Today, I watched a video about mental illness and mental wellness. As I watched my mind drifted back to my childhood and I got a powerful jolt. Was God preparing me for this new direction in my life even then? Let me explain.
The last few years I have been involved with the African American Family Wellness Group which is the black cultural competency component for the Department of Mental Health. My interest in joining the group was birthed in my dealing with the young men and women that participated in our after school program. These children had varying mental wellness issues. Some were diagnosed as ADHD; others had image problems that resulted in acting out. Still others were academically deficient but there was no learning disability present. They got behind in their grade level, behaved badly and ended up in special education where they continued to slide down that slope to dropout land. That just exacerbated the problem which were originally unnoticed, unattended, emotional problems stemming from family drama, bullying or some other trauma. I realized that the parents of these kids needed help so they could help their children.
I never had any intent to get involved in mental health. Like most people, when mental illness is mentioned I thought of the clinically insane, mentally challenged people that need medication, continuing therapy and observation and possibly institutionalizing. That was my experience.
When I was a young child, one of our neighbors gathered us neighborhood kids up to take us to entertain people in the minimum security section of the local mental hospital. We called her and the ladies with her, The Gray ladies, because they wore gray uniforms. I knew we made the people happy but I didn’t like it when they wanted to hug us and kiss on us. It was creepy. But we had to let them to a point. We were shown how to minimize their contact without hurting their feelings. Was this the first step in my training?
My next phase of training occurred at age 16. A government employment program designed for underprivileged kids (aka black kids) was the tool used. We were assigned to the Park and Recreation department of Bryce Mental Hospital. Yes, the very same hospital with the Gray Ladies. We assisted the psychologists and therapists with physical activities and games. That was a very educational summer. Our clients included the criminally insane, nymphomaniacs, manic depressives, schizophrenics, and a young lady of society placed there because she embarrassed her parents by getting pregnant.
My last phase at this hospital was while I was in college. I was employed as a file clerk. Phase Three. I worked directly with the Supervising doctor and his nurses. I had access to all their records. That is why I was amazed that I didn’t know the gentleman who cleaned my office was a paranoid schizophrenic with homicidal tendencies until my last day there. I knew he was ill but I never had a reason to fear him. That day he asked me if there was anything he could do for me, my office, before Monday. I told him I would not be back. It was my last day because I had to return to college. He lost it. I was trapped in my office. He never threaten me. My fear or panic was short lived. I felt sad that I had triggered him. He was whisked away to be medicated.
Was I being prepared for this next phase in my life? I have a passion for the mental wellness of Black male kids and their families. I want to interrupt the prison pipeline. I want to restore their esteem and understanding that they were created for greatness not prison slavery. I want to wake up my community to the power they possess to change these dynamics. I want to save their lives.
I am more awakened and ready for this journey. Let’s do this, God. Thanks for preparing me, even when I could not recognize your hand or your presence.