We're Not OK

Guest Contributors: Justin T. Stewart and Dr. Antija Allen

Authors of We’re Not OK: Black Faculty Experiences and Higher Education Strategies


What does Black Mental Wellness mean to you?

Justin: Black Mental Wellness is about creating and maintaining healthy strategies to heal from past and present traumas that continue to hinder lives within the African American community. Whether these traumas be externally, related to societal inequities, or internal pain that has been passed down from generation to generation. It’s finding a safe environment to express and recover from these mental, physical, and emotional injuries to continue leading a productive life. It’s learning to prioritize self and realize that regardless of your feelings or emotions, they do matter and should be addressed and supported.


What are some ways that you promote mental health and wellness through your area of expertise?

Antija: Until recently I was a Psychology professor, and it was important to me that my students understood that mental health was just as important as physical health. And that getting help for psychological issues was going to help them be mentally and physically healthier as well as more successful academically. I was never a lecturer, my teaching always involved active learning techniques—so more applied methods where they were required to use what they learned immediately. One exercise focused on stress—they had to choose a stressor they experience. Then share a few unhealthy ways they did or could cope with that stressor. The final and most important piece was having them list the strategies they learned in class that would help them manage stress or cope with stress in a healthy way.


As an author, through our book, “We’re Not OK: Black Faculty Experiences and Higher Education Strategies,” several obstacles and challenges faced by Black faculty are discussed. Many of the experiences shared have a negative impact on a professor’s mental health. Therefore, one key focus of the book is promoting mental wellness. It provides recommendations for both Black faculty and administrators. There are people in several organizations using this book to develop their own initiatives or programs. We have taken suggestions from the book and used them to develop and deliver trainings and workshops on promoting mental wellness in various industries—not only higher education.


What are your recommendations for ending stigma in the Black community?

Justin: Many times, due to the perceptions of looking weak or feeling less than, it is easier to put up a wall to shield emotions rather than expressing them. One of the first steps to ending the stigma of mental health is by creating a space in our private lives where we have the safety and comfort to be vulnerable. This should be cultivated and supported in the household or within close social circles where we are usually our most transparent. Having the freedom to talk about, and be relieved of, emotions including fear, anger and sadness can identify what causes these emotional triggers and hopefully find ways to address them in a healthy manner. In these settings, one person leading the charge can incentivize others to step forward and share their own repressed emotions and experiences. By normalizing this type of communication within your personal community, there will be a constant support system to help uplift you in moments where you may feel low.


Antija: Speak up and speak out about mental challenges—stop suffering in silence. Seek help and don’t be ashamed of getting professional support to combat psychological problems. Normalize not being OK because we all aren’t “good” and “fine” all the time and we shouldn’t feel like we must be. We don’t have to be strong and resilient. Seeking mental help and centering our mental wellness needs to be seen as ordinary as going for a physical or dentist appointment. I also think mental health professionals need to mobilize and make them and their services known in the community, especially if those professionals are Black. Because some may feel more comfortable speaking with someone who looks like them

With some credit to generational traumas, and not having the resources to identify or address them, it can be hard for someone to admit that there is a problem and find a solution. When we haven't been exposed to another style of life, it's just assumed that this is the way things should be. Additionally, as people, while not always intentional or done with malicious intent, we may minimize our issues, along with the issues of others, to again avoid surrendering to the idea that you are hurt. As a result of such denial, we don't outwardly seek or offer these types of strategies, sometimes chalking it up to the struggles of everyday life. With quick access to recreational drugs like alcohol, sex, weed, etc. it's easier to just bury that pain with these short-term sedatives, as opposed to utilizing these strategies that can have a positive, long-term impact.


What are your top 5 favorite wellness and self-care strategies?


Justin:

(1) Playing Music / Podcasts

(2) Physical exercise / activity

(3) Reading

(4) Spending Time with Friends/Family

(5) Cleaning / Organizing


Antija:

(1) Saying “no” and setting clear boundaries.

(2) Getting sleep and taking naps if needed.

(3) Doing things that bring me joy.

(4) Allowing myself to feel and express my emotions.

(5) Exercise


What are your top 5 favorite wellness and self-care strategies?


Justin:

(1) Playing Music / Podcasts

(2) Physical exercise / activity

(3) Reading

(4) Spending Time with Friends/Family

(5) Cleaning / Organizing


Antija:

(1) Saying “no” and setting clear boundaries.

(2) Getting sleep and taking naps if needed.

(3) Doing things that bring me joy.

(4) Allowing myself to feel and express my emotions.

(5) Exercise




Guest Contributors

Justin T. Stewart is a Risk Management analyst in corporate banking, a faculty career coach at Allen Ivy Prep Consulting, and former entertainment journalist. Justin has worked in multiple industries including higher education, career services and corporate banking. These experiences, including being a member of minority networks such as BOLD (Black Organizers, Leaders, and Doers) has exposed him to diverse individuals, cultures and perspectives, enabling him to share the stories of those he has encountered. Since his days as an adolescent, Justin has gravitated towards literature, transforming into a passion to become a storyteller. Alongside his colleague Dr. Allen, We’re Not OK is an opportunity to shine a light on racial disparities and continue conversations that can lead to a meaningful and progressive shift in diversity, equity and inclusion. Justin earned his B.A. in Journalism from Clark Atlanta University.


Dr. Antija Allen is the Director of the Pellissippi Academic Center for Excellence (PACE) and a tenured Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pellissippi State Community College. She was the 2021-2022 recipient of the Roger Crowe Excellence in Teaching award and is certified in both DEI and online teaching. Antija championed Pellissippi Academy’s Emotional Intelligence cohort successfully for 2 years and served as the 2019-2021 PACE Faculty Fellow for First Year Experience where she led faculty development around Open Educational Resources. In 2021 Antija was selected by the Tennessee Board of Regents to be a Maxine Smith leadership fellow; her cohort is developing a toolkit for Black male: student success, faculty recruitment and faculty retention in public higher education. This summer Dr. Allen will be returning to Columbia University Teachers College where she earned her EdD in Adult Learning & Leadership to teach as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in their Summer Principals Academy.


#BlackMentalWellness #MentalHealth #Therapy #Coping #Wellness


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