The African American Health Forum

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The African American Health Forum (AAHF) got an early start last Sat., Nov 7. Situated in the parking lots of the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Community Health Center and St. Petersburg College (SPC) Midtown Campus, scores of people participated in the memorial wellness walk before the forum was officially underway at 9 a.m.

The African American Health Coalition in partnership with Johnnie Ruth Clarke Community Health Center founded the AAHF in 1997. Eighteen years later the forum is still promoting healthy living and prevention.

In an effort to educate and provide health screenings to the undeserved, the forum included physicians, 10 different health screenings, vendor and educational booths, not to mention free healthy food and entertainment for the whole family.

Clinical and Health Psychologist Vikki Gaskin-Butler was on hand to talk about mental health in a presentation urging those who need help to stop suffering in silence.

She explained that some people are afraid to seek help because they feel it will reflect badly on their family. She reminded everyone that all families have some degree of dysfunction.

“Don’t worry about how badly it will reflect on your family because if you’re going to a mental health professional, they can’t tell anyone anyway. Your business will not be in the street…it’s in a vault,” she stated.

A bit of advice she gave for those seeking help is to lay down a few ground rules in the beginning of the patient/health professional relationship. Let them know that you do not plan to spend all of your money on mental health services. Also, ask them what they think is the beginning, what projections they have, what will be the end of treatment and how will the two of you get there.

“If they are not able to answer those questions successfully and effectively enough for you then find another mental health professional,” she said.

Dispelling the myth that only rich white people seek help, Gaskin-Butler explained that mental healthcare is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Everyone at some point in their lives will have some kind of extenuating circumstance where they may need to bounce ideas and issues off a professional. The cost will not outweigh the benefits.

She urged the crowd to seek treatment from a culturally competent mental healthcare professional.

One such place to seek treatment is Suncoast Center, Inc., which provides a comprehensive range of evidence-based programs that address behavioral health, substance abuse and family stability from south St. Pete to the county line.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Lisa Signorelli was manning the Suncoast Center educational booth. She works out of the office at 928 22nd Ave. S, St. Pete, where there is a team of therapist, case managers and medical providers for those who are experiencing family stressors, situational depression or anxiety. At that location they can also treat people who have more chronic mental health conditions.

“Treatment works. We just really want to encourage folks to try treatment if they’re struggling,” she said.

The Colgate Mobile Dental Van was there giving free dental screenings for children. The philanthropic arm of The Links, Incorporated has partnered with Colgate-Palmolive to assist families who may not have access to dental care.

The multi-million dollar vehicle was equipped with two dental chairs, and Drs. Reginald, Mendee and Brian Ligon were there holding down the fort.

Program specialist Cyrena Duncan was there representing The Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. They provide free referrals to family members or caregivers for those suffering from memory loss or dementia. They conduct care consultations where they will sit down with families and help them construct a care plan for their loved one.

They also connect families with community resources, provide free memory screenings, provide respite services and conduct healthcare seminars. All services are free.

The van will be back in town for Dental Health Month in February at Campbell Park.

Janice Starling Williams and Debra Cason were on hand representing LifeLink® Foundation, Donate Life and All Kidney Patient Group urging people to sign up to be organ donors.

Currently 30 percent of individuals on the national transplant waiting list (in need of any type of organ transplant) are African Americans. The majority of these individuals are waiting on a kidney transplant as minorities are affected by diseases that could lead to kidney failure, namely diabetes and hypertension.

Of the more than 100,000 Americans in need of a kidney transplant, 34 percent are black. Last year, 6,168 individuals died while waiting for a transplant, 23.7 percent were of African American descent.

Starling Williams stressed the need for education to combat the myths that go along with organ donation. She actually had an attendee of the AAHF tell her that the hospital will not work on her as hard if she’s an organ donor.

“We are less likely to donate because of old superstitions saying that: ‘What I came with I gotta go with.’ You can save a life by being an organ donor. This is after you pass, so you can live on through someone else. You don’t need it when you’re dead,” she said explaining that a 33-year-old man saved her life by being a kidney donor.

Representatives from Neighborhood Home Solutions had an educational booth informing attendees of their free financial health services. Since studies show that Americans at all income levels are less healthy than those with incomes higher than their own, they want people to take charge of their financial life, which will alleviate the stress and relieve physical health problems.   For more information, stop by the office at 1600 Dr. M.L.K. Jr St. S, or call (727) 821-6897.

Four breakout panels with top physicians took place in the SPC building ranging from prostate cancer, to hypertension to women’s health. Familiar names such as doctors Frederic Guerrier, Marilyn Fudge and Cedric Thornton were just a few of the medical professionals who participated in the information sessions. Attendees were also able to get their medical questions answered.

A program was also held with teenagers in mind. Topics touched on were bullying, social media, illegal drugs tobacco, teen pregnancy, pursuing higher education and how to conduct themselves when stopped by the police.

It was truly a joy to see physicians, healthcare workers, law enforcement and event volunteers donate their time to make St. Pete a healthier city in which to live, work and play.

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