From South Orange Trustee Donna Coallier:
In honor of Black History Month, Community Care & Justice collaborated with South Orange Village Trustee Summer Jones to host a conversation on Black Mental Wellness. Each year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History chooses a theme for Black History Month, with this year’s theme focused on Black Health and Wellness. Moderator Kristin Miller, LCSW and Community Care & Justice Outreach Director, hosted an esteemed panel that included Danielle Washington, LCSW, and South Orange residents Dr. Olivia Lewis-Chang and Drew Johnson, LCSW. The conversation centered on aspects of the mental health journey that may be specific to the Black community, behavior that may indicate mental health concerns in others, and what to expect from therapy designed to strengthen mental wellness and alleviate or prevent distress.
“This was a vital conversation for our Black community and beyond”, said Trustee Jones. “So many are feeling continued distress, whether from racial trauma or the ongoing impact of the pandemic. The more we understand distress symptoms and potential wellness therapies, the sooner we’ll recover together as a community.”
“Knowledge is power. To promote community mental wellness, it is important to be aware of the ways that racial experiences impact mental health as well as what wellness and healing mean”, said Miller. “Our mental wellness programming is designed to provide education and increase awareness so that community members can be there for those they encounter that may be vulnerable or in distress.” South Orange Trustee Donna Coallier elaborated on the proactive approach, “Many people can be skeptical of therapy or see it only as a tool to use when facing distress. If we instead approach mental wellness like we do fitness – where our brain benefits from an ongoing nutrition, exercise and stretch routine – we will definitely feel better; whether on a day-to-day basis or in the face of mental health challenges like the pandemic.”
The Community Care & Justice program was initiated by South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and is a collaboration between the South Orange community, Seton Hall University and Essex County. The initiative seeks to “reimagine” traditional models of public safety through the larger lens of community wellness and with a greater emphasis on crisis prevention. Through outreach and knowledge sharing, Community Care & Justice engages residents, first responders and social work professionals in a more proactive, preventative, and collective approach to mental health and wellness and public health and safety. The program is sponsored by Trustee Donna Coallier, chair of the Village’s Health and Public Safety Committee, and led by Jayme Ganey, Program Director. Community Care & Justice deploys grass roots community education and social work outreach to accomplish programmatic goals.
Community Care & Justice educational programming covers a broad mental health and wellness spectrum ranging from anxiety and depression awareness to addressing racial trauma and bias. Initiatives have included a wellness series launch offering youth anxiety management, suicide prevention and other relevant mental health topics and several collaborations with Seton Hall University including an 8-week Social Justice Activation collaboration led by Dr. Jamila T. Davis and Dr. Juan Rios of Seton Hall University, guiding participants through social services development curriculum and awarding two teams with seed money to implement needed community-based services; the Peace and Community Justice speaker series launch featuring civil rights icon Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. in conversation with community youth activists and students; and a Seton Hall showcase led by Dr. Rios for community members and SOPD of an immersive virtual reality platform through which a participant can “embody” an avatar encountering racism.