Community elders and Southwestern students share their stories for "Stories of Survivors" event

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FLINT, Michigan — On Friday, Dec. 8 at the Gloria Coles Flint Public Library, the Greater Flint Health Coalition (GFHC) held a soft launch of their new Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Initiatives. The event titled “Stories of Survivors: Bridging the Generation Gap Through Storytelling” is an inter-generational opportunity for youth and elders of Flint to connect, grow, learn, and heal from one another through the power of storytelling.

Sponsored by the GFHC, Flint & Genesee REACH, Flint ReCAST, The City of Flint, and Molina Healthcare, the storytelling event saw a big turnout of students through its partnership with the Flint Community School District’s last remaining high school, Southwestern Classical Academy, and staff from the Flint Center for Educational Excellence (FCEC).

Community members, Southwestern high school students, and Flint Center for Educational Excellence staff were in attendance at the Greater Flint Health Coalition's Stories of Survivors event at the Gloria Coles Flint Public Library on Dec. 8, 2023. (Jenifer Veloso |“The BIPOC Mental Health Stories of Survivors event was impactful and empowering in bridging in-depth conversations between local elders and youth. The event provides an opportunity for dialogue in raising mental health awareness, promoting positive affirmation, and healing through storytelling,” says the Outreach Coordinator for GFHC, Doron Pratt. “The interactive, hands-on breakout sessions gave youth tangible skills and knowledge to articulate their stories.”

Event organizers and facilitators Doron Pratt and Amarachi Wachuku share a tender moment during the Stories of Survivors event on Dec. 8, 2023. (Jenifer Veloso | event opened with a mindfulness meditation designed to bring everyone’s awareness into the present and give space for the storytellers. REACH’s Project Manager, Amarachi Wachuku, took the stage to offer details about the event, reminding attendees to read the multiple posters labeled BIPOC Mental Health Fast Facts. Sourced from Mental Health America’s 2023 BIPOC Mental Health Month Toolkit, some of the “fast facts” were:
  • In May of 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives formally recognized July as BIPOC Mental Health Month with the original title of “Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.”
  • The mental health community is endeavoring to remove the terms “minority” and “marginalized” when referring to BIPOC individuals. Using “Person First” language prioritizes the identity of individuals.
  • The state of Michigan ranks #11 on the country’s scale of need and access to mental health services.
Southwestern high school students listen in as community elders share their tear-jerking stories on Dec. 8, 2023. (Jenifer Veloso | the event, students and community members engaged in small icebreaker activities to get to know each other through sharing bite-sized facts about their lives, followed by lunch and a dance celebration. The event’s stars were the storytellers, who shared their experiences of growing up, how they survived and overcame the struggles in their lives, how others have inspired them, and their successes and failures. Flint residents Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, Dr. Jackie Reynolds, and Ms. Maxine Fairley were key storytellers.

Flint Center for Educational Excellence staff member Si-Moine Anthony and storyteller Ms. Maxine Fairley shared their stories and connected with Southwestern high school students on Dec. 8, 2023. (Jenifer Veloso |“The genuine connections, raw conversations, and even tears exchanged during this event from elder to youth truly inspired us as a team to continue moving forward with this initiative. This experience has taught us that each generation has something to glean and learn from one another. There is great power in sharing your story,” says Wachuku. “Oral history sharing can be effective in helping alleviate stress and help youth navigate traumatic experiences in life.”

To learn more about GFHC and Flint & Genesee REACH, check out their websites.
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.