By Kharisma McIlwaine
On October 28, Engaging Males of Color (EMOC), the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services and First Person Arts held a Zoom meeting titled “My Body is A Monument: An Evening with Caroline Randall Williams.”
This event kicked off a series of digital programs created by EMOC for the 2020-2021 season in an effort to help Black women and women of color who are dealing with trauma surrounding racism and oppression.
The event — hosted by coordinator of EMOC, Gabriel Bryant — featured a panel discussion with novelist and NAACP Image Award winner Caroline Randall Williams; poet, activist, and scholar Sonia Sanchez; Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate Trapeta Mayson, co-founder of Afro-Taino Marangeli Mejia-Rabell and spoken word and musical artist Ursula Rucker.
The event began with Randall Williams sharing the passion behind her work and mission.
“I’m so grateful to be able to do this work,” she said. “When I was little, I used to tell my mother that I wish there was a war, because I wanted to fight for us because I didn’t feel like it was done.”
The meeting continued with Williams reading her June 26, 2020 New York Times essay, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument” in its entirety.
Sanchez then offered wise words, encouraging us to ‘come together as we’ve never come together before, adding “It’s a dangerous time on planet earth.”
She also reiterated the importance of pushing on, despite everything that is happening around us.
Mayson and Mejia-Rabell echoed that sentiment, reminding attendees to be intentional about finding and maintaining joy.
A moment of true reflection took place when Rucker posed the question, “Is it ok to not be alright?” The outpouring of love, empathy and reassurance that followed was truly beautiful to witness.
The truth is many of us are not alright — and that is ok. It is ok to process your emotions at your own pace and is healthy to do so.
The meeting shifted to a moment of silence for Walter Wallace Jr., the 27-year-old man who was shot and killed by Philadelphia police in front of his mother during a mental health breakdown on October 26. Dr. Faith Dyson Washington, CEO of Community Behavioral Health concluded the meeting by offering a list of mental health resources.
A recurring conversation happening more now than ever before centers on mental health. The hearts of many in the Black and Brown communities are heavy. Our country is in turmoil for a myriad of reasons, and the amount of trauma historically that the Black and Brown communities have endured and continue to endure on a daily basis is disheartening at best, but devastating in all reality.
Be it the murder of unarmed Black people at the hands of police with no justice in sight, or the constant attack on women’s rights, there is a weight always present that is difficult to lift and still maintain our ability to be present and active in our daily lives. The intersectionality of being a Black person or a person of color and a woman meets in a place where racism and sexism are intertwined into the very fabric of our daily existence in this country.
Acknowledging what is happening and finding new ways to push past the status quo will also push us closer towards enacting change. In the meantime, remember to breathe deep, allow yourself the grace to feel whatever it is that you are feeling, prioritize your mental health and never be afraid to seek and get help.
Included below is a list of mental health resources:
24/7 Mental Health and Addiction Services: CBHPhilly.org
24/7 Opioid Treatment Support: 215-408-4987
Mental Illness Warm-line: 267-687-4381
For Mothers with New Babies: 800-944-4773
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
School Counseling HopeLine: 833-745-4673