Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya

Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya

Whether it is being among the most highly infected with COVID19, being forced out of jobs at an alarming rate due to lack of childcare and support, or making up a large portion of the essential workers who put themselves at risk to keep the country going, women of color continue to bear the brunt of inequality and our nation’s broken systems.  USA Today (How Black and Asian Women are United Against Racism)

Several weeks ago, Dr. Bravada Garrett Akinsanya, Executive Director, African American Child Wellness Institute, Inc. (AACWI), Founder & President of Brakins Consulting & Psychological Services, LLC, and co-host of “The Healing Circle”, Friday’s platform for “Conversations with Al McFarlane”, convened notable activists, local politicians, religious leaders, mental health therapists, educators, and medical professionals.  The ‘Healing Circle’ (Part 2) continued on this past Friday, ‘Good Friday’, a powerful and meaningful day.

March 31st was International Transgender Day of Visibility created by Rachel Crandall-Crocker in 2009.  “It was high time transgender communities ceased being bystanders on the outside looking in but accepted as an integral entry to the fabric of our American populace. In 2021, Rachel Levine would become the nation’s Assistant Secretary of Health, the first openly transgender federal official to win confirmation.  Bravo, Joe Biden, for your wonderful and impressive multicultural cabinet!!  We so breathe a sigh of relief!  Andrea Jenkins, Vice President, MPLS City Council, is a proud and powerful transgender woman who gives her all in advocacy for her city, her council position, and women’s rights, especially those of the transgender communities.  

“Be reminded, said Jenkins, that the 1.9-billion-dollar Rescue Act and earned income tax credit happened because the black community in Georgia rallied, and the black women’s movement, led by Stacy Abrams, founder of “Fair Fight Action”, an organization formed to combat voter suppression revving up in Georgia and other racists states across the country declared, ‘No, not this go around.  You won’t get away with it’!”  And because of their courageous stance, so many people who had simply ‘had enough’ and didn’t know what to do were given hope and a chance to rebound.

“It feels empowering to have a circle of passionate and committed females who are trustworthy, proud, and understand the often difficult and unique path and multiple roles required of black women,” says Marquita Stephens, Director of Education Policy and Programming for the Twin Cities Urban League. “We’re able to talk to each other while at the same time advocating for ourselves, sharing all we can, and finding joy in gratitude.  Today, women are occupying more space and doing such fantastic work as with the women in the House in St. Paul, and our newly elected Vice President.  It’s a new possibility because we’re coming together, and many of the gaps in leadership are starting to be filled by a new millennium generation of young black women and other young women of color.”

Pastor, educator, and mental health (child) therapist, Darrell Gillespie, working closely with AACWI and Dr. B. has no doubt that black children, especially black boys, are angry, and rightfully so.  They are traumatized by all that has happened over the past year and continues; how so many of their young black brothers and sisters have been murdered by white police officers and none of them held accountable; and now the Trial the world is watching. “If these legal proceedings are scary for me, how do think our children are feeling, especially those who have internalized their fears and their dismay with everything changing in their personal space.”

“They have a right to be all that, Pastor Gillespie says, but parents and children don’t have a right to stay in that place, definitely not without faith and hope.  I ask, how do we teach spirituality?  There are certain parts of us we must let go; those parts not serving us now, and maybe not even then.  We have to use this opportunity to get to know our children, both at home and in the classroom.  Let them really get to know you.  We can slow down and take it all in; the good and the bad.  But we can also be proud that we can keep pushing; keep moving forward; trying something new like inviting other cultures into our ‘circle’. 

We heal by exploring and discovering and by being willing to change archaic parenting practices, especially after the year we have all been through, and the trauma we are still going through right at this very moment.  Often the way African Americans parent just doesn’t fit in our world today.  We sometimes seem to be afraid of success; like we’re incapable of accomplishing great things.  That’s just not true.  We’ve got to teach our black children their history, and demand the schools do the same for all children.  Acknowledging and acting on truths and perceptions as we write our new narratives is not easy work.  Be honest and sincere which might include how we teach spirituality.  How do we encourage hope?  How do we look at our own hope?  Listen to the young voices.  This new way of communicating might call for improvising without little preparation; being a role model who displays how we can be somewhat contented and not get discouraged because the world just doesn’t seem to be fair.”    

Linda Etim, MSW, LICSW, Psychotherapist & Consulting Faculty w/ Brakins Consulting & Psychological Services and AACWI would add we must begin to navigate our thoughts in the direction of wellness and emotional security.  Her breath is often taken by the tranquility and beauty of nature.  The author exhales in thanksgiving as she mindfully touches her privilege to simply exist. 

Dr. B. suggests finding a sacred healing space and reclaiming the breaths that have been stolen from us like the last breath that yanked George Floyd’s life steered by an embedded hatred even they cannot explain.  We breathe because we are here; we are saved from a deadly, invisible enemy when over 550,000 thousand Americans are gone.  We have the choice as to whether we will lift the lid off our crushed spirits, or whether we will sit in a corner and feel sorry for ourselves because the world is not the same.  It’s riddled with racist overseers and a brazen hatred their actions and the disparities among people of color, particularly African Americans, have no problems showcasing.  Georgia.  January 6th.  May 25th 2020. 

We have chances and possibilities; and our ancestors remind us we have work to do.  Our children need us and in a way like they have never needed us before.  “There is a sacredness of our breath; an affirmation of our right to be.  Think of things that give you breath; that puts a little joy in your heart; that gives you hope.  Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old that stood on the corner of 38th and Chicago with her cell phone in hand and recorded a murder right before her very eyes that rocked the world.  What if we had not had that video; that painful scene taking some of us to the floor in a fetal position because it hurt so badly.  She might have been afraid, but she took action.  Her courage took my breath, and we all exhale in gratitude.”

Zoey Severson, R.N., M.A., LPC, psychotherapist w/ Brakins Consulting & Psychological Services and the AACWI admits, “We’re constantly on edge, worrying and fearing for our safety.  I began journaling, meditating, praying, sometimes quietly engaged in adult coloring books, and walking my big dogs.  It’s called self-care so we can be well enough to do all that parents, partners, and educators can do and must do.  I suggest shutting the t.v. down for a while.  Constant stress and trauma is not good for the body.  I have hope, and yet I share concern as to how the trial, being re-traumatized by either testifying in court, seeing the death of George Floyd on their television screen, or watching the Capitol of the United States attacked by thousands of white racists particularly affects our children.  It’s necessary to have honest and open conversations with our children, and uncomfortable conversations with white associates and colleagues.  What are they teaching their children about race relations?   

On several occasions during daily “Conversations” shows, viewers would sign into the Chat and suggest, “Get the young people’s point of view.” Lillie Rankin, a sophomore at Irondale High School and the niece of ‘Conversations’ host, Al McFarlane, will be that voice of youth serving as a writing intern for “Insight News”.  “I’ve had my moment of protest!  No one was talking about COVID or Breonna Taylor, so we protested in front of the school with our signs. We walked out!”  Obviously, the students struck a fire because parents and board members were protesting along with the students. “I wanted some of my friends to watch “Conversations” so they can also see how much we can learn from our elders as we define our role as young people striving and thriving in a more complex world.  We have rights to our opinions because we want some things done.  It’s an honor to have this opportunity.” 

Both the host and I, having attended the same grade school in Kansas City decades ago, would never forget the trauma we experienced when told we had to practice getting under our school desks for safety.  The Cold War was at its height and any day could have been the last day of humanity and we would have no control.  The term terrorism was not used at the time, but that most definitely was the perfect descriptor.  Al would also remember the angst some of his siblings, cousins, friends, and he would experience from the white police officer called Big Red.  He would always stop black boys, shake them down, drive them 3 to 4 miles out of town, and then make them walk back.  But we would also be inspired by the young middle school black children in Birmingham, AL and their bravery on the front lines.  They had been warned about the danger and trauma of the dogs and the batons, but the  children had made up their minds they would do what they felt they had to do.

I would personally remember the fear I had for Mr. Hess, a ‘white flight’ holdout who would call the police on my 4-year-old self when my tricycle would come anywhere near his driveway next door.  After the second time calling, the police stop coming surprisingly calling his vile attitude a disgrace.  I could just see his red face burning in hatred and anger as if it were yesterday.  Dr. B. recalls growing up in the South and walking down the dirt roads in fear.  White residents would allow their dogs to attack.  For so long, she dreaded the sight of dogs until years later she would discover it was the people, not the dogs, that should have concerned her.

Jesus Casas is known as the Big Daddy of multicultural psychology. Casas, a graduate of the school of education’s counseling psychology program, retired from the University of California, Santa Barbara as one of the senior Chicano professors in the UC system. A pioneer in multicultural counseling, he helped establish the American Psychological Association’s first standing committee on racial and ethnic minorities. Of his many activist efforts on behalf of Latinos, he’s proudest of his work to ensure that undocumented immigrant families and children in Santa Barbara County have access to needed services including county mental health services. 

‘My soul sings’ because I’m happy.  I sing because I’m free.  HIS eye is on the sparrow, and I know HE watches me.”   Dr. B. whispers to our ancestors; to our Creator, thank you.

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