Change is known to make most uneasy, but a pandemic, as we all know firsthand, has overarching impacts on everyone. Focusing on mental health has been an issue that I have fostered within our community for years.
In 2018, I hosted a youth event called “Marching Forward” in Maryland with mental health and educational experts present. The event was to give students an outlet to vent their feelings on the Parkdale high school shooting. I was so impressed with the young march organizers as I witnessed their fearless call for changes by our national and local leadership. The conviction of those who spoke on this national platform — their fear, anxiety, and dismay for the lack of fair laws and systems — came through in their voices and showed on their troubled faces. As our event progressed, the students began to share their fears about losing their lives while at school and other real and raw challenges they faced as part of daily life.
They shed tears and supported one another during the retelling of stories that exposed traumatic situations of being bullied. They shared their fear of dealing with school shootings and other violence in what should be a safe space. They talked about the stress of getting good grades and being accepted into colleges. Their concerns also weighed heavily on whether their plans would work out, including the layers of peer pressure and fulfilling their parents’ expectations and vision for them.
Providing mental and physical health support to our communities when I became the Councilwoman for Prince George’s County District 8 was critical. My first wellness event was the #WOWFactor (Women of Wellness) where personal testimonies were shared and professionals imparted advice, encouragement, and healing tools on situations of mental, physical, domestic violence, sex trafficking and financial abuse. One of my mantra mottos is that your Health Is Your Wealth! It doesn’t matter who you are; we all have stress! African Americans have historically carried weighted, daily stressors more than any other group, due to racism, systemic inequality, and secondary or vicarious trauma.
Our perfect storm in the DMV that scathed our well-being, began in early March 2020 when it became evident that, regardless of age or ethnicity, we were all in an unthinkable “New Reality” that forced us to adapt in overwhelming ways. The turmoil of the unknown, all of the conflicting reports, social media bombardment, vast workforce reductions, lost income, and confinement heightened the domestic violence and mental illness entrapped within some homes, all with no warning, or a mapped-out plan. I decided something had to be done.
This need for action birthed “Moving Forward,” a series of virtual meetings and forums to navigate the whirlwind of our personal, professional, and family lives. Since May, we have hosted three “Moving Forward” webinars. The first was “Mental Health – From the Shock of Our New Reality.” Mental health professionals and a frontline medical worker addressed personal/professional, family, youth, grief, trauma, and substance challenges that affect our mental, physical, spiritual and financial health in this COVID-19 crisis. We learned that we are new people, forever changed from the pandemic, and that life as we know it will never be the same. So, Moving Forward, the question is, how do we cope? Here are some self-help tools from this webinar:
– Reset and Reconnect with Others
– Be Gentle and Patient with Ourselves and Others
– Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
– Try to Stay in the Moment
– Disconnect from the News and Social Media, especially Before Bedtime to Stop Racing Thoughts
As a personal healing and wellness outlet, I managed through the past few months with my faith, a newfound love of gardening, and clearing my house of clutter. I balanced that with continuing to serve my constituents by providing emergency PPE equipment to frontline workers and residents and ensuring the community had access to groceries and hot meals through nonprofit partnerships and daily home deliveries.
“Moving Forward” took a needed shift to address the second pandemic we faced with racial injustice and the overdue right of equity for African Americans. On June 24, we hosted regional elected, academia, and youth leadership for this discussion. Our latest “Moving Forward” on July 17, was dedicated to the youth leaders of today. They were vocal, informed, and knowledgeable on injustices, legislation, inequities in health, environment, education, poverty, police reform, and COVID-19 recovery. The “Moving Forward” series will continue to provide meaningful dialogue and resources as we move through these challenging times together. We Are All In This Together!