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For July Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Awareness Month, we are pleased to share our e-interview with Dr. Tonicia Freeman-Foster, Ed.D, CDP, CHES®, PMP, co-founder and principal consultant at Kusudi Consulting Group, and change specialist at Change Matrix.

e4W: Tell us about This is My Brave: Stories from the Black Community.

Dr. Freeman-Foster: The goal of This is My Brave: Stories from the Black Community is to create a movement and a culture in which Black people who are receiving mental healthcare can bravely share their stories, so that other individuals in Black communities can see themselves and their own stories. Knowing that it is okay to not be okay, and that talking about it is not a weakness but is a sign of strength. Letting people know that you do not have to suffer in silence, and there are other people who are going through this cheering you on and hoping that you get the help that you need and deserve. Seeing people who look like you as pictures of hope and inspiration.

The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor compounded the mental health challenges that were already going on in many communities, especially Black communities. We talk about mental health, about the intersection of racism, ageism, sexism and lookism, and people fearing that they will be killed or that their loved ones may not make it back home, on top of everything going on with COVID-19.

For the providers, we wanted to highlight how mental wellness and treatment services may look different for Black and African American communities. We highlight the need for culturally responsive mental health and wellness services which are critical for engagement, getting people in the door, and fostering equitable outcomes and equitable treatment services.

e4W: What are some sources of stigma related to mental health treatment in Black communities?

Dr. Freeman-Foster: One source of stigma stems from slavery where Blacks and African Americans were deemed to be strong so that they could do the work. There were adverse consequences, including death, for those who were deemed to be weak. Because of this, in so many ways we have internalized strength to mean that you have to be able to do the work. You must be able to always put on a smile, even when you are sad or not feeling well. We have internalized this to the point of when we are not feeling well, we feel the judgement of it as a weakness or being lazy. This is why the message “it’s okay not to be okay” is critical, and it’s critical that we as Blacks and African Americans say it, practice it, and live it. Mental health is health too.

Another huge factor is the intersection between mental wellness and faith. There is some belief that if you are feeling sad, then you probably did not pray enough, or you do not believe in God enough, or that you do not have enough faith. The belief that overall, you are weak spiritually. No one wants to be seen as weak, and so as a result we do not seek help. It’s important that we understand that we can do both simultaneously. We can seek earthly help for our mental wellness AND we can pray too.

e4W: Tell us about your presentation Equity as an Expectation on August 30th at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Dr. Freeman-Foster: With Equity as an Expectation, we will explore strategies to create an environment where people, no matter their demographics or life experiences, can expect that they will receive culturally responsive services in an equitable manner and have equitable outcomes.

The reason that equity is missing in a lot of our programs and services is because it has been allowed to be optional. I compare it to a grocery store. You have young adult services on aisle five, HIV services on aisle six, mental health services on aisle seven, substance use services on aisle eight, physical health on aisle nine, and then equity on aisle three. If we truly want to make a positive impact in all our interactions, then equity must be the shopping cart. It must be the first thing that you come in the door with, and the thing that everything builds on top of. It is about interweaving equity practices into everything that we do, versus having equity as an optional standalone practice. There must also be accountability measures in place for all team members, and a consistent process for reviewing progress, outcomes measures and follow-up actions.

About Dr. Tonicia Freeman-Foster: Dr. Tonicia Freeman-Foster has over 20 years of experience in cultivating hope, resiliency and wellness through her work with underserved persons and marginalized communities. She is passionate about her work in assisting organizations and leaders in understanding how their beliefs and actions impact diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and justice for staff, clients and communities. Dr. Freeman-Foster possesses extensive experience in matters related to mental health, substance use, child welfare, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQ+, youth and young adult, women, Black, Indigenous and People of color (BIPOC) populations.

Dr. Freeman-Foster is the co-founder and principal consultant at Kusudi Consulting Group, and she also currently serves as a change specialist at Change Matrix. In these roles, she provides training, technical assistance and coaching to individuals, communities and organizations throughout the nation. In her previous role, Dr. Freeman-Foster served as project director of the Florida Healthy Transitions program, and led the development of an innovative peer-to-peer behavioral health model for youth and young adults. Dr. Freeman-Foster possesses a Bachelor’s degree in Health Science Education (Community Health) from the University of Florida, a Master’s degree in Human Services (Organizational Management and Leadership) from Springfield College, and a Doctorate degree in Education (Organizational Leadership) from Argosy University. Dr. Freeman-Foster is a Certified Diversity Professional, Certified Health Education Specialist, Certified Courageous Conversations About Race™ Practitioner, and Certified Project Management Professional.

We hope you enjoyed this feature article from the Magellan Healthcare eMpowered for Wellness July 2021 newsletter.

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Magellan’s eMpowered for Wellness newsletter provides an in-depth look into the critical behavioral health and social issues individuals in our country are facing today. Information and valuable resources are included to help improve overall health through peer support, whole health and working toward wellness.

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