Looking forward, community members dialogue on the state of the country in virtual town hall

L-R, Randy Russell FHSP’s president and CEO, Dr. Katurah-Jenkins Hall, FHSP Board of Trustees chair, Arts Conservatory for Teens’ Dr. Alex Harris and Clayton Sizemore, founder of Mindful Movement Florida

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — With anxiety still looming over the transfer of power in Washington D.C., the need for communication and conversation has never seemed as pressing as it is now.

Last month, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg (FHSP) held a post-election virtual town hall to provide a place for conversation, bringing together a diverse group of attendees reaching across ages, races, and sectors.

The event posed two questions to the attendees while offering them opportunities to share in small groups through virtual breakout rooms: How are you feeling about our nation, state and community? And, what is our path forward in racial healing?

The event offered an opportunity to take a moment to exhale after a tense pre-election season and the ongoing uncertainty that remains. It was kicked off by a musical prayer by vocalist, author, painter, educator and sound healer Fred Johnson, and was followed by a greeting from Dr. Katurah-Jenkins Hall, FHSP Board of Trustees chair.

“It’s no secret that we are divided as a nation, racially, economically, socially — and as never before, we are keenly aware of our political divide,” Dr. Jenkins-Hall noted. “This is a critical moment in the history of our nation, our country, our city, where we decide how good leaders must respond to this great divide.”

Jenkins-Hall shared how being Black and female, a psychologist, a minister, a healer, an activist, and a mother have helped her weave “narratives of power and perseverance” into her leadership. She encouraged the attendees to share and “speak your truth freely” from their own places of identity.

FHSP’s president and CEO, Randy Russell, then encouraged listeners to join him and “understand we’re stepping into social change” while accepting that it would require an ongoing individual personal journey.

Russell honed-in on how “political determinants of health” under the current leadership can be witnessed in the “decision of a president not to take leadership when a pandemic occurs.”  He compared that to the “moral determinants” of health – using the example of how race equity is impacted negatively when “white people, as I am one of, just stand by” – which, said Russell, “is not acceptable.”

Russell clarified that as an avowed “anti-racist,” he couldn’t speak for what that meant for everyone, but that it was essential to explore the imperative need to be anti-racist in a world where racism is very real. He explained the virtual town hall as a moment of “people coming together to imagine a different future.”

The next section of the event began with the question: How are you feeling about our nation, state and community? – addressed in a breakout room. In the online ZOOM platform, that meant that instead of viewing 36 people in tiny windows on the computer screen, participants found themselves in a new view, which was shared by only four to six people at a time. This allowed for a more intimate conversation, sometimes guided by a facilitator.

Once the 20-minute breakout sessions were finished, participants were automatically returned to the large group view and treated to a mindfulness and deep breathing session by Clayton Sizemore, founder of Mindful Movement Florida.

Sizemore offered recommendations on six ways to bolster the immune system, especially in light of COVID-19.

  1. Diet
  2. Exercise (that includes yoga)
  3. Reducing stress
  4. Getting appropriate sleep and rest
  5. Hygiene (which, during COVID, means getting back to frequently washing hands)
  6. Taking supplements to support our compromised nutritional intake

As the relaxation session finished, he took the final moments to praise the power of positive affirmations. Sizemore reminded listeners that, along with the knowledge, “You are what you think; life truly stems from our thoughts,” relying on thoughts alone would not necessarily translate those thoughts into action.

The “breath and mindfulness activist” insisted that it’s imperative to “translate our thoughts into words, and those words eventually into actions in order to manifest our intentions.” He noted that affirmations are proven methods of self-improvement due to their ability to rewire our brains, and, much like exercise, raise the level of ‘feel-good hormones’ — pushing our brains to form new neural clusters through positive thought.

He offered ten affirmations to use daily, including:

  1. “I am the architect of my life, I build this foundation, and I choose its contents.”
  2. “Today, I’m brimming with energy and overflowing with joy.”
  3. “My body is healthy. My mind is brilliant. My soul is tranquil.”
  4. “I am superior to negative thoughts and low actions.”
  5. “I have been given endless talents, which I began to utilize today and every day of my life.”
  6. “I forgive those who have harmed me in my past, and I peacefully detach from them.
  7. “A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love.”
  8. “I am guided every step by Spirit, who leads me towards what I must know and do.”
  9. “I possess the qualities needed to be extremely successful.”
  10. “Happiness is a choice. I base my happiness on my own accomplishments and the

blessings that I’ve been given.”

After the breathing and relaxation session, the townhall continued with a message of uplift by Rev. Kenny Irby, founder and president of Men in the Making, who shared verses from Psalm 37 and led participants in prayer. This was followed by another breakout room to address the second question: What is our path forward in racial healing?

The event ended with a moving performance by Arts Conservatory for Teens’ Dr. Alex Harris, singing a tune he wrote in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor titled “Humanity.”

Harris said, “The song simply is about the importance of lifting each other in a way that inspires us; to raise a positive vibration of healing of hope and love, regardless of your position, regardless of the color of your skin, regardless of who you love, religion or not, regardless of your zip code.”

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