How are you? I hope these days you are well and at peace. Its been 11 weeks of Quarantine life so far and for me and many of you, we've started to get comfortable in this new way of life. Going outside ALWAYS requires me to have a mask on. Checking up on friends and loved ones has become more frequent. Warm weather makes me miss group activities immensely and social media has become officially my morning, afternoon, evening newspaper.
I know some of my peers have expressed their excitement for the state and nation to be opening back up but for me, I'm still a little hesitant and nervous about the outlook of this new future. I think its too early and the news reminds us that there might be another Corona Virus wave this winter. I know winter is far away (although in New England you never fully know lol) but it still worries me. How will the 'new' world look like? How will jobs operate? How will life be for marginalized groups? Artists? The Elderly? Students? So many thoughts but as always, I stay optimistic.
I admit, its hard being optimistic when there's so many things continuing to go wrong in the world. COVID 19 has undoubtedly impacted people of color disproportionately due to poverty, health & economic inequality and institutional racism to name a few reasons why. The number of POC who have died of COVID19 is significantly higher than the White community and everyday, rather its my inner circle or stories and videos I watch, Black & Brown bodies are worried, scared, exhausted and still need aid. May is Mental Health Awareness month and for me, I thought about how it must feel for POC to be surviving this pandemic while also living with a mental illness. I thought about how it must feel for POC to be surviving this pandemic while having to deal with racism. For example, our Asian community has gotten a lot of hate since the start of this pandemic. I thought about how it must feel for Black & Brown people to still, amidst a pandemic, have to see innocent Black Lives murdered on their phone screens due to police brutality and get shunned for fighting for it. It's extremely depressing and a mix of anger, disgust, fear and sadness. POC are exhausted. Black people are exhausted. And as a person who creates content to celebrate the greatness of POC, especially Black greatness, I am struggling myself.
One thing that I always remembered from the late legendary icon, Bob Marley, is that 'bad people never take a day off, so how can I.' I say this to remind us all that we gotta keep on fighting. We gotta keep creating, educating, mobilizing and helping one another. We gotta keep our spirits up even when the enemy continues to erase us. We gotta protect our kin, our organizers, heroes, essential workers, our brothers and sisters. We gotta take care of each other and take care of ourselves; mind, body and spirit.
For this month's episode, I wanted to honor an organization that has been connecting therapeutic resources, services and platforms for POC in the Boston & Brockton area. What's on Your Mind Inc, (WOYMINC.) was created in 2018 and has since then continued to create safe spaces and amazing content for POC to feel seen, feel heard and feel supported. We had the honor of interviewing the executive director of WOYMINC., Theresa Alphonse (watch the interview here and our discussion brought us joy, understanding and healing.
Theresa Sophia Alphonse holds many titles but a community leader is one that I admire her the most for. As a fellow UMASS Amherst grad and Public Health Professional, she has made it her mission to help and empower her peers to be their best selves. What's on Your Mind Inc, (WOYMINC.) is one of her latest projects and is a brilliant and needed resource in our community.
How did it all begin? One day in Harlem, New York, Theresa was walking back from a job interview. She was on her phone with her mom expressing her joy in getting offered a job at her interview and as she walk down the street, she noticed the numb faces passing her by. These Black & Brown faces were people who you could tell had a lot of their mind and simply just trying to get through the day. How sad that must feel for our POC peers who are simply just trying to survive when the world, so often, keeps them from thriving.
It was right there that Theresa made a promise to one day go out in the street and ask people, 'What's on Your Mind? How are you feeling? Come talk to me.' At first she was very nervous to do such a bold move. She shared with us how she was jittery in her car the first time she went out to do street outreach. How would people react? Would they come talk to her? Would they think she's crazy? So many thoughts and worries but that did not keep Theresa or her brave team members from doing this street therapy. Their bold move turned out to be a very needed act of service.
'What's on Your Mind? How are you feeling?' This can feel like such a simple question to ask someone but so often, especially for POC, the response is shallow. For many ethnic cultures, telling people how you truly feel can be frowned upon. I know as a Haitian American, growing up we were taught to keep our problems home. We had the option to pray it away, perhaps talk to an elder about it or store it mentally. Theresa expressed the various reasons we can feel discouraged to tell people how we truly feel. We can fear being too vulnerable, fear not having support or trusting that person or fear being seen as 'angry.' There are many reasons but the truth is, many POC are dealing with trauma, don't have a support system and don't feel encouraged to discuss what's going on inside. This is one of the many reasons that inspired Theresa to establish WOYMINC. "That's the purpose of this organization is to really try to dig deeper than that and normalize these conversations around thoughts, emotions and feelings."
"I would have conversations with so many different types of people and after those conversations I would be like, 'more people can definitely benefit from hearing this'!"
The importance of having someone unbiased to help you process what's going on mentally is crucial to one's development and for many POC, its something we still struggle with when it comes to finding reliable and trusted mental health services. Not all therapists are culturally competent and mental health stigma keeps us from searching for the services we need. WOYMINC. is aware of these ongoing challenges in the Black & Brown community and made it their mission to address the stigma and lack of access to services by reaching their audience on multiple platforms. On social media, they create content that conveys messages of hope, dismantling mental health stigma and addressing trauma. They have a podcast ('The MindFull Podcast), a TV show (Mindfull TV) and have since produced two successful annual mental health events (Mind Fest).
Having all these platforms allowed Theresa and her team to connect with their audience on a much deeper level. It built bridges and connections between their audience and mental health & wellness professionals and gave their followers like me the important message that you are not alone. Furthermore, it expand their audience to cultures who are not Black & Brown and also to people who aren't familiar with mental health awareness or the benefits of going to therapy. The positive feedback they have received from their community keeps them motivated to keep on creating but as Theresa conveyed to us, there's still so much more they want to do.
We are fortunate that mainstream media is starting to talk about mental health more but there are still so many topics we haven't explored, especially concerning communities of color. "I feel like we're not having the in-depth conversations about trauma specifically in the Black community that we need to be having." Theresa explained that we need to have more conversations on identifying the root causes that lead to one's trauma and/or mental health diagnosis's. So often there are many issues we don't discuss in the Black community because they make us feel uncomfortable (like child molestation for example). So many people suffer in silence which can lead to more trauma in the future. Addressing that elephant in the room is one way we can provide support to those who suffer in silence. Its also a way we can prevent trauma from happening again.
In this episode we also talked about a subject that is very sensitive to the Black community; police brutality. We now live in a world where we can instantly search the video of countless murders of innocent Black bodies. We are still mourning the death of Amadou Diallo. We are still mourning the death of Travyvon Martin. We are still mourning the death of Sandra Bland. And now we have so many more who have transitioned before their time on this list. They are not forgotten. Their lives matter. BLACK LIVES MATTER!
For me, it seems like Black America is always grieving and I know that built up trauma is detrimental to our health and wellness. I talked to Theresa about this and she offered words of wisdom I think we all can benefit from. "There's been so many deaths. Rather its been COVID-19 related or unrelated to COVID-19 and we just have not gotten the time to process and honor those who have transitioned. One thing that works for me is I feel like I need to create...a project I'm working on is just creating Mindfull moments." On The Mindfull Podcast, Theresa did a recent LIVE episode on the importance of mourning and a calming grieving mediation. The feedback she got from people who tuned in to her LIVE session, encouraged her to do more podcasts on those subjects. "Doing that for me was part of my healing process. It something that makes me feel so much lighter especially when we can't control what's going on in the world." What I can control is supporting my people through the platform of 'What's on Your Mind,' through my personal channels and putting art out there because we all know art heals."
Theresa is also a performing artist! She shared with us her plan to produce a 'one woman' show someday and many more performance arts projects in the future! We are so looking forward to it! Follow her on her personal IG page to see past performances @itstheresasophia. We asked her what she's looking forward to post quarantine and she said traveling again, hanging with her friends and having an EPIC twerk session! We agree!
Watch the FULL episode on our Youtube Channel (here) to learn more about the work of What's on Your Mind, Inc., tips on how we can cope with traumaand how you can support their organization.Follow them on social media @WOYMINC., sign up for their newsletter and buying a T-Shirt. All of that helps financially support future events like MindFest, their multiple platforms and Theresa's dream of creating a mobile therapy service for POC in the future! Find out more about WOYMINC. on their website at www.woyminc.org.
I am so beyond grateful to leaders like Theresa and her beautiful crew who show our community so much love and care. Its commendable, admirable and a blessing to us all. I ask that you send positive energy and prayers to leaders and organizers like WOYMINC. who are doing the work everyday. They too need our support always, all ways.
In honor of #MentalHealthAwareness month and all the chaos that's happening in the world, I wanted to share some resources with you kings and queens. I often feel helpless with everything that's going on, especially when I see my POC peers suffering. It breaks my heart and sometimes makes it so much harder to hold on to my optimistic spirit but again I remind you of that quote from Bob Marley 'bad people never take a day off, so how can I,'I remind you of the sacrifices your ancestors went through just to give us a little more freedom and I remind you of your power and worth. Please don't let evil people, white supremacy, racism or negative energy break your spirit. You matter. You are enough. You deserve justice. You deserve to be heard. You deserve peace.
Below is a list of resources that can maybe help you during this uncertain time in history. I believe that investing in our mental health is extremely important and we cannot be brave soldiers against the continued battle of oppression we endure as POC unless we are strong mentally, physically and spiritually. Invest in rest. Invest in knowledge. Invest in your community. Invest in yourself.
The Boris Henson Foundation is offering FREE therapy services for POC during the pandemic https://borislhensonfoundation.or
Vibrant Emotional Health is providing FREE mental health support during COVID 19 https://www.vibrant.org/what-we-do/call-text-chat-online-services/
Asians for Mental Health (@asiansformentalhealth): A space to promote Asian wellness and mental health; they've also created an Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Therapist Directory!
Asian Mental Health Collective (@asianmentalhealthcollective): The Official IG for Subtle Asian Mental Health, with a goal of challenging the stigma of mental illness in Asian Diasporic communities.
Black Girl Magik (@blackgirlmagik):A global movement creating safe spaces for Black women and girls (both Gen-Z and millennials) to voice, listen and encourage each other with unconditional vulnerability and honest acceptance.
Therapy for Black Girls (@therapyforblackgirls): a safe space for Black women to share their experiences and be connected to therapeutic services.
The Body: A Home for Love (@thebodyahomeforlove): Dedicated to shifting culture around how black women heal from sexual trauma. Founded by Deun Ivory
Latinx Therapy (@latinxtherapy). Demystifying mental health stigmas in the Latinx community via a bilingual podcast and directory. Founded by Adriana Alejandre, LMFT.
Liberate Meditation (@liberatemeditation): The only meditation app by and for the Black & African Diaspora.
Naaya Wellness (@naaya.wellness): Naaya is the Shona word for healing and they aim to root BIPOC in their well-being through events and workshops. Shona a Bantu language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Own Your Glow (@ownyourglow): Yoga, Meditation and Self Love
Saddie Baddies (@saddie_baddies): A virtual safe space for young women of color to destigmatize mental health and initiate collective healing. Founded by @brwnsugrr.
Sad Girls Club (@sadgirlsclub): Creating community in mental health for GenZ & millennials since 2017. Founded by film director and activist @elyse.fox
Talk Space (@talkspace): therapy for LGBTQ communities. Visit their website to connect to a therapist https://www.talkspace.com/online-therapy/lgbtq/
Soolooka (@soolooka): positive, uplifting, omg-so-cute self-love and mental health illustrations to brighten your day
Transparent Black Girl (@transparentblackgirl): Wellness company shattering unconventional stigmas surrounding what it means to be well. Founded by @yasminejameelah.
The Nap Ministry (@thenapminstry): Investing in the power of rest for POC.
Therapy for Black Men (@therapyforblkmen): TherapyForBlackMen,org is committed to the mental wellness of Black men and boys. Find a therapist on their website.
Therapy for Latinx (@therapyforlatinx): A platform dedicated to supporting Latinx communities connect to mental health services.
What's On Your Mind (@woyminc): A platform dedicated to supporting Black & Brown communities connect to mental health services, support and education.
A friendly reminder to my Black kings and queens and POC that activism looks different for all of us. No matter what, take care of yourself.
Wishing you always peace and love. Our next episode premieres Friday, June 26th @ 8pm on the Boston Neighborhood Network ( Comcast 23, RCN 83 & Verizon 1960).