January 30, 2019-Ruth Jean Marie speaks to the crowd on mental health and mindfulness methods to tackle trauma. Photo credit: Bianca Silva
January 30, 2019-Ruth Jean Marie speaks to the crowd on mental health and mindfulness methods to tackle trauma. Photo credit: Bianca Silva

By Bianca Silva

The Center for Health Equity held a listening session on Jan. 30 at Brooklyn Borough Hall in an attempt to engage the Haitian community by speaking on a taboo topic: mental health.

Titled Kreyol Edition: ‘I Hear You Brother, I Hear You Sister,’ the sessions-two offered in English and two in Haitian Creole, allowed the opportunity for people to take the first step in confronting their trauma in a safe, non-judgmental space.

The event was spearheaded by program coordinator Ruth Jean-Marie who was inspired by a similar event called ‘Escúchame’ for the Latino community in the Bronx where the sessions were conducted in both English and Spanish. These events according to Jean-Marie are part of a larger initiative by First Lady Chirlane McCray called ThriveNYC which addresses mental health concerns by creating access to resources, specifically for the black community to thrive.

“What makes this one specifically Haitian-centered,” she said, “is the idea of what trauma exists in Haitian communities. We are addressing language barriers by having the two sessions in Creole and the two in English. We are addressing identity. A lot of Haitian Americans don’t speak Creole but they consider themselves Haitian so it’s important to have the English speaking session.”

Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Center of Health Equity Torian Easterling MD, MPH, provided the opening remarks for the event and provided background on the Sisters Thrive and Brothers Thrive initiatives to the audience.

According to the Health and Human Services office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent  more likely to suffer from mental health problems than the rest of the general population and are likely to suffer from depression, ADHD, PTSD and suicide.

January 30, 2019- Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte gives the keynote speech on mental health at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Photo credit: Bianca Silva

Among those at the event included Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte who told a powerful tale of the trauma she went through as a young woman that included suffering a miscarriage at 21 and experiencing child sexual abuse. She recalled not seeing a therapist due to being confined to the environment she was in.

“It’s okay to express some of the challenges that you’ve been through,” she told the crowd.

Following Bichotte’s opening remarks, the crowd broke up into groups for an hour-long session on the issues affecting them most. One of the attendees, Stephanie Pierre, founder of The Melanin Project dedicated to provide a safe space for the black and brown community to help them overcome their trauma, was amazed to find that women in the room have more in common then they think.

“A lot of women in here today were able to do that because we were able to see some commonalities in the way we were brought up, she said. “Things like: Haitian parents being displeased with the actions of a young Haitian girl and being comfortable using slanderous words against her is unfortunate if you hear it on a one case-by-case situation but when you hear a collective voices saying “we all have been through that,” I think it’s easier then for people to leave this space and feel like they can shrug that off.”

For Rudy Racine, he saw the session as a rare opportunity to talk to the Haitian community about mental health and learn from others who were in the space with him. He believes sessions like these are the first step towards destigmatizing mental health.

“It was interesting to hear their perspectives about being black in New York and black in America and how we view one another; how Haitians view Americans, how Americans view Haitians and how other cultures view us,” he said.

Pierre explain how impactful the listening session was for everyone once they began to put their guards down and communicate their experiences, fears and hope for understanding.

“There were a lot of significant breakthroughs today and I think it just shows me the need for more conversations is a definite because they could have easily gone through this until 10pm,” she said.

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