Union Baptist Church works to de-stigmatize minority mental health

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TOWNSHIP – Reverend Sherman Martin Jr. knows what it’s like when untold tragedy strikes a family.

On August 7, 2014, Martin’s grandson died of shaken causes. Hours later, her 20-year-old daughter Kayelisa passed a moving truck on Interstate 77 in Summit County.

After Ronda Hawkins lost her only son to murder, she left Akron and moved to Canton, where she joined Martin’s church.

Her sister LaTrice Snodgrass recently shared how the shock of losing three family members in close succession nearly left her unable to work.

Because grief, depression, and anxiety can negatively impact and upset a person’s life, they hosted a free health and wellness symposium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Union Baptist Church at 415 Cornelia Ave. NE, with a focus on mental health.

More Stark Health:COVID-19 vaccine: getting the black community vaccinated

The event will include a panel discussion; local vendors; community service organizations such as the Greater Stark County Urban League, Akron Children’s Hospital, Stark and Canton City Health Services, and Stark County Community Action Agency; and information on health insurance for people aged 65 and over.

The Stark County Black Nurses Association and Beacon Pharmacy will offer Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines and boosters for adults and children.

“Peace is so important.”

Scheduled panelists include Hawkins, holistic health expert Courtney TK Chester and nurse practitioner Latoya Dickens Jones of Massillon.

“From Union’s perspective, health and wellness, with that element of mental health, is so important,” Martin said. “Peace is so important, and so we want to have a space where people can come and know there’s help in those areas of mental health. And I think the more symposia and gatherings, the more people feel comfortable sharing their challenges.

“The Bible says a lot about mental health,” Martin said, citing several scriptures, including Philippians 4:8:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is beautiful, whatever is of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is something commendable – meditate on these things.”

He said it was important to offer help because mental health is an issue that affects families who often don’t always know where to go for help. He pointed out that it’s a myth that black people don’t kill themselves, adding that shame often prevents loved ones from acknowledging it.

“We probably haven’t talked about it enough,” he said. “My daughter died of a suicide, she had depression. It was a chain of events. Her birthday and my grandson’s birthday is August 7th. It wasn’t just the August 7th depression , but it was a chain of events of things that happened that weakened her mentally.

“I think with the younger generation, when it comes to dating, you see a lot of mental stress and depressions. … I just think with my daughter, she got into a very stressful relationship.”

Martin noted that his family’s grief and mental stress were exacerbated by what he said were inaccurate media reporting based on inadequate police investigations.

“I did my own investigation,” Martin said. “I told them I needed to know the truth, not just because I was a grieving father, which I was, but because it means a lot to my wife, my children and my family. The good Lord m gave the information I needed, and I was okay with that.”

“We need to take the delivery of health care outside the four walls of the hospital.”

Snodgrass is the owner of Equity House Consulting, which is co-sponsoring the event, and author of the book “Justice for the Health of it,” which examines health disparities in black and brown communities. She said the idea for the symposium came from a conversation she had with her friend, Shermell Martin, of which Coco’s Oils and Creams is a co-sponsor.

“As a health care professional for 25 years, what I’ve noticed is that we have to take the delivery of health care outside of the four walls of the hospital,” Snodgrass said. “In order to change the delivery of care, we have to come to the people.”

Snodgrass said part of the resistance to seeking mental health treatment is because it’s seen as “one more thing” for minorities to endure. COVID-19 has killed a disproportionate percentage of black people, who already have higher rates of infant mortality, diabetes and breast cancer.

Bringing in pastors, she added, makes sense because they are still seen as trusted leaders in the black community.

“So we need to start involving the faith community in these discussions about health and well-being, mental health and physical health,” she said.

‘Faith without works is dead.’

Snodgrass said too often people feel like if they seek help outside of their church, their faith has wavered.

“Take it to the Lord, but also go talk to someone,” she said. “Faith without works is dead. I speak from personal experience.”

Snodgrass said when her father died in 2015, her grandmother died a year later, followed in two weeks by an uncle.

“I sank into a space of severe depression and anxiety, but I didn’t tell anyone about it, okay?” she says. “I just suffered in silence, and it was bad, and I did that for almost a year because I said ‘I’m not going to the doctor’ because they don’t put anything on my (working) folder.”

Snodgrass said she eventually felt compelled by God to ask for help, which she did.

“So I think we need to start talking to people about these things so they can be comfortable enough to get help,” she said.

“I think grief is different for everyone.”

Hawkins, whose son was killed the same month Martin lost his daughter and grandson, uses his experience to help others. Upon joining Union Baptist in 2015, Hawkins met her husband and organized the church’s bereavement ministry.

“I think grief is different for everyone,” she said. “I feel like the Lord sent me here because of the experience of the pastor and first lady who lost their daughter the very month my son was killed. I shared hands with him because I believe the Lord gave me a bereavement ministry before the murder of my son.”

At her lowest point, Hawkins said she was unable to arrange her son’s funeral and was only able to do so with the help of God and the constant support of close friends.

But she also got professional help.

Hawkins said adults and children have experienced grief and stress from the pandemic, school shootings and other crises, but they don’t always express it, adding that her surviving daughters have hidden their grief.

“We just don’t want you to come to church,” Hawkins said. “We want you to come to church, but we want to provide you with resources to help you not only be spiritually whole, but also emotionally, mentally, and physically.”

The church has previously hosted minority health fairs in partnership with the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.

“Churches are a resource and not just for Sundays; not just for spirituality,” Snodgrass said. “We just try to have a comprehensive approach to health care and wellness.”

Contact Charita at 330-580-8313 or [email protected]

On Twitter: @cgoshayREP

If you are going to

What: Symposium on health and well-being for minorities, with a focus on mental health. It will feature a round table; local vendors; community service organizations; Covid vaccines; and information on health insurance for people aged 65 and over.

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Union Baptist Church at 415 Cornelia Avenue NE, Canton

More details: 330-454-7450 or https://ubc-canton.org

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