Celebrating Black History Month

By Dempris Gasque for NAMI [National Association for Mental Illlness] Feb. 01, 2021

For many, Black History Month is a reminder of everything our ancestors endured and overcame. It is a 28-day marathon of reflection, pride and patriotism. It is a declaration of the strength of African American people. And while I am honored by the leaders whose ideologies we reflect upon; I find it hurtful and damaging that we are still too scared to address our scars and how they affect our mental health.

Given that African Americans were enslaved and brought to the U.S. by their oppressors and American colonists, is there not a need to further explore the devastations that African Americans have faced? How do we as a nation digest the fact that those once seen as 3/5 of a person, or even as property, are still in need of healing? How do we address the current oppression, discrimination and wrongful killing of Black people to this day?

We are perceived as strong for we are tenacious, but strength and resilience should not be built solely through suffering. I have watched many idolize people like George Floyd as if they were martyrs. But they were not martyrs, they were victims who did not have a choice of life or death or even liberty or death. I am sure if you asked their families, they would much rather the continued existence of their loved ones than the admiration that only came after bullet wounds, suffocation, lynching or other hate-filled acts of murder.

As an African American/Black man, I would like to be respected for my strength and tenacity in moving forward and progressing in a way that I choose. And my choice has been to develop a wellness recovery action plan that allows me to champion and advocate for mental health reform. I don’t want to be admired for suffering in silence and being resilient after prejudices that should be illegal — I want to be admired for speaking out about mental health.

My feeling of this year’s Black History Month is that a mental health movement that breaks through for the African American community which is more important now than ever. We have built upon the legacies of others due to our contributions to science, technology, agriculture, and medicine and now it is time to rebuild our own state of well-being.

It is time for America to address our need for healing, not in a self-serving manner that allows delegates and racist parties to rid themselves of guilt while neglecting any accountability, but in a way that allows those reforming current policies to actively engage and understand the current state of the African American population with a focus on equity.

For me, it’s helpful to remember the life of Chadwick Boseman, who in real life was stronger than the character he portrayed. As a fellow South Carolina native, he reminded me of the power of our voice and its amplification when followed by our actions. His passion and persistence even while in severe pain from cancer reminds me that we as a people need to take action to enrich our lives, and the lives of those who are to come after us, through prioritizing our mental health. Not only in tragedy, but in triumph.

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