The Haute Seeker

Sista Afya is Leading the Dialogue of Mental Wellness for Black Women in Chicago

Editors note: This blog post and interview was conducted back in 2017. Due to the pressing issues at hand, this interview has been updated and revised as a resource for African-American’s seeking mental health and wellness during these times of uncertainty.

According to a 2014 study in Newsweek, 1 in 5 American’s suffer from mental illness. Conversations surrounding this topic have become more prevalent in the most recent months. With an astronomical amount of mass shootings and a turbulent political climate—what has become even more necessary are conversations surrounding mental wellness and what it looks like for people of color. On a national level, the issues are one thing, but what does it look like in the city of Chicago? especially for the black and brown communities.

Camesha Jones, founder of Sista Afya and I met at Sip and Savor coffee shop in Bronzeville to discuss these alarming stats and mental wellness within the black community. Our conversation focused on our shared journey to Chicago, the need for wellness and push for mental health in our communities, and how others could get involved with the organization.

Sista Afya and the need for Mental Wellness Resources for Black Women

In 2013, Camesha Jones made her way to Chicago to begin her graduate studies at the University of Chicago. Before coming to the city, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, something that would ultimately change her life, and eventually the lives of other Black women that she came in contact with through her online mental wellness resource Sista Afya.

Founder of Sista Afya Camesha Jone. Sista Afya is a mental wellness organization for black women in Chicago.
Founder Camesha Jones. Image Courtesy of Sista Afya.

Sista Afya was born from Camesha’s own experiences with dealing with her mental health condition. She struggled to find communities of support, proper education, and quality services. So she began the dialogue by using her knowledge, social work practices, and personal experience to create a mental health and wellness resource for African-American women. Unlike many wellness resources, Sista Afya uses the aspect of community to support the whole individual.  Whether online or offline, other Black women are overcoming similar conditions together. In doing this, Sista Afya is engaging beyond traditional therapy and giving reassurance that they are not alone in their journey towards better mental wellness.

“It is a space of sisterhood, a space of community, a space to be vulnerable, a space to be courageous.”

Wellness Services and Workshops offered by sista afya

Since starting Sista Afya, Camesha continues to expand her reach beyond the internet and small workshops in a pretty significant way. Earlier this month, Camesha led a weekend-long series of events known as Black Mental Wellness Weekend. The community event allowed attendees to engage with black practitioners, participate in various forms of artistic expression, exposure to different coping methods, and much more.

The weekend featured over 20 events, held on the South and West sides of the city, with more than 400 people in attendance. “People showed gratitude—it moved me,” said Camesha. The weekend-long event served its purpose, to engage African-Americans and other people of color to practice and support mental wellness as a part of their daily lives.

It can be challenging to play a role in mental wellness. After all, you want to help, but how can you? “Smile and listen,” shares Camesha. Those suggestions may seem simple but can do a whole lot of good. Because at the end of the day, you never know what a person might be facing.

For us to grow as a people, beyond the political strife, beyond traumatic instances, beyond social media-driven angst, we must engage beyond traditional methods to gain mental wellness. Sista Afya is doing just that by leading the dialogue here in Chicago and online for African-American women. Sista Afya is created for Black women, curated by Black women. As Camesha shares, “It is a space of sisterhood, a space of community, a space to be vulnerable, a space to be courageous.”

How To Get Involved with Sista Afya

There are many ways to get involved with Sista Afya. Be sure to check out their website for the latest events, as well as online and in-person support groups that take place all across the city of Chicago.

A Good Seeker Interview with Sista Afya: Audio Verison

Camesha and I were able to have an open and honest conversation. Two black women, sharing a similar transplant path seeking to change the dialogue within our communities and the city we now call home. Her story and that of Sista Afya has inspired me to continue my journey to strengthen my mental wellness as well. To hear our full interview be sure to check out the audio through the Good Seeker Podcast below. Also available via SoundCloud, Itunes, and Sticher.

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