Mental Health Access is a Racial Justice Issue

August 30, 2021Ruby Manesis

My experience with the RAC Teen Racial Justice Fellowship was so amazing. I learned so many skills that were applicable to several different aspects of my life. After each lesson, I found myself thinking about the lessons we had been taught, and this made me realize how impactful and important participating in the fellowship was. This knowledge was incredibly helpful to me as I was planning a virtual teach-in with peers from my school.

For my project, a group of friends from my high school and I worked with an organization called Treatment not Trauma. This organization is trying to make alternatives to police for people to call when themselves or others are in a mental health crisis. They are also working to generally increase mental health services in Chicago. The police are not equipped and trained adequately to respond to people in mental health crisis, and interaction with police for people in crisis leads oftentimes to death, imprisonment, and most often they do not help the people in need. These interactions have disproportionately injured and killed people of color.

Treatment not Trauma is doing very hard work to change this and to create alternatives. Their program takes a lot of inspiration from the Kahoots program in Oregon. My peers and I worked with them, and they suggested we help to promote and plan a rally for Treatment not Trauma. We decided to plan a teach-in virtually over Google Meet to teach about this organization and what they are doing, and promote the rally. 20 people ended up coming to our teach-in, and we presented the slideshow that we had prepared. We contacted people to come to the rally and two members of our group spoke at the rally as well. There were many other organizations that promoted the rally and did such a great job to make it an incredible event, and there were a lot of great students who spoke. We marched to a closed mental health clinic, that was closed along with many other clinics, and is now a bar. I learned a lot about organizing and it was very powerful to see so many people at the rally, and to teach people about something my peers and I were passionate about. I think it is amazing how many organizations there are that are fighting for justice, and I was really grateful to be able to work with Treatment not Trauma.

In the process of planning our teach-in, I used so many skills that were taught in the fellowship. I knew that if we wanted our turn out to be 20, we would have to try and contact 40 plus people. We contacted clubs that we thought would be interested in our event, we asked the newsletter to include our flyer and when our event would be, we asked our teachers to share the flyer on google classroom, and we contacted many of our friends to ask if they would be interested in attending our teach-in. We were very happy to have 20 people attend, and it went very well. At the end of our teach-in, we talked about the upcoming rally, and asked those interested in attending to leave their contact information so we could provide them with more details.

I learned so much about organizing and planning events from this fellowship, so much more about how racial inequality affects almost every facet of life, and I learned about some amazing organizations doing important racial justice work around the country. Not only was this fellowship extremely impactful and taught me so much, it gave me an opportunity to connect with some amazing people. I am so grateful to have been able to participate in the racial justice fellowship, and strongly recommend that anybody who has the opportunity to partake in a fellowship does so.

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