For Taneasha White, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, mental health in the African-American community is something she thinks deserves a better forum. To start a conversation on the issue, White and her fellow organizers have created an event called the “Black Minds Matter Project,” a three-day summit taking place today through Wednesday (March 20 to 22) that seeks to “provide a space for open discussion, education, empowerment and healing” for people of color affected by racism, according to White.
The series, which is primarily being held at several locations in and around VCU, will feature almost a dozen workshops, mixers and roundtable discussions, with a keynote speech from VCU professor and interim chairman on African-American studies Shawn Utsey. White says Richmond, particularly the VCU area, is the perfect setting for a series like this.
“Mental illness on a large scale has a prevalence in the black community,” White says. “Especially in this area, even though Richmond is like 51 percent black people, there is still a large presence of non people of color, at VCU especially. [Because of that] I know some people have problems finding the community they need.”
White’s co-organizer, Brittney Maddox, who is also a senior at VCU, says she has been working for the Black Lives Matter movement since 2014. However, the idea for this summit actually began last year after the police shootings of two African-American men, Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
“I just remember feeling really tired and the videos [of the shootings] were up everywhere,” Maddox says. “Everything was just crazy, so I hit up some friends to ask, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ You know, you check in just to see how people were feeling about this and we all kind of had the same feelings.”
Maddox says those feelings pushed her and her friends to seek out advice from professors at VCU, who told them what they were experiencing was “racial battle fatigue,” a phrase created by professor William Smith at the University of Utah. Maddox says that for her this comes from racist “microaggressions,” intentional and unintentional, directed towards her that pile up throughout the day and have a negative impact on her mental state. But through the Black Minds Matter Project, she hopes her and her co-organizers can combat this and other factors that leave a negative impact on mental health in the black community.
“[We want to] expand the conversation about our mental health,” Maddox says. “Oftentimes in the age of Black Lives Matter, there’s focus on the corporeality part of [being black] but not so much on the trauma or stigma attached to the black identity.”
Monday’s events (March 20) include:
Black Minds Matter opening, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the VCU Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), 907 Floyd Ave.
Destigmatized: A Workshop on Shame, noon to 1:30 p.m., OMSA
Real Talk: Black Masculinity Roundtable, 6 to 8 p.m., Grace and Broad streets
Akoma: Open Mic featuring Savon Bartley, 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Elegba Folklore Society, 101 E. Broad St.
Tuesday, March 21
We Gon’ Be All Right: An Allyship Workshop, 2 to 2:50 p.m., University Student Commons, Forum Room
Getting in Formation: A Trauma Coping Workshop, 3 to 3:50 p.m., University Student Commons, Forum Room
Are You OK? Mental Health TED Talk, 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., University Student Commons, Forum Room
Real Talk: Black Femininity Roundtable, 6 to 8 p.m., Grace and Broad streets
Wednesday, March 22
The Ties That Bind Us: An Anti-Blackness workshop, 1 to 1:50 p.m., Forum Room
Real Talk: What Is Black?: A Workshop on Construction of Blackness, 3 to 5 p.m., OMSA.
By Your Side: Mixer for Black Student Orgs and Allies, 6 to 8 p.m., OMSA