On December 1, the Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA) welcomed members of the Baltimore community to the World Trade Center for the Dr. Maxie Collier Awards Ceremony and 40th Anniversary Gala. Mental health coach Jay Barnett, Ph.D., is the keynote speaker, and this year’s theme for the event is “honoring our past, changing our present, and defining our future.”
The nonprofit organization has served the black community in Baltimore through their mental health and social advocacy for the past four decades. They also provide a setting that leads and promotes culturally-based approaches to behavioral health access, integration of behavioral health services, and quality care in the black community. Barnett discusses how culturally competent organizations like BMHA are essential when balancing your mental health and faith.
“My faith is very connected to my mental health journey. Growing up in the South, you pray about it,” Barnett explained. “It’s not protocol to ask for a counselor because saying you need a counselor means that you are being questioned. ‘Do you really know him?’ Let me be clear: you know him, and you still need help.”
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This year’s award ceremony recognizes mental health experts, advocates, and specialists who have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the black community has access to the right mental health resources. There are a total of 10 honorees who have been awarded The Phoenix Arising Award, including Jojo Simmons, Subramonianpillai Teal, Dr. Melissa Clarke, Obari Adeye Cartman, Ph.D., T-Kea Blackman, Bruce Purnell, Ph.D., Dennis “Ausar” Winkler, Jr., Ph.D., Dr. William B. Lawson, Linda Diaz and Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D.
These honorees keep the torch lit by BMHA founder, Dr. Maxie T. Collier. The history of how the BMHA came to be was shared by Roger Clark, the son of the founding member of the BMHA, Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam.
“One day in the spring of 1983, Dr. Maxie Collier and Fikre Workneh surprised me and visited me in my office at Lutheran Hospital. They let me know they needed help starting a mental health organization,” Clark recalled for his mother. “Fikre has done a lot of research, and the results show that there is a high level of misdiagnosis and pure cultural treatment of black men.
Andrea Brown, executive director of BMHA, also briefly spoke about the establishment of the organization while explaining the motive that kept them dedicated to the work they started many years ago.
“Who would have thought that once upon a time, there would be a meeting of minds that would bring us to this day?” commented Brown.”For 40 years, we’ve been doing what we set out to do, and we’ve changed the game. While much has changed, we also know much hasn’t. So we’re still here doing this work, more than ever.”
In its 40 years, the BMHA has become a respected and recognized organization throughout the state. The impact BMHA has made on the city of Baltimore is undeniable, and their constant advocacy for mental health remains relevant to the community.
“The work that the Black Mental Health Alliance is doing in pushing this agenda around mental health and telling not just our kids but all of us that it’s okay to not be okay is so important,” said City Council Member Zeke Cohen (MD-1). “We know that we are a city that is hurting, but we also know that we are a city that is healing. This issue of trauma cuts through all of us, and it affects all of our families. It affects each and every one of us, but in a city like Baltimore, where the trauma is disproportionately located in our black and brown communities, we need to do more to help people heal.
Mental health is more complex than many people believe it to be. Barnett explains what mental health is and the many ways your life is affected by it.
“Mental health is the movement of life. Mental health is when you wake up in the morning. Mental health is when you drive your car and traffic seems out of your control. It’s road rage and all that’s different things,” Barnett said. “How you sleep at night, how you connect with your spouse, how you connect with your kids—all those things are mental health. No one realizes that when God created us, he had mental health in mind because he made us susceptible creatures. Mind, body and spirit—that’s mental health. ”
Congratulations to the Black Mental Health Alliance for 40 years of helping and healing the Baltimore community. If you are interested in any of the services offered by BMHA, visit blackmentalhealth.com.
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