Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Black History Month: A Historic Call for Action

By Lynda Cortés-Avellaneda, NAMI Multicultural Action Center Program Manager

The New Year is moving quickly and February is already nearly half way through. Aside from the arctic weather conditions, the heart-shaped balloons and the Sochi Olympics, this month is a very unique time to recognize and celebrate the significant role of African Americans and their outstanding contributions to the United States throughout history.

In 1926, African American historian and author Carter G. Woodson initiated the celebration of Black History Week, which, unsurprisingly, coincided with the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Civil War President Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial, the week grew to encompass the entire month. Since then, every U.S. president has officially declared February as Black History Month.

The Significance of February

Many key events in African American history  took place in February. Here are just a few:

  • W. E. B. Du Bois, civil rights leader and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was born on Feb. 23, 1868.
  • The 15th Amendment was passed on Feb. 3, 1870.
  • The first African American senator, Hiram R. Revels took his oath of office on February 25, 1870.
  • The NAACP was founded on Feb. 12, 1909.
  • After being refused service, a group of African American college students remained in their seats at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., on Feb. 1, 1960.
  • Malcolm X, a prominent Black Nationalism leader, was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965.

While six points in history are far from capturing the African American struggle for freedom and justice, they are a snapshot of events and people, both known and anonymous, that helped transformed this nation. The process they established continues to challenge our nation’s perception of equality and social progress. Hence, the significance of Black History Month lies in looking back and understanding how far we have come to draw the strength and wisdom necessary to move forward.

The Case of Mental Illness

Mental illness, without any further distinction, affects one in four Americans. However, experiences of mental illness vary across cultures and there is a need for improved cultural awareness and corresponding competence in the health care and mental health workforce.

  • Social circumstances often serve as an indicator for the likelihood of developing a mental illness. African Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience these social circumstances.
  • African Americans are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage in terms of accessing both medical and mental health care.
  • Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care, due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural understanding.
  • African Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though the latter may at times be necessary. Furthermore, the health care providers they seek may not be aware of this important aspect of African American culture.
  • Mental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African American community. African Americans are much more likely to seek help though their primary care doctors as opposed to accessing specialty care.

Sensitivity to African American cultural differences, their unique views of mental illness and propensity towards developing certain mental illnesses, can improve African Americans’ treatment experiences and increase their utilization of mental health care services. To learn more, please visit NAMI’s African American Resources page.

How You Can Become the Change Starting Today

Observe African American History Month proactively.   


Marvin Ross said...

Not sure if my post was sent on so I'm repeating it.

You should look into a book by an African American mother with schizophrenia that she wrote with her daughter - Love's All That Makes Sense A Mother Daughter Memoir by Sakeenah and Anika Francis.

Sakeenah is a NAMI member active in Cleveland and a member of the multicultural group. Bob Corolla had requested two copies be sent to Kathleen Vogtle which I did ages ago. Both authors have given presentations to a number of conferences including professionals

Marvin Ross

Keenan Thurman said...

Mental illness affects all of us, and by all of us I mean every race of people,not just African Americans. However, as African Americans we cannot afford to keep stigmatizing mental illnesses in our community. We need to take the proper steps to dealing with it. What a batter way to do so than starting with NAMI.

Wanda said...

In honor of Black History and our ancestors; Thanks for this information as I'm currently going thru so much with my mentally disabled 44 yr. old Son. Due to recent ongoing incidents of not taking his medications and several Baker Acts.; I recently applied for Legal Guardianship. It's very hard beacuse so many African Americans refuse to pass on the Family history also it's embarrassing and very stressful as a lot of times my other two adult children don't care to come around.
(he was diagnosed his first year in college) because he is an adult I'm often asked at appointments and facilities am I his Legal Guardian? This really bothers me that I have to pay an Attorney to gain Legal Guardianship over my own Son.I could go on However; it's early morning and I can't sleep for it's ongoing as of January 22nd he wandered off from the Boarding Facility where he was sent from the hospital stay. He hadn't had his medication in a few days and he was arrested. I know God has the answers. I keep Praying for him as I've not been allowed to see him as the jail keeps informing me he refuse his meds.

Ree2011 said...

I enjoyed this article it was very insightful. It shed a lot of insight on why we celebrate February as black history month and why it is important to continue celebrating our history. Also, discussing and understanding how mental illness effects African Americans is very important so that we can learn how to effectively treat individuals.

Meigo said...

I was not aware that mental health issues are a source of 'stigma' in the African American community. That is unfortunate considering other factors listed, such as socio economic status, are already a set back in the mental health care of African Americans. Perhaps community group programs could be a source of help, providing an open discussion forum for the African American population to discuss mental health.

Meigo said...

It is unfortunate that mental health issues are 'stigmatized' in the African American community. Considering other set backs they already face listed in the article, such as socio economic status, it is a shame for embarrassment or stigma to be a set back in receiving adequate mental health treatment. Perhaps open community meetings could provide a nonjudgmental forum for the African American population to discuss mental health.

Kristofer Higginbotham said...

We as a society need to learn how to respect and work along side one another no matter the race. At least 25% of us will struggle with a mental illness and it doesn't care the race. As long as we work together to improve mental health awareness a lot more sufferers will be helped.

a said...

Sad to say, but not many people are really aware that the disadvantages African Americans have could result in them having a mental illness. I know that there are many resources that African Americans are able to use these days. I think NAMI and many other organizations have made things easier for them. Also, there are so many opportunities rising for all different cultures each day.

Crystal Edmonds said...

I enjoyed reading this blog however it wasn't what I had expected.

Ebony T said...

I believe it is incredibly important that we are educated on our history in a manner that is accurate and thorough, that our lessons be passed down to future generations. Just like discrimination of the skin, society oftentimes ostracizes the mentally ill population. When you couple the stigmas of race AND mental illness, you have one great battle to fight. I'd like to thank NAMI for shedding light on mental illness as it relates to all the sufferers, family of these victims and also observers or just people amongst the mentally ill. This is pertinent information that MUST be passed on.

Kristyn Seay said...

This piece was interesting. It was nice to actually learn something about why it is black history month is in February and simply just to learn a few facts about it. It is sad for me to say that all the Black History Month programs I have been through in high school all i had learned was random dancing and rapping and some emotional poetry. I am glad some people realize that there is history to teach in the spirit of black history month.