BUFFALO — Is there really a stigma surrounding black people and mental health?
“The stigma is real. To me, it’s just another shameful tool — something used to work against us,” said Melissa Archer, a psychiatric nurse who leads NY Project Hope at the Buffalo Urban League.
The May 14 racially motivated massacre at the Jefferson Avenue Tops supermarket was a traumatic crisis. Blacks were targeted by a white supremacist, who killed Celestine Chaney, Roberta A. Drury, Andre Mackniel, Katherine Massey, Margus Morrison, Geraldine Talley, Heyward Patterson, Aaron Salter, Ruth Whitfield and Pearl Young, and wounded Christopher Braden, Zaire Goodman and Jennifer Warrington.
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Buffalonians, especially Black Buffalonians, are urged to seek mental health counseling. Many providers began offering free sessions shortly after the racially motivated mass shooting that left three injured and 10 dead.
The Buffalo Urban League and the Erie County Department of Mental Health are just two WNY organizations offering free mental health sessions.
On Sunday, BUL and ECDMH worked together to provide a free, walk-in mental health clinic at Johnnie B. Wiley, about four blocks from Tops on Jefferson and Best Street.
“What happened on Saturday was not a random act of violence in which our entire community would experience rising fear. It was an act of violence targeted specifically against black people. We have to recognize that.” , said Maria Whyte, deputy director of Erie County. . “The generational trauma that will come from having been targeted based on the color of your skin…is something we need to address to heal properly.”
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The counseling clinics were not an immediate success.
On Monday, the Reverend Julian Cook, who preaches at the 101-year-old Baptist Church of Macedonia, said very few people took advantage of the clinics when they became available over the weekend.
“People are still in shock. … It was a small trickle,” Cook said.
Archer said half of his BUL team helped out Johnnie B. Wiley on Sunday. BUL advisers only spoke to three people that day, she said.
According to Whyte, 35 people came to the free clinic on Sunday and dozens arrived on Monday.
“Don’t let the stigma often associated with mental health counseling stop you. Honestly, that’s nonsense,” Whyte said. “We have this resource for you. We want you to use it.”
Archer named two reasons for the “slow trickle”: the ethnicities of the counselors and the location of the clinic. The ECDMH apparently only had white councilors on Sunday. BUL has made it clear that the lack of minority advisers is a problem.
“We just went through something horrible…and you want us to talk to someone who represents a culture that did this to us? Black people didn’t go there.” Archer said.
BUL has a diverse team of crisis counselors who speak seven languages across seven represented cultures. Their ages range from 21 to 75 years old. The ECDMH took Archer’s advice and brought in more people of color on Monday.
“Part of the challenge is that we don’t have a lot of mental health counselors who are people of color, but that’s no longer true,” Whyte said.
ECDMH’s free clinics are available at Johnnie B. Wiley from 1-9 p.m. until Friday, May 27.
► More resources for those affected by the Buffalo shooting
Mobilization in the street
BUL’s brand new Community Resource Center opened Wednesday at Glenwood Avenue and Jefferson. But the new building won’t stop councilors from taking to the streets.
Johnnie B. Wiley isn’t close enough for Archer. She is sensitive to the willingness of mourners to travel for their services.
Instead, BUL met people on the street. While people cried and cried in the streets around Tops, BUL was there to talk, listen and hug. Archer said the outreach effort worked and his advisers spoke to more people throughout the week.
On Tuesday night, BUL handed out information at a vigil on Riley, where civil rights activist Shaun King comforted Buffalonians with his ally. King challenged President Joe Biden – who visited families of the victims in Buffalo this afternoon – to confront white supremacy and prove it by allocating resources in their budgets.
“It’s not enough to tell this town you care,” King said of Biden’s visit.
The Erie County Department of Mental Health Clinic will remain at Johnnie B. Wiley. They have a 24/7 crisis service hotline for those who cannot physically enter.
“I will wake up tomorrow and still be in my white skin, which will give me both a privilege and a security that the African-American community didn’t have on Saturday,” Whyte said.
Buffalo Urban League still works with Johnnie B. Wiley, including FeedMore WNY, which has a drive-thru food distribution center in the stadium parking lot.
BUL helped FeedMore WNY deliver groceries to nearby seniors, then delivered a mental health item to their doorstep to watch over them.
Catherine Shick, public relations manager for FeedMore WNY, said the stadium is perfect because it’s in the “heart of the community.”
The organization hosted one of its food distribution centers in the stadium. The other center is on East Ferry Street. They distribute goods from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. until Friday, May 27.
“What brings me hope and inspiration is seeing our organization, our volunteers, our partners and our individuals come together and support each other,” Shick said.
Items like apples, shelf stable milk and canned tuna were available at the FeedMore WNY drive-thru. Those looking to donate or volunteer can visit the FeedMore WNY hub at 91 Holt Street or at Feedmorewny.org.
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