Mental health summit focused on ‘Healing While Black’

Dr. LaDonna Butler held her annual mental health summit virtually on July 31 and Aug. 1.

BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — When COVID-19 forced communities, schools, and businesses to shut down, Dr. LaDonna Butler worried about what it would mean for her organization’s annual Healing While Black (Mental Health) Summit. She knew the summit was necessary and decided the best thing was to go virtual.

She worked the plan, got the sponsors, set up registration and hoped for the best. It turned out better than she ever could have imagined, with the largest number of registrants in the event’s three-year history.

“We had 1,075 people register for the summit with at least 232 people online during any session,” Butler said.

The summit is held each year in July, which was once known as National Minority Mental Health Month, but this year became National Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) Month. The purpose is to provide a safe space for attendees to discuss their experience, explore research and acknowledge the need for healing.

“I can’t underestimate the importance of the healing process. It involves three important steps: recognizing, reclaiming, and restoring healthy well-being,” said Butler, who is also the founder of The Well for Life and New Vision of the Well.

Both are organizations formed to provide training, alliance building, and advocacy around mental health and well being to the community.

The event began with a virtual pre-summit stretch and various breakout sessions for attendees to participate in topics ranging from using the arts to express the need for healing to how public policy plays a role.

The summit, hosted by The Well for Life, in partnership with the University of South Florida and the Pinellas County Urban League, took place during the last weekend in July and concluded with the “Brown Girl’s Brunch,” a virtual event for women to discuss healing and the struggles and strengths it takes to feel better, as well as “Live at the Grill,” a session for men to discuss their own mental health and the challenges that come with admitting to mental health struggles.

Butler, a licensed mental health counselor and an adjunct professor at USF, said she was humbled by the turnout, with people tuning in from California and as far away as the United Kingdom.

“We are now looking at how we can incorporate virtual next year as well as in-person,” she said.

The wife and mother of five went on to say that while the summit may be over for another year, there is still work to be done.

She said she is currently looking for volunteers to help continue the momentum from the summit and help her organization work on ways to make sure attendees remain connected and have a safe space to continue healing.

“That’s more than 1,000 people we need to keep connected, who are interested in the work,” Butler said, referring to the number of attendees.  “We now need to create an ongoing community of support and a network of national professionals, developing a place for Black people to be able to heal collectively. That is what I am excited about.”

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