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Event centers Black experience in self-care

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Speaker Natalie Patterson takes a moment to take a moment to breathe and check in with those in attendance on Feb. 12 at the Black + Mental Health + Matters event held via Zoom. Patterson stopped to let the audience acknowledge their emotions because she said members of the Black community are often told to repress their emotions. / screenshot by Armida Carranza

Speaker Natalie Patterson takes a moment to take a moment to breathe and check in with those in attendance on Feb. 12 at the Black + Mental Health + Matters event held via Zoom. Patterson stopped to let the audience acknowledge their emotions because she said members of the Black community are often told to repress their emotions. / screenshot by Armida Carranza

Ryan Konrad
Staff Writer

The University of La Verne hosted Art With Impact’s Black + Mental Health + Matters event Feb. 12 via Zoom. The workshop focused on uplifting and centering Black students and faculty in an area that often underserves or fails to recognize the Black experience.

The workshop provided a space for Black students and allies to express themselves freely through discussion and exercises.

The 36 student and faculty participants discussed laying an emotional framework for practicing self-care.

Facilitators said expression is key to mental health, made apparent through exercises that sought to redefine and reclaim their names through poetry.

The workshop’s primary purpose was to supply students with the tools necessary to break down the stigma that is associated with mental health within the Black community.

“Black students across the board for the last eight years have been underserved and under-resourced even though they’re on a campus where there are services, where there’s no limitation to access to things, but they’re still not being serviced,” said Natalie Patterson, creator and facilitator of the event for the organization with the same name. “So the work was really important to specifically target the Black community on these campuses.”

Black + Mental Health + Matters was developed to address those inequities surrounding mental health resources that affect Black students.

“The primary intention is that folks will be seen and heard and cared for, and that it is a place of refuge,” Patterson said.

The inviting environment encourages people to answer the bell and speak to their fellow participants.

“Being in a community where I felt safe because of the number of Black participants, the Black speakers, as well as the allies that were around us, it’s very encouraging to be able to step out and be outside of my comfort zone and hope that I can encourage somebody else to speak up as well,” said Jai Deguerio, a senior psychology major.

The event comes amidst growing attention on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People have been home for almost a year now and the lack of there being in a community setting is so important,” said Misty Levingston, the associate director for Multicultural Affairs and Black Student Services. “It’s really hard during COVID because you’re not supposed to have these community gatherings because it’s not safe. So to be able to gather safely and have community was great.”

She hopes that Black + Mental Health + Matters can return to campus and continue this work, a sentiment Patterson emphasized that point.

“It is a priority to administrators that Black students feel seen and valued on the campus and not that this be an event that happens in February once a year but that routinely happens so that Black students can feel connected and can feel seen and heard and also that other students have the opportunity to participate in allyship.” Patterson said

Antoinette Lorenzo, a junior business administration major, said she hopes more students realize that these events are such opportunities.

“I know a lot of people join events and they’re not Black and they’re like ‘wow I really learned a lot about myself doing this even though I’m not Black myself,’ but I feel like it’s important for everyone because they still learn about themselves and they also learn things about our mentality and culture.” Lorenzo said.

Art With Impact is an organization that promotes mental wellness with expression and connection through media and was sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Services, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Lewis Center.

Ryan Konrad can be reached at ryan.konrad@laverne.edu.

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