BUFFALO – Is there truly a stigma surrounding Black people and mental health?
“The stigma is real. To me it’s just another shaming tool – something utilized to work against us,” Melissa Archer, psychiatric nurse who runs NY Project Hope at the Buffalo Urban League, said.
May 14th’s racially-motivated mass killing at the Jefferson Avenue Tops supermarket was a traumatic crisis. Black people were targeted by a white supremacistwho killed Celestine Chaney, Roberta A. Drury, Andre Mackniel, Katherine Massey, Margus Morrison, Geraldine Talley, Heyward Patterson, Aaron Salter, Ruth Whitfield spirit Pearl Youngand wounded Christopher Braden, Zaire Goodman and Jennifer Warrington.
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Buffalonians, especially Black Buffalonians, are urged to seek mental health counseling. Many providers began offering free sessions soon after the racially-motivated mass shooting that left three wounded victims, as well as the 10 dead.
On Sunday, BUL and ECDMH worked together to offer a free, drop-in mental health clinic at Johnnie B. Wiley, about four blocks from Tops on Jefferson and Best Street.
“What happened on Saturday was not a random act of violence in which our entire community would experience the rise of fear. This was a targeted act of violence specifically toward Black people. We need to acknowledge that,” Deputy Erie County executive Maria Whyte said . “The generational trauma that will come from having been targeted based on the color of your skin … is something that we have to grapple with to properly heal.”
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The counseling clinics weren’t an immediate hit.
On Monday, Rev. Julian Cook, who preaches at the 101-year-old Macedonia Baptist Churchsaid very few people took advantage of the clinics when they first became available that weekend.
“People are still in shock. … It’s been a small trickle,” Cook said.
Archer said half of her BUL team helped at Johnnie B. Wiley on Sunday. BUL counselors only talked to three people that day, she said.
According to Whyte, 35 people came to the free clinic Sunday, and dozens arrived Monday.
“Don’t let the stigma that’s often associated with mental health counseling stop you. Honestly, that’s nonsense,” Whyte said. “We have this resource for you. We want you to use it.”
Archer named two reasons for the “slow trickle”: the ethnicities of the counselors, and the location of the clinic. ECDMH apparently had all white counselors Sunday. BUL made it clear that the lack of minority counselors was a problem.
“We just went through something horrific … and you want us to talk to someone that represents a culture that did this to us? Black folks weren’t going for it.” Archer said.
BUL has a diverse staff of crisis counselors who speak seven languages across seven represented cultures. Their ages range from 21-75. ECDMH took Archer’s advice and brought in more people of color Monday.
“Part of the challenge is that we do not have a lot of mental health counselors who are people of color, but that’s not true anymore,” Whyte said.
ECDMH’s free clinics are available at Johnnie B. Wiley from 1 pm to 9 pm through Friday, May 27.
BUL’s brand new Community Resource Center opened Wednesday on Glenwood Avenue and Jefferson. But the new building is not going to keep counselors from hitting the streets.
Johnnie B. Wiley is not close enough for Archer. She is sensitive to mourning people’s willingness to travel for their services.
So instead, BUL met the people on the streets. While people cried and mourned on the blocks surrounding Tops, BUL was there to talk, listen and hug. Archer said the outreach effort worked, and her counselors spoke to more people throughout the week.
Tuesday night, BUL handed out information at a vigil on Riley, where civil rights activist Shaun King comforted Buffalonians with his allyship. King challenged President Joe Biden – who visited victim’s families in Buffalo that afternoon – to confront white supremacy, and prove it by allocating resources in their budgets.
“It’s not enough to tell this city you care,” King said, of Biden’s visit.
The Erie County Department of Mental Health’s clinic will remain at Johnnie B. Wiley. They have a 24/7 crisis service hotline for those who can not physically come in.
“I’ll wake up tomorrow and still be in my white skin, which will afford me some amount of both privilege and safety that the African American community was not afforded Saturday,” Whyte said.
Buffalo Urban League still collaborates with Johnnie B. Wiley, including FeedMore WNYwhich has a drive-thru food distribution center in the stadium’s parking lot.
BUL helped FeedMore WNY deliver groceries to nearby seniors, then offered a mental health piece at their door to check on them.
FeedMore WNY public relations manager Catherine Shick said the stadium is perfect because it’s in the “heart of the community”.
The organization housed one of its food distribution centers at the stadium. The other center is on East Ferry Street. They are passing out goods from 1-9 pm through Friday, May 27.
“What’s bringing me hope and inspiration is seeing our organization, volunteers, partners and individuals coming together and lifting each other up,” Shick said.
Items like apples, shelf-stable milk and canned tuna were available at FeedMore WNY’s drive-thru. Those looking to donate or volunteer can visit the FeedMore WNY hub on 91 Holt Street or at Feedmorewny.org.
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