By Bethany Ayo-
The Philadelphia Inquirer –
When Keisha Lewis comes into contact with a police officer, one of the first emotions she feels is fear. Lewis, a 35-year-old Black transgender woman and office manager at the Morris Home, a residential recovery program for the transgender community in Southwest Philadelphia, can’t be sure of the reception she will get.
“It’s like, ‘Is this person going to be mean to me?’” Lewis said. “It plays on your psyche and messes with you very badly. I’m a human, too, and I deserve protection, and I deserve to be taken care of like everyone else.”
After the June murder of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, a Black transgender woman in Philadelphia, the outcry to address violence against transgender people is louder than ever. The problem is not unique to Philadelphia. In 2019, at least 26 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were killed in the U.S. — 91% of them Black women — according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Black transgender people often already are at higher risk for mental-health issues. Their problems are only made worse by the violence that they experience, a lack of acceptance within their families and communities, and a shortage of mental-health care specific to their needs.
Lewis, who has experienced the pain of rejection and the fear of gendered violence, said she struggles with mental health issues because of it.
“The proximity to trauma for Black trans women is very real,” said Shana Williams, clinical director at the Attic Youth Center, which serves LGBTQ youth in the Philadelphia area. Williams is also a therapist with the Morris Home and identifies as a Black queer woman. “The average lifespan of a Black trans woman is 35 years old, and if you constantly see that around you, you cannot help but to mentally accept and be prepared for death as a Black trans woman navigating society.”
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) found that 81.7% of the 27,715 respondents had seriously considered suicide; 40.4% had actually attempted it.
For Black transgender people, the mental health impact is likely even worse — a 2013 study found that experiencing transphobic and racist events increased depressive symptoms for transgender women of color.
But “the idea that being transgender is the mental-health problem” is incorrect, Williams said. The trouble is with “the world functioning as a gatekeeper,” rejecting anyone who doesn’t meet certain norms.
“It’s really about society and family rejection,” Williams said. “Being a Black person who already has to navigate oppressive systems, with the added layer of being trans, leads to another way to be discarded, shunned, and not supported.”
Lewis said that many people in her community have abandonment issues that stem from the rejection they experienced after coming out to their families.
“A lot of us are ostracized by our community, our family, the people who are supposed to love you, when we come out,” she said. “But it’s like they throw you away and discard you like trash. When you’re young, you don’t know what you’re supposed to do then. You’re lacking love, and no one has provided you with any type of tools to move forward with, and over time, that begins messing with your mind.”
Lewis said suicidal thoughts may begin taking hold when it feels as if people have lost their family’s love through no fault of their own.
“They think that they don’t want to be here if they can’t have their family,” she said. “This is just who they are, and the people who are supposed to love them unconditionally don’t want them around.”
Okichie Davis, a Philadelphia therapist who works with queer people of color through their private practice, Endeavoring Wellness, has found that Black transgender people experience all of the same mental-health challenges that the general population faces. But “the difference is that [Black LGBTQ+ folks] are marginalized for our gender identity and sexuality, which makes it difficult for us to manage those challenges,” said Davis, who identifies as a queer Black woman.
Transgender people deal with higher levels of housing and food insecurity, violence, difficulties accessing affordable, affirming health care, Davis noted. “All of these barriers serve to exacerbate any symptoms that already exist, and compounds the severity of the mental-health challenges that folks deal with. When people are making the choice between paying for food, medicine, or keeping the lights on, therapy gets bumped,” Davis said.
That’s why it’s so important to have more therapists from the Black LGBTQ community who understand those challenges, Davis said. Many of Davis’ clients search for months before making an appointment.
“When you work with clinician not from your racial background or sexual identity, sometimes you encounter racism, transphobia, homophobia, or the pathologizing of Black and LGBTQ people,” Davis said. “That drives people away.”
Williams also stressed the importance of exploring implicit biases around gender and identity as clinicians. She said she still hears about clinicians who insist on using their clients’ legal names instead of their preferred names and fail to ask which pronouns they use.
“Any clinician in 2020 has to do the work to educate themselves on how to be open and affirming,” she said. “Being trans is who someone is, and we should feel able to support that.”
Lewis knows Black transgender people who will not see a therapist because “there’s nobody that looks like [them].” She said they are afraid of being judged by someone who can’t relate to them.
“I remember years ago when I wanted to see a therapist, I couldn’t find an African American or a trans therapist,” Lewis said. “I just want to tell all the Black professionals out there who are becoming therapists — we need you, keep doing what you’re doing, we want to see more of your faces out here, doing the work.”
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FOX 2 Detroit – It is hard enough to follow proper protocols during traffic stops, but even more so for those with autism.
“If you have a tantrum when police pulls you over, that can lead to another whole other issue,” said Xavier DeGroat.
DeGroat is an autism advocate who pushed for legislation for a special marking on driver’s licenses that allows police to see they are on the spectrum.
The bill was signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer this week.
Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley who has a daughter with autism himself, introduced DeGroat to some state lawmakers to make the legislation come to life.
DeGroat is hopeful that this change will make it easier for those on the spectrum to deal with traffic stops.
Watch the video to learn more.
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By Maggie Ryan
The current wave of protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others has been an urgent and much-needed push for change. On a personal level, and especially when it comes to mental health, it can be empowering to experience this sense of unity. But the constant flow of energy and emotion can also become draining, overwhelming, and traumatizing, specifically for Black activists.
Activism impacts your mental health in many different ways. “From a positive perspective, it can be empowering and liberating to experience a collective sense of community,” said Shaketa Robinson Bruce, LPC, NCC, CCH, a licensed professional counselor at Open Arms Counseling Center in Atlanta. This is especially true for Black people and other historically marginalized populations, she told POPSUGAR. “Historically, we haven’t felt empowered to speak up about issues that affect us,” she said. Participating in protests that amplify those voices and those issues can feel freeing and fulfilling, because “you are addressing social issues and racial injustices that matters to you,” said Marline Francois-Madden, LCSW, an author and licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey. “What I’ve heard, specifically from protesters, is ‘I didn’t realize how much I needed that.'”
But protesters may also experience negative emotions, sometimes alongside these feelings of strength and liberation. That’s because activists are working to change injustices that Black people have experienced both for centuries and day in and day out, Francois-Madden explained. “Institutional racism and structural racism have existed for a long time,” she said. “Many activists can feel very exhausted during the fight for racial justice.”
After protests, Bruce has also heard activists speak of feeling overwhelmed or experiencing emotional breakdowns, feeling sadness, grief, anger, or any combination thereof. Parents in particular may feel worried or afraid, “especially if they’re raising Black boys,” Bruce said.
Many protesters are dealing with this emotional stress while actively trying to push for change, a combination that can take its own toll. “We’re seeing a lot of people come together and a lot of organizing,” Bruce said. “But if you’re constantly doing that, it can be exhausting.” When it all comes together – the emotions, the energy drain, the triggering conversations and videos and social media posts – this work “can be traumatizing,” Bruce said. If you neglect your own personal mental health, “it can take a toll that can lead to depression.”
If you have the passion to do this work, you have to have the passion to take care of yourself as well, Bruce explained, because “a car can’t run on an empty tank.” If you don’t take care of your mental health, you won’t be able to create change – but Francois-Madden said some activists may find it difficult to set those boundaries and deal with the sense of guilt that can come from taking a break, as necessary as it is.
Here’s what activists can do to boost their mental health:
The work of activism, while often rewarding, “is very grueling and taxing,” Bruce said. “It’s important to take time out for yourself in the midst of this. In order to keep going, you have to take care of yourself.”
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Latrea Wyche/Contributing Writer
In recent months, law enforcement across the country has come under fire for incidents of police brutality within African American communities. The brutal death of George Ford has caused America to take a closer look at the people who are armed with the charge of “protect and serve” but instead chooses to shoot and kill. Police brutality is nothing new, and this not just an African American thing, people with disabilities have had to deal with some of the same treatment. According to a report done by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization, proposes that while police interactions with minorities draw increasing scrutiny, disability and health considerations are still neglected in media coverage and law enforcement policy. I know you are probably sick of me making everything about people with disabilities, but these are the un-talked about issues that our community faces on a daily, basis but yet, they receive no attention.
When police officers encounter a person with a disability, they do not have the proper training to handle the situation. That’s where it all starts, training. with such a large population of disabled people in America, it would seem like common sense to me, for police officers to receive some type of training on how to handle a person with a disability. For example, when arresting a deaf person or a person with a hearing impairment, cops should not cuff them with their hands behind their back because in most cases, they use their hands to communicate, it would be kinda difficult to communicate with their hands behind their back. Another question how many police forces in America offer basic sign language courses, some would argue it would be a waste of time, but you never know as a cop when you might have to stop a deaf person, and just imagine how much more comfortable that person would feel knowing that you are able to communicate with them.
According to a database maintained by The Washington Post, in 2018, at least 139 people with mental illness have been shot and killed by cops. based on the research I conducted, a large number of people with disabilities that are killed by cops have some form of mental illness. “Police have become the default responders to mental health calls,” write the authors, historian David Perry and disability expert Lawrence Carter-Long, who analyzed incidents from 2013 to 2015. They propose that “people with psychiatric disabilities” are presumed to be “dangerous to themselves and others” in police interactions. So, the question now becomes what do we do with this information, how do we use this information to better our community…..knowledge is power the more knowledge we have the more powerful we are.
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Latrea Wyche/Contributing Writer
This article came from two very different places: one, me sitting at home watching a program on BET called “Black Girls Rock.” While watching this show I began thinking, why is there no representation of African-American women with disabilities, or just African Americans with disabilities period represented in mainstream media or in Hollywood. The more I thought about it the angrier I became. As an African-American woman with a disability, I want to see all aspects of me represented – and this includes in the mainstream media and Hollywood.
Sometimes I feel that African-American Hollywood events are not welcoming of African-American people with disabilities. By not actively promoting that African-American, disabled actors to play character roles of a disabled person, Hollywood continues to give an inaccurate representation of African-Americans with disabilities and takes away jobs from African-American actors with real disabilities. For example, Ray: The story of Ray Charles, Ray Charles was played by Jamie Foxx who did a wonderful job, but why couldn’t the director find an actual African American blind actor to play the part? think about how much more realistic it would have been because you would have received the experience first hand of what a blind person in the music industry deals with verses a representation of a blind person.
To me that like choosing a caucasian to play a role that was meant for an African American actor, a caucasian person has no idea what’s it is like to be black just like an able body person has no idea what it’s like to be disabled. Think of the little African American disabled children that seeing someone that looks like them on the screen, which gives them hope that it could be them one day.
My second reason for writing this article is, the feeling like I am not accepted by my culture because I am disabled. which would explain why there is no representation of African Americans with disabilities in mainstream media or Hollywood, because we are not accepted in our own culture. This not me having a pity party for myself as some would think or me feeling sorry for myself. The above statement is based on my first-hand experience and not just my experience but the experiences of many African Americans with disabilities. When I make statements like that, I usually get “don’t lump us all in the same category” or my personal favorite “some may not understand disability,” it’s 2020 we all have resources available at our fingertips to educate ourselves about various disabilities, not understanding is no longer an excuse.
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When the mind senses a potentially harmful situation, it tells the body to prepare by increasing its heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. This response helped earlier humans outrun or fight predators and enemies.
Today’s stressful situations, more likely a challenging interaction at work or a misbehaving child, result in the same physical reactions even though we are less likely to experience physical danger. The problem is, when this stress response is repeated frequently over time, evidence shows it leads to health problems including depression, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, skin rashes, and gastrointestinal problems—just to name a few.
Now a growing body of evidence demonstrates that racial discrimination triggers this stress response. As a result, racial minorities may experience more health problems compared to others. One review of 121 studies published in 2013 found that youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who experienced discrimination were significantly more likely to experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety compared to those who did not experience discrimination. Another review of 66 studies found that black American adults who perceived they were subjected to racism were more likely to experience mental health problems and more likely to report a lower quality of life.
A lead researcher in the field is Anthony Ong, a professor of human development in Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology. Ong explains that experiencing discrimination or mistreatment regularly can affect health through eroding a person’s self-esteem and by robbing marginalized individuals of opportunities.
“Although increasing evidence suggests that chronic exposure to unfair treatment or day-to-day discrimination increases the risk for poor health, the overall dearth of data on biological mechanisms indicate it’s important to continue studying this topic,” Ong said.
He published a study last year of more than 200 African-American adults followed over the period of a decade. Participants filled out questionnaires about everyday mistreatment such as being called names, insulted, threatened, or harassed. They also answered questions about larger occurrences of unfair treatment, such as being discouraged from continuing their education, not receiving a loan or being hassled by the police.
Participants also underwent blood tests to identify 22 biomarkers of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, nerve problems and inflammation.
Ultimately, participants who reported experiencing more discrimination were in poorer health. Ong said that’s because experiencing discrimination on a regular basis, even small instances of daily mistreatment, lead to “wear-and-tear” on the body over time.
“Our findings suggest that coping with chronic experiences of day-to-day mistreatment and discrimination can elicit a cascade of response that over time ‘weather’ or damage the physiological systems that regulate the body’s stress response,” he said.
Ong published a second study of 152 Asian-American college students, who kept a diary of their daily events, moods, and physical health for two weeks. The study found that when participants experienced mistreatment, what Ong calls “daily microaggressions,” they reported poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration the following day. Participants who experienced reported more “stigma consciousness”—that is, they believed discrimination influenced their daily interactions with others—were more likely to experience poor sleep quality on nights after they reported experiencing mistreatment.
“Being constantly vigilant to race-related threats in the environment may keep you from getting a good night’s sleep,” Ong explained.
The broad take-home message here is that racial discrimination can lead to health problems that detract from minorities’ quality-of-life over the course of a year or even a lifetime.
This article may have been edited for content
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Latrea Wyche/ Contributing Writer
This is an issue that I have been speaking on for years, the struggle of being a woman of color, and having a disability. The experience of disability is different for members of the African American community, just as I am sure the experience of disability is different for the members of various other sub-communities. For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on the African-American community. From birth, African- Americans are born into a world that does not make all needed resources available for them to flourish and succeed the way other groups have. There is a link between students with no-apparent disabilities, (I want to pulse right here for a minute, just because a disability is not apparent does not mean that someone does not have one. The thing that people need to understand about disability, is it manifests itself in various forms. We are not always going to be able to look at a person and recognize whether or not they have a disability). where there is also and over-classification of impairments with challenging behaviors that place them on the fast track of the “school to prison pipeline”.
For those who are not familiar with the “School to Prison Pipeline”, this system is defined as the disproportionate tendency of minors and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to become incarcerated, because of increasingly harsh school and municipal policies. We already know that more than half of the prison population are African- Americans males. Every 1 out of 15 African- Americans males are imprisoned each year compared to 1 in 106. It has been learned that 1 out of 3 African- Americans males can expect to go to jail and some point in their lifetime. Our society focuses on the word “criminal” not really trying to gain an understanding of the larger issue that lies within these institutions. A surprising fact that I just learned while doing this research, 60% of the inmate population has some form of a learning disability. The struggles inmates face on a daily basis vary, however, they share the common experience of having their disability either undiagnosed or ignored. In many cases we see inmates being reprimanded and disciplined for inappropriate behavior and not following rules and regulations of the facility. Most of the time their physical or cognitive impairment is not taken into consideration and unfair punishment is served. This again highlights the school to prison pipeline due to the simple fact that while attending school their disabilities went unnoticed or diagnosed incorrectly. This inmate population is then composed of a group of African-Americans who are left to navigate their world with a known or unknown impairment whether it is physical or cognitive.
The next question becomes what can we do about this? I believe that prison reform is just one part of the problem, we have to also look at our education system as it relates to disability and preparing children with disabilities for the real world, Are we providing them with the tools and techniques needed to survive in this ever-changing world?. Another piece to this puzzle is home life, as an African-American parent of a child with a disability what are you instilling in that child? What are you telling that child about him or herself? And lastly, as a community, we need to become more educated about disability. It is 2020 there no reason that we should still be using the excuse that “I don’t understand disability.” These are some of the things to think about as we continue to move toward the future.
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