Everyone has to deal with mental health, no matter their skin color, gender identity or status. For some, resources are easy to find and accept. For others, it is hard to even comprehend the fact that we are struggling. People of color tend to struggle the most with this topic. Being a Black woman, I can say this myself. It is hard to even admit when I need help.
There are many resources that we do not know about or are not even shared with us as people of color, making it hard for us to progress in this area of our lives.
All of that changed for me personally on February 16, 2023, when I attended the University of Southern Maine’s Black + Black Mental Health Matters program hosted by USM ROCC and Art With Impact. My eyes were opened to things and resources I never knew existed. Art With Impact (AWI) is an organization that “Promotes mental wellness by creating space for young people to learn and connect through art and media.” With special guest Paige Minett (a program associate for AWI), we were able to walk through what mental health is and how it is very important in the Black community.
At the beginning of the program, Paige started out by letting us know that it was a safe place and somewhere where we could all converse and listen to each other’s experiences. With interactive, open- ended conversations, Paige’s main focus was for POC’s voices to be heard and for us to feel seen. One activity that really spoke to me was answering questions that I had personally never thought about, such as, “what do you do for self care?” and “what do you like about being Black?” These questions were posed to us as a group, and we were then told to turn to our neighbor and discuss the questions at hand. This was a great exercise to help us and people of color get tips from others and see that we are not alone in these topics.
One specific exercise that opened my eyes helped me realize how Black individuals’ mental health issues don’t just arise from what we go through in the present. It is what we went through and have endured since childhood. In this exercise, Paige had a volunteer come up in front of the group and hold a medium size bouncy ball in one, and only one, of her hands. Paige then asked the group, “what are some of the worries that most Black people have to feel that pertain to our mental health?” After the audience gave a few answers, Paige pulled up a plethora of topics and subjects on her projector screen that Black people have had to endure generationally. As she named off each topic or hardship, she added another ball to the volunteer’s hand. Things such as poverty, death, work discrimination, food scarcity and many more were named. With each one she named, a ball would go into the volunteer’s hand. The pile of bouncy balls grew bigger and bigger until the volunteer could no longer hold any more balls. All of the balls fell to the floor as near-by guests tried to pick them up. This exercise spoke to me because it really put into perspective the things that Black people must worry about in the day-to-day that affect our mental health. It revealed that with all of these worries, our mental health doesn’t fit into the mixture of worries. It opened my mind to the number of struggles that I didn’t even realize I had faced for years– things that hinder me as a Black woman every day. It made me feel personally seen, heard and recognized.
Another exercise that stood out to me was the very last one. We all got to write poems about ourselves–whether it was about our history, our names, or even how we feel about ourselves. This exercise spoke to me in a way that I did not think it would. I felt like I was free to write and express myself in a way that I had not done in front of others before. Many of my Black counterparts also expressed themselves in a way that I had never seen or heard before. It gave everyone in the room a voice and an opportunity to use the creative Black roots given to us by our ancestors to express and show who we are, and also who we are not. An excerpt from my poem:
“My name is Mykayla, but I feel as if sometimes people can’t see me.
My name is Mykayla, But do I even want to be seen?
Lost in this big world I honestly would rather have it take me over,
Suck me in.
Because people suck me dry with their stares
I would rather just stay hidden.”
If you would like to learn more about Paige Minnett and Art With impact, click here!