Every year, Black History Month has a different theme. This year, the theme is Black Health and Wellness. This Black History Month, we acknowledge Black medical practitioners and Black health care workers such as Nurses, Doctors, and Therapists of the past and present. Celebrating Black health and wellness doesn’t just focus on health and wellness by Western standards but also professions in “non-traditional” health and wellness such as Doulas and Herbalists, etc. It also focuses on health as a whole–physical, mental, and emotional. And making these services and resources more available to communities that are in need of it. I was able to interview Ameer Washington, the CEO of The Boys and Girls Club of Newark, about the importance of Black health and wellness and how The Boys and Girls Club is attempting to make health and wellness services more accessible to all.
According to their website, The Boys and Girl Club’s mission is to help young people to “reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens.” For decades, the Boys and Girls Club of Newark has served children and their families through hallmark programs such as the After School Program, the Community Health Program, the Learn to Swim Program, and hosting events like family game night and dinners. This sense of community, safety, and support is something that holds immense value to Washington, as he himself joined the Boys and Girls Club of Newark at the age of six. His mother, who was a single-parent that worked long hours, enrolled her young children in the club’s after school program to give them a safe, healthy environment to go to once school ended each day.
Reflecting back on his childhood, Washington shared with me that he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Newark. Being part of The BGC of Newark allowed him great exposure to opportunities which led to his success. As Washington grew older, he started his career with The BCG of Newark as a volunteer, then a tutor, and eventually evolved into leadership roles as Director of different departments. Health and wellness are the cornerstones of the work he does and a main focal point for the club currently is the “Triple Play Program: Health and Wellness in Newark” initiative. The program is led by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and is focused on providing support to youths’ mental and behavioral health. Core issues that this program focuses on are body image, living healthy lifestyles, and mental health issues such as ADHD, Schizophrenia, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Though there are many resources provided by The BCG, health care resources are of great importance because there are still issues within the health care system in underserved communities. The theme of this Year’s Black History Month, Black Health and Wellness, is vital to shed light on disparities in health care in Black communities. Although many of us would like to believe this is a thing of the past, it is still an ongoing issue. For example, Black women are more likely to die due to pregnancy-related causes compared to White women. Also, Black communities have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. And Black people are less likely to have access to or feel comfortable seeking mental health related care. The CDC has stated, “Multiple factors contribute to these disparities, such as variation in quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias. Social determinants of health have historically prevented many people from racial and ethnic minority groups from having fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health.” This is were programs like the ones provided by The BGC come in to bridge the gap.
“There are 40,000 school aged kids in Newark,” Washington said, “and of that number, The BGC is presently serving 5,000. Our goal is to grow and deliver mental health services to as much of the population as possible.”
In order to achieve this goal, the club is actively working towards opening a mental health clinic where individual and group therapy sessions are offered. Their team also works hard to empower youths to take leadership roles in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. This past week, the kids at The BCG of Newark led their own “Social Justice Walk” where they created signs and marched around the local neighborhood to spread their message and experienced using their voices to raise awareness.
I believe that the work The BGC of Newark is doing today is tremendously valuable. Health and wellness includes physical, emotional, and mental health and resources that help us all live healthier and happier lives should be available to all regardless of our race, sex, or where we live. This Black History Month’s theme along with the work Washington and The BGC are doing is about making the resources available to support children and families. It’s about creating opportunities to bring people together in safe spaces within local communities, and empowering youths to come together and advocate for themselves and the greater good. It’s an age-old notion that “the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” Therefore, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to give them the access to opportunities, the resources, and the life skills and support they need to be happy, healthy, and well.
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