Letter from the Editor - November Edition: Healing is the Revolution
IWES means the world to me. It’s the passion that ignites my purpose and contributes to answering the question, ‘Why do I live?’
25 years ago, I had a dream. That I could create a public health organization that would respond to the need to address health inequities and disparities in communities of color, women and their children in particular. Those terms were not being used then. But as part of the African American community, I knew that our health outcomes were significantly impacted by the oppressive, racially influenced socioeconomic conditions that determine many of our health outcomes.
I have been delighted to watch the phenomenal growth of IWES over the years. Initially I served as Chair of the Board and was not directly involved in the day to day programming and operations. I had a psychiatric and population mental health career to pursue. But, after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, I knew that I had to lean in and directly become a part of the recovery in NOLA. At the time I was living in New York working at Harlem Hospital. It was hard to leave New York – I loved New York, plain and simple. But I was being called to a higher purpose – to help my people rebuild their lives after what was one of the worst disasters in US history. I saw the rescue and recovery efforts tinged with the same racism that has always existed in New Orleans, since the days of slavery.
And so I spearheaded a division of post-disaster emotional recovery, focused on the human recovery needs of communities of color in New Orleans. I especially focused on our children, especially those living in poverty. No plans were being made at the public health level to address their trauma. And after years of being in the trenches arguing that our children are #SADnotBAD, this year, thirteen years later, it appears that the city has finally heard their cries for mental health help. So, on August 9th, the New Orleans City Council passed Resolution R-18-344 declaring that “no later than August 1, 2019, the Orleans Parish Children and Youth Planning Board shall present to the Mayor and City Council recommendations for a comprehensive approach to the prevention and effective intervention of the negative effects of childhood trauma in New Orleans; and further that the recommendations shall seek to increase the availability of and access to quality, culturally competent evidence-based services, and to transform the systems which with youth interact, including schools and the justice systems, to ensure they are operating with a trauma-informed lens, thereby promoting youth well-being and rehabilitation, rather than exacerbating the effects of trauma.”
While I am greatly encouraged by these new measures in our city, I know that there is still a lot of work to be done to change the outcomes for our children. As IWES turns 25, this December the organization will use this occasion to rededicate ourselves to the fight for racial equality and justice for all. We shall continue our work in schools, helping to create better systems, caring for the caretakers, raising awareness about mental health and providing access to health information and systems.
We will also take a renewed look at the way we equip ourselves for the evolving public health landscape and what it will require to bring access and equity to the most vulnerable populations. This includes our first ever Gala, this December 1st at the NOPSI Hotel. While we will party like only New Orleans can do, the evening will also help us to continue working toward our vision of creating a world where all people can live and create environments and communities where health and wellness are valued and promoted so as to enhance quality of life.