An East Oakland Community Comes Together To Address Mental Health | KALW

An East Oakland Community Comes Together To Address Mental Health

Jul 31, 2019

East Oakland residents have lived with violence for a long time. Studies show exposure can impact mental health. A listener asked our Hey Area project what kind of volunteer work are East Oakland residents involved with. 

One organization is helping black women with their mental health

The issues at hand 

In Uptown Oakland an organization is dedicated to addressing black women and mental health. 

Yvonne Murphy is the programs coordinator for the Black Women’s Media and Wellness Project. She explains the origins of the organization, “The Black Women’s Media and Wellness Project has been around for 25 years. Initially, we focused on alcoholism and its effects on black women and their families. Around 10 years ago, we widened our scope to encompass mental health and wellness.” 

According to NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Health), African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population. Social issues and barriers to health care are factors. Out of these numbers are African-American women who not only deal with constant discrimination, sexism, and racism but also find themselves face to face with another problem — suffering in silence. 

“A problem in the black community is that of silence,” says Yvonne. “What we're taught in a lot of our childhood homes growing up is to keep things within the family.”

Lillian Freeman, an active member of the organization’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) adds, “Mental health is a condition that needs attention and with enough patience, people can heal, not feel isolated.”

Be Still health retreats and magazine

Yvonne and the board are highly committed to talking about mental health and the stigma that surrounds it. Together they work to plan quarterly, free, day-long retreats. 

“The Be Still retreats are centered around a specific theme,” Yvonne explains. This retreat will have a dynamic speaker who supports the theme and various self-care practitioners. The day lasts about eight hours. The CAB plans out the whole day.” 

The work they put in, is reflected in the 130 attendees who recently showed up for their May 11 event to participate in the workshops, meditation, and massages. 

But it is important to note that while the events themselves are helpful and bring forth the discussion of healing. Ms. Lillian Freeman’s experience is also a key part in the success of these retreats.

“Well, I think I've gained in enrichment because I've met a lot of people,” Ms. Lillian says. I've never been active in the community before and this is very exciting for me. I have time now that I'm retired. So, I look forward to the times that we come together, I look forward to serving in the community.”

But the experience and the work does not stop there. In addition to the retreats, the organization is also re-launching its magazine. It has been 10 years since they published their last issue. 

Yvonne goes into detail about how they will collect stories in the focus groups. “We are looking for women who self-identify as Black women.”

The necessity and healing of mental health

The retreats and the magazine will help these women in their mission to normalize the conversation about mental health. Ms. Lillian offers a reason why using these resources is important for getting the word out to other generations.

“The community is separated and that was by design,” she says. “And so, I think this program, organization is a part of putting the community back together.”

Ms. Yaya Eishere, a long-time resident of East Oakland and volunteer who is doing this work to end generations of black women staying silent about their mental health advises, “Be the one, be the one that says okay I'm going to try this just in case it'll make it better for my people. And by that I mean family. You know your immediate family, maybe your neighbors or something like that. Because when we take that attitude on we're already healing.”

Still, it is important to understand that healing work takes time. And at the end of the day, this is not an individual step forward. This is a collective step forward.

This story was made as a collaboration between Oakland Voices and KALW as part of our projects Hey Area and Sights & Sounds of East Oakland.