According to a 2014 study in Newsweek, 1 in 5 American’s suffer from mental illness. Conversations surrounding the topic have become more crucial in the most recent months, with an astronomical amount of mass shooting and a turbulent political climate. What has even become a more necessary conversation is what mental health looks like for people of color. On a national level its one thing, but what does it look like in the city of Chicago?
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.
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.”
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 gave attendees an opportunity 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.”
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.