By Allison Brown

The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the Black Mental Health Task Force and Therapeutic Play Foundation are partnering to host a free wellness event Saturday, Aug. 21, dubbed “Mental and Physical Health, Wellness and Stigma in the Black Community.”

Nakeya Fields, founder of the nonprofit Therapeutic Play Foundation, pitched and organized the event out of a desire to give back to the community while her organization was shut down during COVID-19. As a licensed clinical social worker for over 10 years, she said she saw a need for care that was dedicated specifically to Black people and their specific struggles.

“We have mental health professionals who are leading the conversation,” Fields said.

“It’s not like a therapist talking at people or doing a presentation. It’s more so talking with the community and letting them share how they’ve had struggles and just having a safe space for that as opposed to making it punitive. Instead of it being like going to an appointment because you’re sick, it’s more like going to a party with your people to feel safe and be able to express if you do feel sick.”

This event is the first of six in the Wellness Conversation Series since its launch on Juneteenth. It will have a panel discussion about mental and physical health in the Black community; healing stations including tribal face painters, massage, African dancing, yoga and therapeutic art; resources for mental health treatment; representatives from the Gabriel Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Black Chamber of Commerce; substance abuse treatment centers; balloons; food and drinks.

With the goal of increasing awareness and reducing disparities regarding mental health, the Black and African Heritage Underserved Cultural Communities Subcommittee gives $200,000 every year toward capacity building projects in the community. This year, it chose to sponsor the Black Mental Health Task Force and Therapeutic Play Foundation’s joint effort to create the Wellness Conversation Series. It hopes to start conversations that will initiate relationship building, trust and change.

There is a negative stigma around mental health for everyone, but Fields said it is worse in the Black community, where people don’t want to seem weak or have anything else going against them. She also said they experience a different type of anxiety that comes just from being Black in a system that threatens them daily.

“We call it complex trauma,” Fields said. “When people are continuously exposed to things that they feel are threatening to themselves and their well-being, then that’s trauma, and complex trauma is continuing exposure and multiple incidents of that trauma.

“How do our bodies handle this huge responsibility of managing an inflamed response? That’s what anxiety is, a nervous system inflammation response. How do you manage that when it happens to you every single day since you were a kid? So, this is our effort to say, ‘Hey, we get you. We understand that this is difficult. We understand that you may be feeling anger and fear and frustration.’”

Many things need to change before the system changes, but Fields said creating conversations and empowering the Black community is the first step.

The family-friendly event will be held 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 21. Registration is required to attend in person and the location will be disclosed once registration is confirmed. For those unable to attend, it will also be livestreamed on Facebook.

“Mental and Physical Health, Wellness and Stigma
in the Black Community”

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21

WHERE: Location will be disclosed after registration,
livestream available on Facebook @therapeuticplayfoundation

COST: Free