Dr. BraVada

Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya

To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life, but to feel affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses – that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.  Pablo Neruda from “Childhood and Poetry”

On the night of her college graduation (with honors), BraVada Garrett headed to the designated area where she would meet her family.  There would be no celebration on this evening as proud as everyone was – as she was also – of having taken that first academic step - upward bound.  Their sad faces immediately told the story. The news of her father’s transitioning while she was receiving her degree on stage pierced her heart yet made her more determined to go all the way.  Before being silenced, Austin Garrett would get the chance to see his only daughter (she has 5 brothers) in her cap and gown; to tell ‘Chocolate Drop’ (his nickname for her) how proud he was because she did what she said she was going to do years ago; that she should never doubt herself or her faith; and that she was indeed a beautiful young woman.    

It was the psychologist girlfriend of Dr. Gannon (played by actor, Chad Everett) on a popular 1969 award-winning t.v. series, “Medical Center” who first convinced BraVada she wanted to be just like her, seemingly able to heal people and change their lives for good.  Then there was the psychologist who just so happened to have been in the same suite of her mother’s ophthalmologist . . .  the burly, red-hair gentleman doctor who told her everything she had to do to become the kind of doctor he was.  Surprisingly, he would say to her, “Hurry up!  We really need you out here!”  Dr. B. would refer to her adamancy as “vocational fantasy”.  But what might have appeared to be impossible for some people of color with little money, the thought of giving up her dream never crossed her mind.  BraVada promised her father she would go all the way and she intended to do just that.  The Garrett legacy would be forever honored, that too, of her grandfather, Simon, who was still owned at the time Kentucky eventually ended slavery.  In 1990, BraVada became the first African American woman to receive a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (with honors) in an edifice (Texas Tech coliseum) her father helped to build during segregation . . . a place his children were not allowed to attend.    

If ever there was an urgency for Dr. B.’s mission to help black communities (e.g. families, educators, police departments, local, state, and federal level government officials) understand the need for long-overdue psychological support and mentoring for children and their families, the time is NOW . .. especially in the age of Corona and the angry aftermath of George Floyd’s cement lynching on May 25th.  We have become that metaphorical silver ball being launched inside a strange pin ball machine (our current state-of-affairs) where the silver levers are pounding us from every angle.  Our world . . . our children’s confusing world . . . is clouded with mental stress caused by isolation; physical, emotional, and financial pressures; a loss of patience with on-line learning; and a weakening of faith and spirituality . . . a condition only gratitude and not being ashamed to seek help can begin to remedy.  “The waiting to exhale moment” from the recent election results that kept us from a disastrous dictatorship only added to our angst. 

“We are establishing a new voice and a new narrative around mental health and wellness awareness,’’ Dr. B. explained.  "The way we begin is by changing our views about mental therapy and how we should treat our bodies, internally and externally.  Psychologists have this construct called cognitive reframing.  It's like the person who sees the glass half-empty, but another person sees it as half full.  Those of us in the profession understand the hesitancy to feel comfortable or to trust spilling one’s personal beans to a stranger who is probably white and could never comprehend walking in our ‘black’ shoes.  Not too many professionals of color have explored the study of psychology mental health.

“It’s historical,” explains Dr. B. - part of it is a legacy of slavery.  When we were enslaved, what they taught us was we didn't own our bodies. We could be sold. We could be killed (like today). We could be whipped at the whim of a master. Because we didn't learn to own our bodies, we're psychologically in the process of overturning the trauma of being objectified.”  The experimental systems assumed intention to help blacks ended in abuse (the Tuskegee Study); some still held to their belief they could only be healed through prayer and doing otherwise would be like turning their back on God; and the inequities in health care insurance (affording the deductibles or co-pays) have crippled the efforts of community residents to ride out the high winds of fear and danger, especially in the Age of Corona and the angry and rebellious aftermath of the George Floyd cement lynching shockingly witnessed on worldwide t.v.  

We also understand the need for resilience if we are to address our own problems.  I dare say it is not worth the risk not to care for ourselves so that we can assume the responsibility to care for others who depend upon us.  Adopting strong and consistent behavioral patterns will help us as well.  If black lives matter, then we need to save our own by first using a mask properly– social distancing – and washing our hands frequently.  We must use each other as a resource, emotionally and spiritually connecting if only through a phone call to say . . . “Just checking in to make sure you’re okay and if there is anything you might need?”  Finding ways to gain clarification and strength to map out a positive direction for the future is imperative in today’s unpredictable societal climate.  A plethora of resources and tools are available if we simply take the time to research and learn how to tap into them. There’s this special, innate, creative, and intellectual genius that our ancestors have passed on from generation to generation that can keep us attune, aware, and intentional . . . wisdom and actions we can replicate.

“This is a design appointment at this appointed time . . . taking negative events like this psychology of killing off black humanity that appears to be the mindset of this country and reconstructing our thoughts and actions in positive outcomes.  I will hold on to this ‘legacy of hope’ left to me by my father and so many others whose shoulders I stand on.  We can’t drop our proud heritage no matter how many obstacles attempt to block our way or what others might say. As a people, we must ‘actualize’ this inherent toughness and self-determination calling for us to move to the next safe and progressive pathway in our lives.  So many times, I think we have amnesia, forgetting where we came from and where we are today.  When we learn that knowledge, our stamina roots become deeply buried in our hearts and souls.  We might bend all the way to the ground, but in most cases we will not break.  We must begin to position our lives in learning the “art of loving oneself” . . . realizing we are empowered and worthy of being respected and counted in our impending “new normal.”

We are individually and collectively challenged to elucidate, shape, and strengthen a better life ahead, maybe with a little help from our therapist friends.  We must give ourselves permission to ask for help as we have certainly paid a huge personal price as people of color to do so.  I believe everyone has a right to wellness and the use of strategies that promote humor, hard work, experiential learning, and resilience.  He or she who recovers . . . who reclaims their strength and power can take that walk into a world merging and melting of streams into infinite possibilities.” 

Dr. B. reminds us that the Present is right NOW . . . that we can fix the NOW!   Perhaps in 7 or 8 months, we can follow the simple instructions found in a card a dear friend sent me recently.  Sometimes you just gotta say, “Damn, that was a lot”! . . . (opening) then keep it moving.  (Hallmark - Mahogany – Soulful.  True.  You.)  Keeping it moving means finding new ways and resources that will aid in our finding that better person within our own being leading to a more meaningful and happier person, who if survived the deadly pandemic, has been given a second chance.

(Part 2 – The Healing Circle)

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