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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

With Black Women In Mind, Sista Afya Aims To Make Mental Health Services More Accessible In South Shore

"Finding a therapist that looks like you is hard, and when you go to therapy you essentially want someone you can relate to," said Latania J. Franklin, a therapist at the new Sister Afya center.

Sista Afya therapists Latania Franklin (l) and Camesha Jones, who recently opened their practice in South Shore, aim to make mental health services accessible to and affordable for black women.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH SHORE — It’s been seven years since six mental health clinics across the city were abruptly closed by now former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and some of the communities that were most affected are still struggling to provide resources to those in need.

Sista Afya, a mental wellness clinic that recently set up shop at 1750 E. 71st St., is an organization looking to fill the gap.

Founder Camesha L. Jones created Sista Afya (a Swahili term meaning “Wellness”) with black women in mind. According to a study from the International Journal of Health Services, black women are more likely to find themselves in social environments that place them at risk for illness and injury, but less likely to seek treatment due to cultural or financial barriers.

Opening the practice in the heart of South Shore is, in some ways, strategic. The predominantly black community has a considerable number of residents who fit their target demographic: young women between the ages of 24-35 who might encounter some difficulty navigating careers, schools and family.

“Young adulthood is the time period where they have their peak of mental health crises,” said Jones, a Spelman alum who graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in social service administration. “They’re not necessarily making a lot of money, but they still need services, and making them affordable helps to remove a barrier.”

Cultural competency is also a barrier, said Latania J. Franklin, a therapist who joined Sista Afya earlier this year.

“Finding a therapist that looks like you is hard, and when you go to therapy you essentially want someone you can relate to, someone you feel comfortable with,” added Franklin. “Not saying that a therapist who isn’t of color couldn’t be those things, but speaking from experience I want someone I can talk to.”

And then there’s the transgenerational distrust of medical professionals that makes it harder for some to reach out, which adds to the myth that black people don’t believe in therapy, said Franklin.

“It’s not that we don’t believe in therapy, it’s that black people don’t want their business out in the street. Or, they aren’t having the information they share with others validated,” added Franklin, a North Sider who graduated from Loyola University with a masters degree in social work. “Therapy falls under that medical lens where it’s hard to trust medical professionals, especially when, again, they don’t look like you.”

To that end, Sista Afya takes a holistic approach to mental wellness, offering a menu of services — including individual or group therapy — at little to no cost. The practice also expanded its reach beyond South Shore to help those in neighboring areas on the South Side, partnering with other practices and community organizations like Chatham’s Haji Healing Salon.

“We’ve had events at Corner 52, and in June we’re having Juneteeth liberation yoga and meditation event at South Shore Cultural Center. We’ll still be at different places offering services, but the main individual and group therapy sessions will happen here,” said Jones.

And the idea of offering multiple options allows Jones and Franklin to meet people where they are. Some clients prefer group therapy to individual sessions, others may find healing through art or exercise.

“A lot of times within the mental health field they only give you one option, which is usually talk therapy,” said Jones. “But we believe that in mental wellness, where we’re looking at the whole person, we have to reach people in creative ways.”

For more information about Sista Afya, click here.

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