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‘A pain that lingers’: New project addresses racism and mental health in Winnipeg’s black community

CTV News with Lori Wilkinson 22 July 2018

A new initiative is starting up next month to help Winnipeggers experiencing mental health issues caused by racism.

‘Project Heal’ aims to help members of the city’s black community who feel depressed and anxious because of racism in their everyday lives.

Sapphyre McLeod is with Black Space Winnipeg, an organization that fosters dialogue about the experiences of being black.

“We saw that there was a hurt, a pain that lingers within our community that isn’t addressed,” she said.

McLeod is helping launch ‘Project Heal’, a group-therapy program that will run out of Klinic Community Health on Portage Avenue.

McLeod said the black community is growing in Winnipeg, but statistics are hard to come by about the kind of mental health struggles people are facing. She points to numbers put out by the Black Health Alliance in Ontario that people of Caribbean, East and West African origin have a 60 per cent increase risk of psychosis.

She said Project Heal will allow people to share feelings in safe environment so they know they are not alone.

“We felt that this project would enable us to connect with each other in a way that hasn’t been done in the city and the country,” said McLeod.

Human rights activist Ali Saeed experienced racism when he arrived in Winnipeg from Ethiopia 36 years ago when he was stopped by police without reason, he said.

Saeed said now families are told to ‘go home’, and often discrimination is hidden.

“We used to be very kind, that’s why we call it friendly Manitoba, not anymore. Now it’s getting worse. Yes, there is racism and we have to fight it.”

University of Manitoba sociology professor Lori Wilkinson studies racism and refugees and welcomes Project Heal’s start-up.

Wilkinson said its important people struggling can talk with someone from the same background who understands what racism is like.

“The community is not reflected in the practitioners of social and psychologist other mental, although there are some who are from the same community, there is not enough,” said Wilkinson.

The goal of the program is to equip participants with tools to help them cope with the mental health challenges racism brings so they can lead heathier and happier lives.

Registration for the program runs until July 30th.

The first gathering takes place Wednesday, August 8th and runs weekly for the next 3 months.

There is space for 20 participants, but McLeod said the group doesn’t plan to turn people away if more want to join.