Tropicana Community Services opens Black Mental Health Week

By Lincoln DePradine

Employers, in the private and government sectors, publicly promote concepts like “equity’’ and “anti-Black racism’’. However, what happens on the job to Black employees is something completely different from the public expressions of employers, according to Aina-Nia Ayo’dele, a former City of Toronto manager, who also is known as a “spiritual liberation activist’’.

From left: Andrea Bryan of Tropicana, Aina-Nia Ayo’dele and Liben Gebremikael

“The enemies are causing mental unwellness,’’ Ayo’dele said Monday at a Scarborough ceremony marking the start of “Black Mental Health Week’’.

“Remember that you deserve what you desire. You deserve the wellness that you desire, the joy that you desire,’’ Ayo’dele said in the keynote address.

Ayo’dele, as a city of Toronto employee, pioneered the idea of a “Black Mental Health Day’’ in 2020, which later expanded to a week.

The city-funded event is supported by several organizations including TAIBU Community Health Centre and Tropicana Community Services, which hosted Monday’s opening ceremony.

“This is the day we refuse to be silent about our mental health,’’ said TAIBU’s executive director Liben Gebremikael.

He said Black community members must continue the conversation about their mental health, which he described as an “ongoing challenge’’.

“Sometimes, it feels like we’ve done a lot,’’ said Gebremikael. However, there is a lot more “ills’’ – including anti-Black racism – remaining “to be removed’’, he added.

Black Mental Health Day is observed on the first Monday after Black History Month. This year’s theme was, “‘Growth and Reflection’’, with an opening event that included entertainment and solidarity messages from politicians from all three levels of government.

Ayo’dele, a former director of community resources in Toronto’s social development, finance and administration department, said “authoritarians are becoming more overt in their abuse of Black people across the globe’’, and African-Canadians are being impacted by institutional “micro actions of daily political decisions’’.

“If your eyes are not wide open, you might not see that it is happening. But, I am telling you it is happening; and, it is threatening human rights and justice for all people, especially our people,’’ said Jamaica-born Ayo’dele, CEO & Principal of Aina-Nia Learning Journey Inc. and also founder of Sacred Women International.

“Right here in Toronto, Black folks are becoming afraid to use words like equity, anti-Black racism, critical race theory and so many others. Why we’re afraid?’’ she asked.

“At least once a week or once every two weeks, I get a call because another one of our Black leaders has been fired or put on notice because they use the word equity. If you think I’m joking, I’m not joking. This is nuts; this is data; this is fact. These terms are causing people to lose their jobs.’’

Mental health providers and other Black community leaders must “become more responsible and bodacious and vigilant and consistent and committed to actions for liberation of our mind. We have to’’, advised Ayo’dele, who was lead consultant on the creation of the “Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism’’.

Black people should make mental health a priority and “find out what brings you joy and do it often,’’ Ayo’dele suggested.

“Remember to love yourself. Remember your power to forgive,’’ she counselled. “Remember, you have the power to heal because our ancestors gave us all the tools.’’