About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mommy Moment: Thinking about Mini Mo

There's a spark of magic in your eyes.
Candyland appears each time you smile.
Never thought that fairy tales came true,
But they come true when I'm near you.
You're a genie in disguise
Full of wonder and surprise...

If you're a soul head like I am, you recognize those lyrics from "Betcha By Golly Wow" by the soul group the Stylistics (also nicely covered by Prince and Phyllis Hyman). I've been singing this song to Mini Mo for months now, to the point that she can now sing along (as much as a 21-month-old can). We often sing this song together during her bath time, as we did tonight. 

During our duet, I couldn't help but look at her happy, smiling, singing face and reflect on how blessed I am to have her in my life. Those lyrics are so true for me and my baby, and it's not always easy to remember that when she's showcasing the "fiercer" of her personality traits. I wrote on this blog a while ago that I would tell you all about Mini Mo's developing personality; now we're approaching two years! Late as I am, here's a list of words I often use to describe my child:
Exhibiting "strong-willed"
  • strong-willed
  • assertive
  • diva
  • happy
  • smart
  • funny
  • silly

Exhibiting "silly" on Memorial Day

Exhibiting "happy," right after being silly with Mommy

That was right off the top of my head, and the top three are generally the ones I use most frequently. This is a habit I want to watch out for, as it could demoralize her as she grows. The thing is: these traits are highly problematic when this toddler's antics are preventing us from making progress, whether it's getting dressed, getting fed, or getting out of the house. These antics cause us to "bump heads" sometimes--because some of these traits are exhibited by the other lady of the house (ahem).

Still, when she's not a toddler (and even while she is, kinda), these traits will represent a very strong young woman. I'm already proud of my amazing girl, but I will be so proud of this self-assured woman who knows what she wants and won't take any crap from anybody, especially some knuckle-headed boy. (That was another mommy moment. Ha ha.)

So, as I work on finding the silver linings in my child's sometimes challenging personality, it helps to think about the fact that, for me, she really is a fairy tale come true--full of wonder and lots of surprise. 

Check out the Stylistics performing "Betcha By Golly Wow" in 1975 (courtesy of YouTuber HAYASEZA0602):

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spotlight On: Valenrich Wellness, LLC and Dr. Nadia M. Richardson

From a recent Valenrich Wellness flyer
I'm happy to share the first installment in what I'm hoping will be a fruitful, insightful "Spotlight On..." series here on the blog. As I've thought about the women I personally know--those who are making strides to positively impact Black women's issues and wellness--I decided to learn more about them through conversations and to share their work with as many folks as I can.

Thus, I am excited to feature the first spotlight on Valenrich Wellness, LLC, founded by Dr. Nadia M. Richardson. Nadia and I took some time to chat about her work and what she hopes to accomplish. What ensued was a revealing discussion about the stigma of mental health concerns among young people, particularly college-aged Black women at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Here's our conversation:

First, tell us a little about your organization.

Sure. My professional background is a bit diverse. I came out of the nonprofit sector and went into education; specifically student affairs within institutions of higher education.

What kind of nonprofit work did you do?

I worked with the Institute of International Education and the United Negro College Fund Special Program's Institute for International Public Policy. Those were the two big nonprofits I worked with professionally but I've been involved in the nonprofit sector as a volunteer for as long as I can remember.

I've always participated in programming or research that explored issues of diversity and focused primarily on issues of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. I developed courses about social justice, diversity, and identity development. While teaching a class, I incorporated hidden disabilities (specifically mental illnesses) into a lecture on diversity and, after the lecture, I had a student disclose her mental health status to me. It made me wonder how many students over the years I had interacted with but who did not feel comfortable disclosing their mental health concerns. Or worse, how many students with mental health concerns did I interact with who were silently struggling or feeling unsupported by their campuses? That curiosity led to my research on the experiences of college students with mental health concerns. Valenrich Wellness sort of came out of my research findings and the expressed interest of campus professionals such as faculty and student affairs staff.

Hmm...So even campuses with student counseling services...you noticed some lapses with available services and students' feelings about getting help for their hidden disabilities?

Absolutely.  I heard several different stories. Some students did not know that their campuses had a counseling center. Some felt guilt for experiencing mental health concerns and relied on informal forms of support such as religion, friends, denial, or substance abuse.

Others went for perhaps a single counseling session and felt as though they didn't have anything in common with their counselor and so there was little they were able to get from the interaction. But what I really learned was that there were different layers as to why the women that I spoke to in my particular study experienced mental health concerns the way they did.

In my study, I combined my established interest in traditionally underrepresented communities with my emerging interest in and commitment to mental wellness. With that in mind, I interviewed Black female college students with mental health concerns at a predominantly White institution.

There already exists a good amount of research on the experiences of Black students at PWIs but few that focus on their mental wellness and experiences with mental health concerns.

What are some of those layers which seem unique to Black women on these campuses, regarding mental health concerns?

What I learned was that various forms of discrimination (institutional, covert, micro-aggressions, etc.) encouraged the study participants to commit to mentally distressing performances of identity. Some of the layers that are unique to Black women is this idea that you have to be strong at all times; an idea that is historically rooted in the justified inhumane labor of Black women and has been passed down through generations as a socio-cultural rite of passage into Black womanhood.

Ah, yes. I've heard about this idea. Joan Morgan calls it the "strongblackwoman" idea in When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.


So, how did you go from your interests in underrepresented communities and your research to creating Valenrich?

I am a believer in participatory action research. I don't want to just publish work; I want that work to inform community efforts that can have a positive impact on various communities. During the course of my research, I repeatedly heard from colleagues that this was information that needed to be shared. Through Valenrich, I develop specific training, lectures, and advocacy workshops that use research to make issues of mental health, discrimination, and diversity link in a way that is understandable and accessible to everyone.

It is a way to assist universities in fostering student mental wellness by actively addressing issues of diversity on their campuses and providing faculty and staff with the tools they need to support students with mental health concerns. It is also a way to dismantle the fear and stigma that many have regarding mental health. If professors are fearful of students with mental health concerns, they are much less likely to be of any assistance to [the mental health concerns'] persistence.

Now that you're Dr. Nadia Richardson, are you working with Valenrich Wellness full-time, or are you working on a college campus too?

Valenrich is my full-time gig right now but I am still looking for the right position. Perhaps a faculty position.

Students definitely need you in the classroom, and they need to know that mental wellness is of the utmost importance. That leads me to my next question. In the grand scheme of things, what's the most important thing you want people to know about the work you're doing?

I believe that stigma about mental health continues because we don't allow ourselves to be honest about how we feel and proactive about addressing those things that truly threaten our mental well-being. Racism, sexism, ableism, classism and all the other -isms that are too abundant to name in this conversation all threaten our mental health. Speaking our truth, valuing ourselves, letting go of the guilt that we accept for not being some unreachable form of 'perfection,' and actively addressing the various forms of discrimination continue to exist are crucially important to ourselves and our communities.

Yes! I wish we had more room discuss all of those things! Given your emphasis on college students, though, would you say that there's something about that kind of environment that either exacerbates or concentrates those -isms you pointed out? Are young adults particularly vulnerable to those forces that threaten mental well-being?

It is both important and useful to address mental health concerns in college students because it is during the traditional college-age years when students are away from home for the first time and adjusting to a new environment that mental health concerns surface. I believe that universities fall short in fully equipping students for our increasingly diverse world or to think about diversity in complex ways that would, for example, allow someone to understand mental health socially rather than medically. If a person has bi-polar depression for which there is no 'cure', that diagnosis for all intents and purposes impacts their perspective and informs their identity.  However, universities continue to graduate students who have never so much as had a diversity and/or social justice class and are therefore ill-equipped to be reflective contributors to society. I hope I'm making sense.

I think what I am trying to say is, in order for the fear and stigma of mental health to be dismantled, we have to be willing to see and understand mental health in different ways and consider how our society contributes to mental distress by turning a blind eye to discrimination.

Yes, that absolutely makes sense, especially since we're talking about hidden disabilities. It makes sense for institutions of higher learning to train academically, vocationally and socially.

Just as progress has been made in terms of accommodating and learning about disabilities we can see (though much more progress is necessary), we need awareness for mental health concerns, too. What an important mission.

How can people find out more about Valenrich Wellness, and how can they reach you?

Thanks. I'm excited about the possibilities and very passionate about the work.
Thank you again for thinking of me and inviting me to be a part of your series. I am so excited to share this information with you.

You're so welcome! I love it, and I love that you're tackling such a traditionally taboo issue. Our communities need this kind of awareness, and it's great that you're tapping into higher education to do that.

Valenrich Wellness has a website in the works - www.valenrich.com. If people are interested, they can also connect on facebook (www.facebook.com/ValenrichWellness) or twitter (@ValenrichLLC).

I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Nadia and tapping into some of those issues which continue to stigmatize the active pursuit of attaining mental wellness. Nadia is passionately fighting that stigma. Be on the lookout for Valenrich Wellness events!