betts said ADAMH plans to provide the same amount this year to continue the work.

The agency has run a number of programs over the years, said Dr Kevin Dixon, who retired earlier this year after more than three decades at ADAMH, most recently as vice president of community and cultural engagement.

But the Black Community Ambassador Support Program is a one-of-a-kind effort focused on the mental health issues of young professionals – particularly, black men and women who work as counselors, executive coaches, mentors and in d ‘other support positions.

“They battled with anxiety or depression, the impact of trauma and other emotional challenges,” Dixon said. “Many indicated that they needed to help themselves from the stress of just serving others, but did not go to traditional service systems for care, including our system (at ADAMH). “

The need for such programming was further accentuated following the suicides of two local activists.

Black Lives Matter activist MarShawn McCarrell, 23, was shot and killed on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse in February 2016. The body of Amber Evans, 28, another well-known community activist, has was found in the Scioto River in March 2019; the Franklin County coroner ruled that she likely died by suicide.

The deaths helped spur the development of the Black Community Ambassador Support Program, to provide targeted mental health to residents who do not normally seek such services.

“Very often, almost exclusively, mental health programs are aimed at people in extreme poverty, with the most extreme mental health diagnoses,” said Elizabeth Joy, who heads the ambassadorial program. “Obviously these people need help, but where do you go when it’s not your reality but you need support? “

The Ambassador Program offers weekly one-hour support sessions, including one specifically for community organizers. Participants talk about what is going on in their lives and learn ways to deal with stress, anxiety, anger and depression.

“A lot of times people just internalize it,” said Amber Harris, a registered social worker and one of the support group leaders. “They don’t express it or they don’t know how to express it sometimes… Keeping it is not healthy… We all need someone to talk to, we might all need support, we might all have Need help.”

Support groups are culturally appropriate, Joy said. At the end of last year, a session featured a panel discussion on music that helped people get through 2020.

“In black culture, music is really our language,” Joy said. mentionned. “Black people will not show up to a conversation about statistics. Don’t tell us that one in three people blah, blah, blah. But, if you ask me what is the song that took me through 2020 and tell me what feelings came out and how it moved me? All day! Our reach on Facebook was 17,300 people.

She later added, “We enjoyed listening to music. We enjoyed talking about the music. We didn’t use the word ‘MH’. It was absolutely a mental health talk, but we didn’t label it that way, we didn’t design it that way, we didn’t market it like that.

Jasmine Sardari considers herself a “professional volunteer”, who lends a hand when she sees a need. She has been participating in ambassador support groups for about a year.

“It’s not like therapy therapy for me,” Sardari said. “It’s more like family, camaraderie. Can’t wait to go there every week … it’s a safe place for everything. Anyone can come and share whatever comes to mind or heart. We are always there to support people.

“We’re not afraid to challenge and conquer the things that each of us go through,” said Matt Wilmot, a community health educator involved with the Black Treatment Advocacy Network Columbus who has been participating in support groups for about a year. “We may not be able to resolve everything properly in this one meeting, but we are able to provide support to the people who are there. “

One of the challenges of the Ambassador Program is convincing people who support others to seek mental health support themselves, Joy said.

“We still have a lot of trouble bringing in people who we know for sure have to be there,” she said. “I’ll talk to someone or one of our leaders will know someone in the community… We know they’re having trouble, they know we’re here and they won’t come.

Added to this are the challenges of systemic racism, implicit prejudices and other issues that the community of color faces on a daily basis.

“They carry the weight of all the challenges we face as black people, but they also carry the weight of the community and the individuals and families they serve,” Joy said. “These people tend to be even less likely to say, ‘Hey, I need help.’ They are considered the strongest. These are the people that everyone goes to. And they are so determined to be the solution and the answer… These people live their entire lives focusing on others.

The past year and a half has not helped, with an ongoing global pandemic, community protests over the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin and an increased focus on criminal justice reform .

After:Federal injunction stops Columbus police from using tear gas and wooden bullets

“I have experienced firsthand and also vicariously the types of racism that are perpetuated by law enforcement,” Wilmot said. “Seeing what has happened over the past year and continues to happen, it brought out a lot of trauma that I hadn’t dealt with.”

KC Taynor, founder and founder of Exodus Nation, a local group that advocates for many issues including mental health, has been a community activist for over 20 years. He began participating in ambassador support groups after a conversation with Hood.

“As an activist we tend to put our own emotional needs as far as possible,” he said. “I carry a lot of weight and a lot of anger. I never really knew how to handle this anger. Our group taught me how to do this and, in turn, they taught me to pass this lesson on to others.

Ultimately, Taynor and other support group participants said they were better equipped to support others.

“You cannot give support to others if you are not supported,” Sardari said. “It is very important to be grounded and complete. Basically, you are giving a piece of yourself to others. If you don’t have this together… then it’s not good for others.


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