Two-day conference focuses on minority health

Dr. LaDonna Butler and her team at The Well for Life, LLC hosted the two-day National Minority Mental Health Summit on July 12 & 13 with the theme of “Healing While Black.”

By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Dr. LaDonna Butler and her team at The Well for Life, LLC hosted the National Minority Mental Health Summit earlier this month with the theme of “Healing While Black.” The two-day conference focused on the necessary but challenging task of recovering, sustaining and building towards health amid the daily onslaught of being black in America.

Presenters and attendees came from all over the country to share personal experiences, best practices, current research and recent developments in all areas of mental health treatments, strategies and hindrances toward mental wellness for communities of color.

The July 12 schedule began with breakfast, prayer and meditation, followed by performances by Jai Hinson’s Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet, Kira M. Butler’s rendition of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and interpretive dance by Andrida Hosey.

The morning session’s keynote speaker Kempis Ghani Songster of The Ubuntu Redemption Project captivated the audience with his quiet grace. He became an activist after his unprecedented release from a life-sentence after more than 30 years in prison for committing murder at the age of 15.

Songster spoke passionately about his own responsibility for taking a life that would forever “haunt” him, but also of his determination to use his unexpected early release from “death by prison” by speaking out for prison reform. ‘

He shared personal experiences and discussed the mental and emotional impact of the cruelty of America’s prison system, which is clearly not about reform or redemption but too often focuses on how much money can be made off the convicted.

In the afternoon, attendees heard from keynote speaker and Tulane University professor Dr. Marva Lewis, founder and director of the Early Connections Center for Research and Training Center. She is also the organizer of Talk, Touch & Listen While Combing Hair, which is a support group for parents who have been separated from their children due to incarceration or foster care placement.

Friday was also full of informative and timely workshops and breakout sessions. Topics included everything from how healers must work to take care of themselves, covered in Dr. Katurah Jenkins-Hall’s workshop “Healing Our Healers: Exploring Compassion Fatigue,” to negotiating how social media impacts its users, presented in “Holding the Digital Space: Helping Black Millennials Address Emotional Needs in a Virtual World,” a workshop led by licensed counselor Tiffany L. Reddick.

Other sessions included “Treating African American Women: When the Cape Gets in the Way;” “Sex Talk: Investigating the Sexual Development and Sexual Attitudes of African American Women,” “Creative Healing Strategies: Exploring the Expressive Arts as a Therapeutic Intervention” and “Hangover: Overcoming Emotional Addiction.”

There were sessions on the benefit of movement and physical activity strategies such as spending time in nature, presented in Hillary Van Dyke’s “Exploring Black Liberation through the Outdoors: Perspectives of a Black Human who likes to Play Outside” workshop, while Clayton Sizemore of Urban Yoga Foundation Florida offered a talk on “Integrating Mindfulness in ALL areas of Practice,” as well as a class in mindful movement on Saturday.

July 13, dubbed the “Deconstructed Summit Series,” included more intimate events, such as the morning “Brown Girls Brunch,” held at the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, the for men-only “Brothers and BBQ” given in Jordan Park later in the morning and “Textured Conversations,” which covered everything from natural haircare to self-care strategies for health.

The day finished with the “Moonlight Refreshin'” a cultural and vendors market and drum circle held Saturday evening.

Practitioners and county educators were able to earn up to six continuing education credits during the summit.

National Minority Health Awareness Month was ratified by Congress in 2008 as Bebe Moore-Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to improve access to mental health treatment and educate the public about mental health in communities of color.

Author Moore-Campbell was intent on removing the stigma of mental illness after it hit close to home when a family member was diagnosed with a bipolar condition. She became a co-founder of NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) of Urban Los Angeles, and national spokesperson for the organization, before passing away in Nov. 2006.

The Well for Life, LLC, located at 833 22nd St. S in St. Petersburg, is a wellness center founded by Dr. LaDonna Butler, who is vice-chair of the Healthy Start Coalition and chair of the Minority Mental Health Conference of St. Petersburg.

To learn more about how you can get involved with combating mental illness in our community, check out @TheWellforLife or email

To reach J.A. Jones, email

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