Celebrating mental health on the Deuces

By Allen A. Buchanan, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –When Pinellas County Urban League Health Program Coordinator LaDonna Butler suggested that a mental health conference be held on 22nd Street South, her comment was met with blank stares by a group of mental health professionals.

Undaunted, Butler persevered and out of her hard work was born ROAR: Our Voices Heard—Mental Health Matters, a four-day conference that highlighted the collective works of clinicians, clergy, consumers and the community.

From Oct. 20-22, the conference was held at several locations along the 22nd Street Corridor, including St. Petersburg College, the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum and the Royal Theater.

Thursday included an eight-hour workshop geared towards young professionals and youth ministry leaders. A sort of a youth mental health first aid, topics discussed included crisis intervention, supporting advocacy and recovery and opportunities to practice.

Friday morning featured Dr. Richard Horowitz speaking on “Building Resiliency” followed by a distinguished panel of experts discussing best practices in creating an integrated care approach to mental health wellness and resiliency.

That afternoon saw dynamic professional development workshops and seminars.  Some topics included, “Trauma and the Brain Development” and “The Culture of Young People.” The evening culminated with a reception, mayoral proclamation and recognition ceremony at the Woodson Museum.

Saturday’s event turned into a community block party with people dancing in the streets. Several people driving by stopped their cars and joined the people having a good time along the Deuces. Mental health vendors, the NOMAD Studio Art Bus and food vendors added to the festival-like atmosphere.

“We (the black community) have one of the highest needs, so we’d always go somewhere else and talk about what’s going on in the community, but nobody actually does anything,” said Butler.

As a big smile spread across her face she said: “Now we’ve just had a four-day event!”

Butler was not the only one pleased with what occurred along the Deuces. Author, speaker and empowerment coach Roderick Cunningham expressed equal enthusiasm at what he experienced while attending several workshops.

Mental Health Awareness, featured“I saw so many people from the community coming together-educators, doctors—saying, ‘We need to fix this,’” said Cunningham.

Butler was pleased when neighborhood folks came up and asked to attend. She said, “yes, and we didn’t charge them. If you want to come learn with us, come learn with us.”

To Butler, the most beneficial part of the four-day conference was “actually getting people to begin the conversation about mental health without whispering about it.”

The fourth day of the event was turned over to clergy to continue the conversation with their congregation members in their respective churches.

ROAR: Our Voices Heard—Mental Health Matters was sponsor by Pinellas County Urban League, the Deuces Live-Main Street Organization, Eckerd Alternatives, St. Petersburg College, Empowering Communities Through Changing Lives, Juvenile Welfare Board, Chrysalis, Healthy Start, PRP Wine, the City of St. Petersburg and others.

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