HYDE PARK — After witnessing a gap in the need for local mental health resources and the services that exist, three community advocates teamed up last summer to create the Black Women & Youth Mental Wellness Expo.
This weekend, co-founders Kenya Atwater, Chanell Hill and Camesha Jones are bringing the expo back — with a new name and expanded mission aimed at serving a broader audience.
“Last year we focused on black women and youth, but this year is for everybody — adolescents all the way to seniors — so the whole family can come,” Jones said.
The Black Mental Wellness Expo will take place from noon-6 p.m. Saturday at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. The co-founders decided the expand the programming to serve more of the community after hearing feedback on ways to better meet participant needs, Jones said.
This year’s expo features sessions for specific groups including a women-focused session on using writing as an emotional outlet, an exploration of black manhood and an adolescent-focused discussion on navigating social media and self-esteem.
Admission is free and attendees can register ahead of the expo online.
As the founder of Sista Afya — an organization aimed at sustaining the mental wellness of black women — Jones said the event represents another step in responding to the “negative experiences” black people can have when accessing mental wellness resources due to insensitivity, discrimination or financial barriers.
The city’s closing of numerous mental health clinics in low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods like Auburn-Gresham, Morgan Park and Woodlawn underscores the importance of an event centered around black community members, she added.
The expo also aims to provide a “safe space” for participants to openly discuss topics they might otherwise not address, said Atwater, the founder of mental health non-profit Breaking the Silence.
As someone who joined the mental health field due to her own “journey” of learning how to locate wellness services, she said the opportunity to connect with a variety of professionals and organizations is invaluable.
“I know how hard it is to find the services, so when we brainstormed, I thought if we could bring those resources in one space and place it’d be great because I once didn’t know where they were myself,” Atwater said.
Hill, who is a social worker, echoed the importance of providing clear information and visible opportunities to access resources as often. When “people see the services, they get more help,” she said.
In bringing community members together, she added that she hopes people leave “knowing they are not alone” and being open to future conversations.
“Mental health in the black community isn’t something we really talk about in the forefront, so this an opportunity to bridge the gap,” Hill said.
In the future, the co-founders said they hope to continue expanding the expo’s reach — potentially even beyond Chicago — and working to stop black communities from being “put on the backburner” when it comes to mental wellness.
“I wanted there to be — and Kenya and Chanell would probably agree — an intentional space for black people to heal. We’re dealing with a lot of stuff,” Jones said. “We wanted to have something that was intentional for black folks because especially in the mental and health wellness field, we are often not seen as a priority. We just wanted to have something that was specifically for us, created by us and connected to our community.”
People can donate to support the Black Mental Health Expo’s mission online.
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