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African Americans Negotiate Mental Illness, Black Pain

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The scars are still visible on Michelle Baxter’s arms.

She was a chubby, six-year-old when she first started slashing her arms with razor-sharp fingernails. Baxter, 35 and now a licensed social worker, theorizes that the cuts—one of about 15 types of coping strategies and non-suicidal injurious behavior—is a way to numb the pain in moments of self-doubt and self-hate. With a series of deep cuts, she says, she becomes unaware of her surroundings—or what she calls “missing in awareness.”

Baxter’s family-centered parents were frightfully aware of their daughter’s pain but perplexed by the novel marker of insanity. So they cloaked themselves in denial and shame.  Her parents, immigrants from Barbados, grew up in a time when they had little access to mental health services. After they migrated to the U.S. in the early 1960s, they wilted under Jim Crow segregation in New York.

“My parents didn’t know what to do, or who to turn to. So they worked it away with two or three jobs. Or prayed it away,” said the Brooklyn-born mental health advocate, who lives with her husband in Hartford. “They feared my illness would bring deep, biting shame to the family.”

Baxter’s parents are not alone in their pain and shame. Although African-Americans have the same rate of mental illness as whites, nearly 60 percent do not receive care, according to a 2004 Mayo Clinic study.  Only about 30 percent seek counseling, and they tend to be overrepresented among inpatient or residential treatment patients and underrepresented in outpatient care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report.  In 2010, 19.7 percent of blacks 18 or older had a mental illness. And 4.4 percent of blacks ages 18 or older suffered from a serious mental illness.

The implications are far-reaching and grim. Societal factors such as high homicide rates, high school dropout rate, high unemployment nationwide, and even higher in urban communities, are indicators that increase African Americans’ chances of developing mental illness, according to a 2009 Health Disparities report by the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

HARTFORD GUARDIAN FB COVERAfrican Americans also tend to be in poorer health than the larger society because they lack access to, or do not seek, adequate preventive services. Physical health, the report says, is linked to mental health and wellness.

Additionally, there tends to be a higher level of stigma and misunderstanding about mental illness in the black community, and it serves as a barrier to achieving mental well-being. That’s because many blacks fear icy sarcasm and further marginalization in an already racist and sexist society. African Americans and Afro-Latinos who decide to reach out often seek help much later after symptoms first manifest, said Dr. Gretchen Chase Vaughn, one of the few black private practice psychologists in Connecticut.

“It’s not just the stigma. All communities have that stigma. I think the stigma for us is a fear that the mental health system might not treat us well,” Vaughn said. “Often we get the image of the angry black man or the angry black woman when in reality our people are hurt or depressed by a society that tells them they are less than.”

Indeed, there are also other reasons people are hesitant to reach out for help, said James Siemianowsk, a former social worker and spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

“Mental illness is portrayed negatively. We have stereotypes of people who commit crimes. The reality is most people with mental illness are often victimized,” he said.  “Another reason is that they won’t be employed. So the fear is justified.”

Baxter’s parents eventually overcame their fears and reached outside the family for help when they found their daughter sitting in a pool of blood that had flown out of her cuts. At first, close relatives and mental health professionals reacted with blank expressions or bewilderment that a black girl cut herself. Self-mutilation, they thought, happened only in the white community. It doesn’t. Baxter cut herself to numb the pain when she got depressed because of past traumas and present realities: repeated sexual abuse, verbal abuse and the reverberations from society’s racist and sexist perception about dark-skinned women.

“When most people talk about self-mutilation, they often think of movies like Girl Interrupted. They think of it as something that happens to white girls,” said Dr. Kevin Chapman, a professor at the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities. “The response she’s getting from a cultural perspective is mostly related to how we put mental health on a hierarchy of symptoms. Depression and anxiety are sanctioned. But when we talk about symptoms that aren’t popular in the black community, it is labeled as crazy. And that’s problematic.”


Wearing the Mask

Many experts attribute the high rate of stigma about mental illness among communities of color as multi-dimensional, namely economic, psychological and historical.

“We normalize trauma in the black community even though it affects us, our children and our children’s children,” said Kev Muhammad, a community activist.

And it dramatically impacts communities of color. Hence, psycho-education is important to reduce the stigma in an environment where people are often discouraged from discussing personal problems, or “air dirty laundry.”

There’s also the daily strain of wearing an emotional mask to hide the pain that stems from racism, unemployment and poverty. Many seek emotional support in the church and within their families rather than turn to health care professionals. The disruption of that social dynamic usually leads to tension, Chapman said.

According to a 2009 Yale study, poverty affects mental health. People in poverty are three times more likely to report psychological distress. African Americans are twice as likely to live below the poverty level and twice as likely than their white counterpart to be unemployed. Moreover, poverty rate among African-Americans was 3.6 times greater than the poverty rate among whites.

Many experts also agreed that the legacy of slavery impacts the way African Americans deal with mental distress. During slavery, frequent whippings, rape, and other indignities of bondage resulted in mental illness. Slaves hid their torment not just to avoid being seen as weak but also to survive. Over time, strength was equated with survival.

That stigma still exists and is further exacerbated by a historical fear among African-Americans to seek help from mental institutions that may not recognize their specific cultural issues and often misdiagnosed or mistreated their conditions.

Tony Castro had that experience when he visited Capitol Region Mental Health Center in Hartford. After a brief examination, his doctor diagnosed his condition as anxiety disorder. But on another visit to Hartford Hospital, they diagnosed his condition as a schizophrenic disorder. Castro visited CREC for follow-up treatment, where he was administered high doses of antipsychotic medication, which caused muscle stiffness. When his family noticed the dramatic change in his gait, they inquired further and realized that Castro, a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was unaware of the new diagnosis. Castro thought he was still being treated for anxiety disorder.

“Without knowing the details or looking at [Castro’s] chart, I’d say there is no way the two diagnoses are linked.” Chapman said. “It’s laughable.”

And it is also scary. Several studies in the state and the nation find that blacks and their symptoms are over-diagnosed as schizophrenic.


Seeking Alternative Methods

Sometimes, failure to seek treatment for mental illness is not just a matter of shame but an emotional paralysis that overwhelms the patient, mental advocates say. So many have responded by turning to alternative treatments.

Swan Keyes, a California-licensed psychologist who practices communal healing with expressive art in Hartford, said her treatment includes the act of “putting the blame on societal factors rather than the individual.” Racism, poverty and lack of work are examples of societal factors that act as stressors and affect the psyche, said Keyes who also teaches a class on white liberal racism.

“It’s our society that’s ill,” she said. “That’s the problem we need to confront.”

Mental-health advocates such as Keyes encourage people to educate themselves about free resources that offer holistic healing, especially if they don’t have health insurance. And for those who seek help from mental institutions, the answer lies in cultural competency among mental health praticioners.

If we aim to decrease stigma, we should better understand the community and build rapport with people of color coming into the system, Chapman said, then many issues with stigma will likely decrease.

Baxter agreed.

“Black pain is real. But so is the truth of full recovery. We can, in our own time, overcome the trappings of mental illness,” she said. “But at the end of the day, race absolutely matters, especially when we talk about the distribution of resources. You might be aware of your symptoms and want help but you don’t have access to quality care.”


This article is the first of The Hartford Guardian’s two-part series that addresses health disparities in Connecticut. 

This article was made possible–in part–by the Connecticut Health Foundation, and the mentally ill patients’ names have been changed to protect their identities. 

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Bloomfield Residents Honor Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther Star

BLOOMFIELD – A celebration Tuesday featured a “Black Lives Matter“ mural being unveiled at the town hall with 15 local artists from Bloomfield and Greater Hartford, taking part in the festivities.

Thanks to a grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

The 43-year-old “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, who died tragically last Friday after a four-year secretive battle with colon cancer,  cast a positive and affirming light on all black men and women. The mural is a testament to that and his bravery.

This mural (above) outside of Bloomfield Town Hall is the first of three distinct, planned murals in the town which are financed by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

Like Boseman, the murals also honored other notable black men like John Lewis, a civil rights activist, who passed away in July at 80 and had key roles in the civil rights movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States. It was also dedicated to the men and women who died by police violence.

With the help of a  $6,640 grant from the foundation, the town of Bloomfield will soon have three murals in the community. The first was shown during the celebration, a 360 degree “Black Lives Matter” mural outside of Bloomfield Town Hall.

The Town Hall Black Lives Matter mural project team is being led by Hartford artist Khaiim A.K.A Self Suffice and Stephen Richmond, owner of Painting with A Twist in Hartford.

The team includes educators Zazzarro Decarish and Sacha Kelly, muralists Michael Borders and Chris Gann as well as several well-known and newer artists including Aariyan Googe, Che’ La’Mora and Trae Brooks.

There were a wide variety of topics such as  “Black Women’s Lives Matter,” “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” black fatherhood as well as homages to slain men and women and Boseman’s strength and courage during his private battle.

Bloomfield Mayor Suzette DeBeatham-Brown said this example of art expresses strong support for black lives.

“The Black Lives Matter mural is a strong statement that we are standing in solidarity when injustice happens to Black and Brown lives,” DeBeatham-Brown said. “We don’t want to forget what has brought us to this moment as a community and these murals help to remind us of that commitment.”

One of the artists, LaMora, decided to honor Boseman in a unique and creative way.

“I already was going to paint my part as a king, but after the King of Wakanda died, it was only right to interpret that into my design,” LaMora said. “We’ve been mourning for three days as of now.”

Richmond said that the works of art serve as a representation of the horrors inflicted on black lives to help to bring awareness to the issue.

“Like all the Black Lives Matter murals prior to this one, this one serves as a silent protest and a reminder of suffrages of blacks in America and is a symbol of hope through the art displayed,” Richmond said.

The Hartford Foundation grant covers stipends for the stencilers, supervisors and artists, and the cost of supplies and gift cards for youth assisting on the project.

DeBeatham-Brown said that the murals have been criticized by the public.

“There are some people out there but that commentary speaks exactly to who they are,” DeBeatham-Brown said. “It was important to be able to vote on a movement that is going to speak to what side of history you want to be on.”

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College Student Who Smeared Bodily Fluids on Black Roommate’s Belongings Receives Special Probation to Avoid Criminal Record. How Not Shocking

By Breanna Edwards, The Root

Brianna Brochu will not be facing any real punishment for smearing her bodily fluids all over, and tampering with, her black roommate’s belongings.

In fact, quite the opposite. Brochu, who was expelled from the University of Hartford in Connecticut following the incident, was granted a special type of probation on Monday that would allow her to avoid a criminal record altogether … as if systematically contaminating another person’s living space were no big deal.

According to the Hartford Courant, the victim in this scenario, Brochu’s former roommate Chennell “Jazzy” Rowe—who attended the hearing—did not oppose the request for accelerated rehabilitation. So now Brochu will have to perform a cushy 200 hours of community service, with 50 of those hours at a literacy organization in Greater Hartford and another 50 at a social services group.

If Brochu manages to not be disgusting stay out of trouble and complete those requirements, the charges she faced—breach of peace and criminal mischief—will be tossed out after two years.

Brochu will be forbidden from having contact with Rowe and will have to submit to a mental health evaluation.

Brochu, you might remember, was arrested after boasting about rubbing her used tampons on her roommate’s bag, as well as contaminating her eating utensils, toothbrush and other beauty products.

“Finally did it yo girl got rid of her roommate!! After 1 1/2 month of spitting in her coconut oil, putting moldy clam dip in her lotions, rubbing used tampons [on] her backpack, putting her toothbrush places where the sun doesn’t shine and so much more I can finally say goodbye Jamaican Barbie,” Brochu wrote in the caption for photos posted on Instagram.

What was especially alarming was how Rowe detailed how she had been continually getting sick while rooming with Brochu.

“While I’ve been here, I’ve been getting sick. Not knowing why I’ve been getting sick. It started with throat pain. I thought maybe because it’s colder up here, I’m just probably catching a cold,” Rowe revealed in a Facebook video detailing the ordeal. “The sore throat pain got worse and it was just throat pain. And this was happening for about a month. It got to the point where I had extreme throat pain where I couldn’t sleep, to the point where I couldn’t speak. Like, I’d try to whisper and I could barely whisper.”

The state, it is worth noting, avoided filing hate crime charges, a decision that earned the Hartford State’s Attorney’s Office loads of criticism. However, State’s Attorney Gail Hardy insisted that “the state does not bring criminal charges for personal or political reasons,” citing that there was no evidence that Rowe was being harassed because of her race or ethnicity.

The Courant notes that Rowe acknowledged how Brochu’s “acts of hate” traumatized her and resulted in nightmares, but Rowe also said that by giving Brochu a “second chance, I hope she will change her ways.”

Brochu’s lawyer, Thomas Stevens, apologized on Brochu’s behalf, saying that his client wanted to “express her regret” sooner, but he basically told her not to snitch on herself to avoid possible civil litigation.

I just have one thing to say: Ugh.

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How We’re Losing Our Daughters by Ignoring Their Pain


“Ms. Tiffany, why don’t black girls matter?”

It was an awkward question posed during one of the listening sessions I conduct for Black Girls Unscripted, a documentary in progress which aims to expose girls of color to positive self-imagery, educational resources, cultural exploration, mental wellness and leadership opportunities. It’s during these listening sessions that girls get to sound off and propose solutions to issues of importance to them.

I was stunned by the question, not quite sure how to offer a thorough answer in the 15 minutes we had remaining. So I posed the question back to them: “Tell me why you believe you don’t matter.”

Their responses varied—from the low expectations others have of them to persistent media stereotyping that undervalues women and girls. When I asked who, besides their parents, they confide in regarding their fears and concerns, they stated, almost in unison, “My parents told me to keep my business to myself.”

I was reminded of the stigmas surrounding mental health that permeated my own childhood during the ’70s. Back then, mental illness was viewed as a sign of weakness. I distinctly remember hearing folks say, “Black people don’t get depressed,” or “If black people could endure slavery, we can endure anything,” or “Black women just deal.” Mental-health care was a luxury that few in my community could afford.  And those who did seek treatment often reported experiencing discrimination at the hands of doctors who failed to diagnose them properly.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and not much has changed. Stigmas still persist, and African Americans, especially youths, are still not receiving the necessary mental-health interventions.

A recent Time article highlighted a study published by JAMA Pediatrics indicating that from 1993 to 2012, the suicide rate among black children significantly rose while the rate among white children dropped. An earlier report funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that black American teens, especially girls, may be at high risk for attempting suicide even if they have never been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Researchers estimate that at some point before they reach 17 years of age, 4 percent of black teens overall and more than 7 percent of black teen girls will attempt suicide. It is apparent that our girls are burdened by emotions bearing down on them in ways that we fail to properly address, leaving them to manage feelings of anger, fear and confusion on their own.

But, mostly, they feel invisible.

President Barack Obama recently announced a nonprofit spinoff to My Brother’s Keeper—the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance—which includes investments of more than $80 million for programs focused on the well-being of young black and Latino men.  And while there is plenty of evidence to indicate that black boys and girls are drowning under the weight of similar issues, girls and young women continue to be excluded from the president’s signature racial-justice initiative.

So why do so few notice that our girls are also in crisis?

Girls like 17-year-old Ayana*, petite, with dimpled cheeks, who spent 13 years being shifted from one abusive foster home to the next. She reported the abuse to her caseworker, teachers and school counselors. They didn’t believe her. Forced to push down the pain and anger, fighting became her outlet.

Or Myrna*, a doe-eyed Latina, who endures the daily teasing about her broken English and the fear that her undocumented parents will be deported. Self-mutilation became her coping mechanism.

Or with my former mentee, Alisha, who attempted suicide because she didn’t feel pretty or worthy.

Thankfully, each of these girls now benefits from amazing programs that offer a safe haven, access to mental-health resources, a place to connect with girls who share similar challenges and a pipeline to opportunities. It’s stories like these, and the countless others that remain untold, that prompted me to create the Black Girls Unscripted movement, focused on the empowerment of girls and young women of color. We’re building critical partnerships with organizations like Breathe Nonprofit to deliver suicide-prevention education to young people and bring continued awareness of mental-health challenges in our community.

The quote “It takes a village to raise a child” has never been more relevant than it is today. I call on every black woman to commit to doing away with the damaging notions of the “strong black woman” that prevent us from seeking the help we so deserve. Let’s acknowledge that we are breakable and that it’s OK to ask for help when we need it. Let’s all rally together—fathers, sons, brothers and uncles included—to push for policies and programs that empower girls of color, girls who are full of aspirations, potential and hope. Their continued abandonment will only serve to undermine the well-being of our entire community. We owe it to our daughters, nieces, sisters, granddaughters, neighbors and students to advocate on their behalf, make room at the table for their voices and help them reimagine their role in society.

* The names have been changed to protect the identity of minors.

Tiffany L. Gill is an activist, creator of the Black Girls Unscripted film campaign and lover of all things chocolate. Follow her on Twitter.

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White Connecticut Frat Goes Unpunished after Harassing Black Sorority

By Breanna Edwards, The

UCONN-STORRS — Members of University of Connecticut black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha are speaking out against how they’re being treated by the historically white Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, especially after the frat went unpunished after alleged racist and sexist attacks, the school’s Daily Campus reports.

“We were called whores, and after establishing that I was a university professional I was verbally accosted, and intimidation tactics were used,” AKA Graduate Advisor Brittney Yancy said, speaking at a town hall meeting hosted by the African American Cultural Center On Monday. “They called me a fat black bitch, not just a fat bitch but a fat black bitch.”

“I have to deal with the fact that the student who has verbally accosted me received no punishment,” Yancy added of the late September incident.

According to the Daily Campus, the fraternity was subject to sanctions including loss of rock-painting privileges after allegedly painting a spirit rock with racially charged words while verbally harassing soror members, however individuals were not punished.

“Privilege will ruin our reputation,” the sorority graduate advisor added. “And if it goes unchecked, this is how it impacts our community. It will determine who matters, who is protected, who gets access and who is worthy of justice on this campus.”

According to the report, Yancy only learned at the town hall meeting that they could file individual complaints against members of the fraternity, as well as a complaint against PIKE as a whole.

“I think what is nauseating is the lack of transparency. It would have been great to know that someone needs to follow up on an individual complaint so we can take the appropriate actions,” she added.

The Daily Campus noted the absence of any of the historically white sororities as well as any member of PIKE at the meeting.

Read more at the Daily Campus.

Photo Credit: Facebook

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Black Women “Sick and Tired” of Low Quality Healthcare, Infant Mortality

Editor’s Note: This article was made possible by the International Center for Journalists’ Community Health Reporting Fellowship and is a part of an ongoing series on Race, Gender and Medicine in America.

By Ann-Marie Adams

Connecticut has the highest infant mortality rate for black babies.

That’s according to the state’s own 2009 health disparities report, which reveals consistently higher infant mortality rates than white and Hispanic infants.

The infant mortality rate represents the number of deaths among babies under one year old per 1,000 births. The latest report shows the number of deaths for black babies between 2001 and 2005 was 314 or 13 percent compared to Hispanics with 251 or 6.5 percent, or Whites with 515 or 3.9 percent.

Dr_AnnMarie_AdamsNaturally, someone should ask why there’s such a high death rate among black babies in Connecticut. Is it caused by improper nutrients from food desserts in urban areas? Or is it a systematic attempt—unmitigated long after the infamous Tuskegee experiment—to harm black people in America? Many so-called Third World countries do not have such high infant mortality rates. So I’m leaning toward the latter, considering socio-economic factors that are already impacting the black family.

the-hartford-guardian-OpinionBefore you get your panties in a bunch, consider the history of race and medicine in America. If you do, you will contextualize the contemporary conditions and see that this is not an alarmist approach to scant evidence. It’s a singular theory based on American history and years of research that have produced enough facts to examine this crisis.

According to The Hartford Guardian’s own investigation of Greater Hartford-area hospitals, doctors are more willing to prescribe medications that damage black women’s reproductive organs. The atrocity of substandard healthcare for many black women can be in the form of benign neglect in a hospital emergency room to egregious malpractice such as forcing medications against will—a common and often criminal–practice at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. The most popular culprit is Risperidone, which seeps into breast milk and enlarges breasts.

Besides robbing many black women of their breast milk, Risperidone contributes to the mammification of the black woman’s body. It’s the most frightening side effect of this drug known to cause death. Similar steroidal and non-steroidal medications include cyclobenzprine, hydrocodon-acetaminophn, methylprednisolone, cogentin, gabapenten and haldol. Many cause hyper-lactatemia, a fancy word for inflating a woman’s breast with deadly toxins.
The problem is not just in Connecticut, however. This also occurs at the Maryland-based National Institutes of Health, where doctors recruit women to use experimental drugs that cause harm to their reproductive system and then send them off to deal with the later consequences of an unknown drug.
Black men also face similar harm with pills that decrease libido or contribute to erectile dysfunction. But this story about the health industry makes a sharp departure from the overall black experience when we look at the intersection of race, gender and medicine.

The syphilis experiment from 1932 to 1972 by the U.S. Health Service generated national outrage and is well-known around the world. The lesser known experiments of black women like Henrietta Lacks did not cause an uproar.

This makes me want to scream.

Consider this: Black women are more likely to die of heart failure, cancer, and other diseases because of deficient medical care. They are also more likely to have uterine fibroids, which are commonly associated with stress. The confluence of stressors is attributed to socio-economic conditions. For example, black women are three times more likely than white women to be unemployed. And though you have gender inequality among wage earners, black women earn 70 cents on the dollar for the same work as other workers.

Mental Health Series: African-Americans Negotiate Mental Illness

Perhaps President Barack Obama, who benefited from the overwhelming support of black women voters in 2008 and 2012, should consider implementing policies that mitigate centuries of medical abuses and character assassination of the black woman in America. Besides the medical maladies they face, most black women are considered angry—even if they wear pastel colors and glue their mouths shut.

The angry woman trope is laughable among the righteously discontented, who are now wondering when they will we see policies that have a direct impact on their lives in every sphere. Let’s deal with specificity. When will black women have equal access and opportunity?

Do they need to storm the White House to get Obama’s attention? With two years left in the White House, perhaps he should consider forming a task force of multi-ethnic black women who will attack these deficiencies in the health field and change the way health care is administered to them. Are these deficiencies factored into the web of policies linked to Obamacare, which supposedly gives Americans access to quality and affordable healthcare?

If single black women consist of 70 percent of black households that overwhelmed voting booths to elect the first black president, then we ought to see specific policies that address these constituencies—sooner rather than later.

Like Fannie Lou Hamer who helped reshape the Democratic Party in the 1960s, some of us black women are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Mental Health Series: Reclaiming Black Men’s Mental Health

Dr. Ann-Marie Adams the founder and editor of The Hartford Guardian. She has worked for The Hartford Courant, The Washington Post, The, and People Magazine. She has taught U.S. History and Journalism at Quinnipiac University, Howard University and Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter: @annmarieadams.

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Too Many People Are Looking Past Thanksgiving to Black Friday

By Glenn Mollette    

The first Thanksgiving was surrounded by life’s hardships. The early English settlers were bombarded with extreme weather, hunger, sickness and death. Those who had survived believed the best they could do was to stop and give thanks.

glen mollettToo many throughout America are looking past Thanksgiving. Either we don’t want to think about it or we are looking to black Friday, Christmas or just trying to get through the year. The aggravations of the world often drive us to feeling beaten down and we become bitter and resentful instead of thankful.

the-hartford-guardian-OpinionWhen we live with gratitude our lives are more peaceful. Gratitude is a great stress reliever because we are looking to God and thanking Him. A thankful life is a healthy life emotionally and physically. In Gratitude we focus on the positive instead of the negative. We focus on the giver of life and not everything that is wrong with life.

How well we know that life is filled with suffering.  Tornadoes destroyed towns throughout the Midwest last week. Thousands of people were devastated. One evening news sound bite was a woman in tears saying that she and her husband lost everything but they clung to each other because they still had each other.” In the middle of losing everything they were grateful for each other.  The Philippines were almost wiped off the map because of the most horrific typhoon ever recorded. Those people are suffering.

We don’t want pain and suffering. Yet, it’s almost impossible to live very long without experiencing both.  A man in the Bible by the name of Job lost everything. He lost his children, his entire wealth and his health.  Job suffered and lost everything. His wife told him to curse God and die. Job looked to his creator in spite of circumstances. He never lost his sense of gratitude toward God even in the blackest hours of his life.  He said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him,” Job 13:15. In his last years of life Job ended up with more than ever before. Gratitude was the beginning step to a new life for Job.

You may not feel life is going your way. Stop and give thanks. Giving thanks is often the first step to better days.



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Reclaiming Black Men’s Mental Health

Editor’s note: In light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 children dead, The Hartford Guardian is reposting this column, which examines how mental illness plays out in the African American and Latino communities.


HARTFORD — The death of Michael Jackson made me think a lot about the problem of mental illness in the black community.

On the one hand, Jackson’s talents were indescribable. He mesmerized (including me) crowds across the globe with his singing and dancing for decades – I nearly broke my ankle trying to do that damn moonwalk back in the 80s.

Jackson made it all look so easy. Without a doubt, he is one of the greatest entertainers to have ever lived.

But, it had been nearly twenty years since Jackson had a bona fide hit record. His stardom and the public’s obsession with his life, however, did not fade away.

HARTFORD GUARDIAN FB COVERSadly though, Jackson stayed in the media for all the wrong reasons: the bizarre effects of numerous cosmetic surgeries, the child molestation charges, the designer surgical masks, the strange looking clothing, the brink of bankruptcy despite making hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, and dangling his infant son over a railing at an hotel, just to name a few.

Jackson was not simply a little odd; he was pretty damn strange, clearly someone who showed signs of a type of mental illness. Sadly, his talent was so prodigious many people downplayed the seriousness of his psychological problems. Anyone not a mega-superstar like Jackson would have been encouraged by family and friends to get help.

Looking back, it was really sad to watch his mental condition deteriorate over the years. One does not need a Ph.D. in psychology to see that Jackson was deeply traumatized as a child by years of emotional (and perhaps physical abuse) and the psychological effects of being conditioned to reject blackness in a racists, capitalists, society. His obsession with cosmetic surgery suggested a pathological hatred of blackness and a deep desire for recognition and acceptance by whites socially and professionally (he also married two white women and adopted three white children).

Michael Jackson’s death should encourage us all to think more seriously about how mental illness affects the black community, especially black men.

Clare Xanthos of the Morehouse School of Medicine argues that black males from the time that they are young experience major challenges to their psychological well-being. “In addition to dealing with the physical, mental and emotional issues typically experienced during adolescence, adolescent African-American males are confronted with unique social and environmental stressors; they must frequently cope with racism and its associated stressors, including family stressors, educational stressors, and urban stressors,” writes Xanthos.

In the black community, mental illness, especially depression, is rarely ever talked about; it is shrouded in secrecy. As a result, millions of black men either suffer in silence or end up getting help only in extreme circumstances – i.e., in emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and prisons.

John Head, in his landmark book, Standing In the Shadows: Understanding and Overcoming Depression in Black Men, argues that beginning at an early age, black males are expected to embrace an idea of masculinity – a cool pose – that requires that they be silent about their feelings, suppress their emotions, shoulder their burdens alone, and refuse to show weakness.

The mental health of black men is also being damaged by racial oppression. Institutionalized racism affects mental health in at least three significant ways. First, it leads to lower social standing, limits access to key societal resources, and worsens one’s living conditions. Second, physiological and psychological responses to social and environmental stressors lead to adverse developments in psychological well-being. Finally, the embrace of negative stereotypes can cause negative self-evaluations that have harmful effects on mental health.

Unfortunately, few public commentators or friends and family members participating in the chat fest about Michael Jackson’s life (and death) are talking candidly about his mental health.

I truly believe that had his psychological well-being been addressed a long time ago, the world might not have lost this incredibly talented man.

Further, I also think that black men who experience, for example, bouts of depression, would have benefited immensely from seeing someone like Jackson publically acknowledge that they too need help.

This column was first published on Dr. Sekou is an associate professor at the University of Hartford. He teaches politics and government.

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Related Link:

Washington Post : On Being a Black Man


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Study: Black Male Incarceration Jumps 500%, Resulting in a Mental Health Crisis

By Boyce Watkins, Ph.D.

A report has been released at Meharry Medical College School of Medicine about the devastating impact that mass incarceration has on our society.

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, is one of the most thorough examinations of the impact that mass incarceration has on the African- American community.  The study’s authors argue that the billions of dollars being spent keeping non-violent offenders behind bars would be better spent on education and rehabilitation.

“Instead of getting health care and education from civil society, African-American males are being funneled into the prison system. Much of this costly practice could be avoided in the long-term by transferring funds away from prisons and into education,” says Dr. William D. Richie, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Meharry Medical College, lead author of the paper.

HARTFORD GUARDIAN BANNERThe study’s authors note that 60 percent of all incarcerations are due to non-violent, drug-related crimes.   The authors also note that the cost of substance abuse in the United States is as high as half a trillion dollars per year.

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“Spending money on prevention and intervention of substance abuse treatment programs will yield better results than spending on correctional facilities,” the authors claim in the study.

Finally, the authors note that while crime rates have declined over the last 20 years, incarceration rates has climbed through the roof. The inmates occupying these jail cells are disproportionately black.  In fact, the black male incarceration rate has jumped by 500% between 1986 the 2004.  The authors note that, even for those who don’t abuse drugs before going to prison, the likelihood of substance abuse after prison goes up dramatically.

You can read more of the study at this link.

The mass incarceration epidemic affects all of us, even those who haven’t gone to prison: It affects the child who grows up without  a father who has been incarcerated, the children who are bullied at school by that child, the woman seeking a husband who can’t find a good man to marry, the list goes on and on.  When so many of our men are marginalized and incarcerated, this has a powerful impact on the sociological ecosystem of the black community, the same way an economy crumbles when a few large companies go bankrupt.

The point here is that we cannot look at the holocaust of mass incarceration as someone else’s problem or something that just affects criminals.  The punishment should fit the crime, and when every study imaginable says that black people are more likely to go to jail for the same crimes, this means that Jim Crow is alive and well.

Something must be done at the grassroots, state and federal levels.

We cannot allow this epidemic to exist any longer.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the creator of the “Building Outstanding Men and Boys (BOMB) Family Empowerment Series.”

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Related Link:

Washington Post : On Being a Black Man


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I’m With Spike: “Madea’s Big Happy Family” Is No Laughing Matter For Intelligent Black Women

Op Ed

At first I thought Spike Lee was just hatin’ but after going to see the latest installment of the Madea franchise by Tyler Perry – I’ve got to shout it loud and proud that “I’m with Spike.” Don’t get me wrong – Tyler Perry is EXTREMELY gifted. He also seems to be a very nice person, generous and kind-hearted. Don’t know him – but from what we all see of his every day character there’s no doubt he has many admirable qualities and an impressive work ethic.

With that said, I must also say – that up until Saturday, April 23, 2011, I was a huge Madea fan. I first fell in love with the Tyler Perry Madea phenomenon after seeing the Madea Goes to Jail play at the Kodak Theater. I thought the characters were funny, yet respectable and the message was rich with spiritual undertones on the importance of faith and family. So I was more than excited to see the latest Madea’s Big Happy Family flick. I planned for weeks to see the film, purchasing advance tickets and even arrived an hour prior to show time to beat any crowds. I had eagerly awaited this much-needed cinematic break from reality.

However, reality is what gave me a classic Madea slap in the face as I sat through an excruciating storyline full of back-to-back black female characters that were the epitome of the most popular “angry, annoying, nagging, loud, unattractive, beat-down-your-man,” stereotypes of black women. The movie depicts all of our worst stereotypes on Barry Bonds steroids. I found these stereotypes to be extremely dreadful and frankly I was surprised that they were coming from Tyler Perry – who I had previously thought did a nice job of creating positive roles for black women.

Unfortunately, any earlier positive female roles Perry did create – now seem like they were just a figment of my imagination after seeing the first hour of Madea’s Big Happy Family.

Let me explain. There was the obese, weed-smoking auntie Bam who just couldn’t get enough of a high to satiate her appetite – to the overweight, cold-cream wearing daughter Tammy, who is so down on her man even after he brings her beautiful flowers for their anniversary, to this same couple’s Robin Harris Bébé’s kids that continuously refer to their dad as “punk ass.” Then there’s the pretty Kimberly, who plays the cold-hearted, career-hungry sister that treats her handsome husband (Mr. Old Spice) with spiteful disdain for no reason. And if that wasn’t enough, Kimberly is also depicted as an unfit and unloving mother who is cruel to her sweet-faced 18-month old son.

Really, Tyler Perry? Are black women that bad? Apparently so – because it doesn’t let up here.

Byron’s character, a.k.a. Bow-Wow, has some extreme baby-mama drama with his fast talkin’, burger pimpin’, ghetto ex-girlfriend known as Sabrina. She demands child support but spends it on Baby Phat instead of formula. Not to mention Bow Wow’s current girlfriend in the film played by Lauren London – who encourages him to hit the streets again and to start sellin’ because his $10 an hour job ain’t cutting it for her gold-digging ventures.

Did I also mention the over-used “1.800.choke-that-ho” joke – which was not even funny. Thanks to this Perry script – kids all across America will be chanting, “dial 1.800.Choke-a-ho.”

If it takes all of these negative images and foul dialogue to tell the eventual moral of the story about the importance of faith and family, I am not willing to travel the road anymore to see whatever light might possibly be at the end of the Tyler Perry-Madea tunnel. For now, we are with Spike on this Tyler Perry movie – this was straight buffoonery on par with Eddie Murphy’s Norbit and Martin Lawrence’s Big Mama’s House.

It’s no wonder why so many black women are single and not getting any proposals from the same men that they have birthed and raised when we are characterized in such a negative light. It is these hateful and demeaning images that stain the minds of many men and young boys (black or not) to see black women as undesirable mates and less valuable than other women.

Black women better wake up and smell the proverbial coffee – because they are not profiting from these types of hurtful images broadcasted to the entire world. This is especially true for the 42 percent of black women that have never been married and never will get married. It is an even more pressing issue for our black daughters who are next in line to be single and lonely if we as black women continue to stand in silence and support our own demise.

And why is it that Black women are the only women who have a negative stereotype about themselves that translates into undesirability? The common Asian female stereotype is that they are submissive – but in the eyes of most men – this is seen as a good quality for a wife. White women have the stereotype of the dumb blonde – but this is viewed as comedic first and foremost, and then there is the assumption that if she’s blonde – then she is automatically considered beautiful. Lastly, Latina women have the stereotype that they are “sexually spicy” and cater to their man’s every need – and while I am sure that most Latinas find this extremely degrading – it doesn’t hurt them in the context of desirability among men. After all, being desired by a man who loves you is what most women ultimately want.

Black women are the only women who suffer from stereotypes that say they are unattractive across every dimension. This is why these negative stereotypes perpetuated in Tyler Perry’s latest film have to be identified and confronted. As long as we continue to allow negative images of what it supposedly means to be a black woman to go on the air unchallenged – we will continue to see such painful reminders of our silence. I am reminded of the recent State Farm commercial with the black smart-talking girl on the corner popping her neck to her boyfriend. Better yet, if we stand by and say nothing, we will surely get a sequel to the infamous 2011 Super Bowl Pepsi Max commercial of the black overweight, bug-eyed, unattractive wife whose husband fantasizes about the fit cute white blonde on the park bench.

Every single unpleasant and spiteful media image of black women contributes to what now is an ever-growing trend and intentional separation of black men with black women throughout mainstream advertisements and television programs. Perhaps if the majority of the images of black women were positive then this all would not be as much of an issue – but that is not the case. There are too many images on the big screen that still portray black women as despicable and difficult. Please Tyler, stop tellin-this-vision. Black women have suffered enough from media mockery.

Yasmeen Muqtasid is the founder of Black Women Matter, Inc., which is dedicated to uplifting and encouraging black women and girls with positive media and information that enriches their lives, reinforces their value and empowers them to be their absolute best. For more information or to join the Black Women Matter movement, send an email to

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