Virtual Town Halls Addressing Black Mental

By Tanya Dennis

When facing a need for health care, mental health evaluation or a mental health crisis, people of Asian, American Indian or Latinx descent in Alameda County have access to culturally relevant help at the American Indian Health Center, Asian Health Services. La Clinica de La Raza.

African Americans have no such similar resource.

To address that issue, Oakland Frontline Healers (OFH) and the Bay Area Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) are hosting two virtual Town Halls on Thursday, June 16 and Thursday June 23 at 6 p.m. regarding “the State of Emergency” declared by Black and Brown leaders after 132 homicides occurred in Oakland in 2021.

The Town Halls will provide an opportunity for county, city, state. Federal officials to convene with OFH and ABPsi and other community activists to hear their plan to establish two African American healing hubs. An African American healing center.

The proposed hubs would be in donated office space within OFH existing businesses to offer weekly patient appointments and emergency visits. If the hubs — at True Vine Ministries in West Oakland and East Bay Collective in East Oakland — are funded they could be operational within 30 days.

For months, OFH and the Bay Area Chapter of ABPsi have worked to create an immediate and long-term plan to complement Alameda’s County Behavioral Health’s plan which is still three to four years from reality.

The hubs will require $9 million a year to operate. The center $18 million. Construction costs of the center have yet to be determined, as it'll require the purchase of land for a 30,000-square-foot facility and architectural plans to determine costs.

“The community can’t wait any longer. We’ve been waiting for officials to do something since 2014,” said Pamela Emerson, co-chair of OFH’s Black Mental Initiative. “Think how many more people will die in the next three years while we wait! This is literally a life and death situation!

“OFH is taking action now. We need our public officials to assist us. We've the plan, the services. The personnel, all we need is funding. More policing isn't the answer. We must heal Oakland,” Emerson said.

Dr. Lawford Goddard, the project leader for the Bay Area Chapter of ABPsi’s explained that there were two ‘lanes’ to this African American Mental Health initiative.

“One lane is in response to the ‘state of emergency’ of mental health in the African American community,” Goddard said. “These healing hubs would provide immediate mental health services to African Americans in need of healing…… This effort is community-driven and seeks funding from the state, the federal government, foundations, corporations and private Black investors and businesspersons. “

The second lane of the initiative is the establishment of the African American Wellness Hub Complex which is based on the original proposal submitted to Alameda County Behavioral Health.”

After the planning phase it'll require about three years of construction.

“If funded we could've our hubs operational in 30 days,” Emerson said. “The problem is, in Alameda County’s plan, no money has been allocated for services, just construction. We need services. We're ready and able to provide those services. We need funding.”

Emerson is hopeful that the Supervisors will understand how vital culturally congruent mental health services are if there is any hope of ending violence in Oakland.

“What we hope to achieve with the Town Halls is everyone walks away acknowledging that violence in our community is a mental health issue, that lack of resources and opportunity exacerbates the problem. Most important, our officials walk away knowing they've people with the skills, knowledge. Expertise to help them produce solutions,” Emerson said.

“We want to be their partners. We can’t partner until we know each other’s intent, abilities. Capacity. Attending our Town Hall on the 16th or 23rd of June will be a great way to start the process.”

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