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After 9/11, Some Found Healing by Helping

“They’re all dead,” Erica Belfield screamed while watching the news from her living room the day after the tragedy.

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Merrill and Erica Belfield share in their volunteer work as Bible teachers from their home in the Bay Area. Two decades after the tragic events of 9/11, they find happiness in comforting others using the Bible's message of hope.

“They’re all dead,” Erica Belfield screamed while watching the news from her living room the day after the tragedy.
 
Just 24 hours earlier, practically in the Belfields’ backyard, the disaster at the World Trade Center happened.

At the time of 9/11, Merrill and Erica Belfield from the Bay Area were volunteers at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn.

“I went to the window in our building where we had an unobstructed view of the towers,” Merrill said. “I not only saw the plane as it hit the second tower, but I vividly recall seeing people jump out of the tower in an attempt to save their lives. The events of 9/11 shifted the trajectory of our lives and it’s something we will never forget.”

In the days ahead, what helped the Belfields cope was maintaining their spiritual routine of daily Bible reading, prayer and helping others. “When you go through a tragedy, it brings you joy when you focus on others and not solely on yourself,” Erica said. “It was a blessing to comfort our neighbors in this way.”

Helping others has long been linked to better emotional well-being in psychology research. The book “The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others” describes “powerful” effects, even for helpers who have experienced trauma themselves.

Trauma was all too common among the many volunteers at Ground Zero. Roy Klingsporn, a Brooklynite who volunteered at Ground Zero nearly every day for two months, recalled on one occasion approaching a man who sat slouched in a golf cart near the site’s makeshift morgue.

“When I asked him how he was doing, he burst into tears,” said Klingsporn, now of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “He said, ‘I’m tired of picking up body parts.’”

Within days of the attacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses set up teams that spent hours each day in Lower Manhattan, Bibles in hand, consoling everyone from the families of victims to first responders battling physical and emotional exhaustion. It was a work that changed how the organization approaches disasters, with an organized comfort ministry now being an integral part of its response to natural disasters and even the pandemic.

Recalling the gut-wrenching days he spent as one of those volunteers near the smoldering remains of the Twin Towers still stirs deep feelings in Robert Hendriks.

“It was very emotional and extremely difficult for me, but the faces of those I passed on the street said it all,” said Hendriks, now U.S. spokesman for the Witnesses. “They needed comfort, and the best thing I could give them was a hug and a Scripture.”

For Brown “Butch” Payne, the events of September 11, 2001, tore open old wounds, bringing back vivid wartime memories the Vietnam veteran had tried to forget.

From his East Village apartment, Payne recalled the crowds of frantic people streaming north from Lower Manhattan. “That sight stirred up a lot of emotions in me,” he said. “It shook me to the core.”

Payne found relief in rendering aid the best way he knew how. “Sharing the Bible’s message of hope softened the blow for me,” he said.

Offering a shoulder to cry on brought Klingsporn comfort too. “It was satisfying to be of help to my community,” he said.

Two decades later, the Belfields are still battling the mental toll that 9/11 took on them. “Whenever Merrill hears a plane in the sky, he looks up, not knowing if another attack will happen,” Erica said.
 
“But what helped us back then is the same thing that helps us today — focusing on others. Because of the pandemic, we’ve been able to write comforting letters to those who’ve lost loved ones. Many of the feelings we felt back then are the same ones people are struggling with today.”

Payne feels the same. In 2016, after 50 years of marriage, he lost his beloved wife to cancer. On days when his grief feels overwhelming, Payne writes heartfelt letters that lift his neighbors’ spirits — and his own. He shares Scriptures and resources that have helped him, like articles on coping with trauma and loss on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Encouraging others to look to the future helps me to do the same,” he said.

Activism

COMMENTARY: The Power of the Vote

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

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We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.
We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.

By Richard Johnson

The Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) org. is launching a voter drive to protect and encourage democratic participation while seeking educational, economic as well as social opportunities to reunite families.

Our goal is to focus on potential voters who have been overlooked in the voting process as a class due to ultra-restrictive policy measures meant to discourage voter turnout.

Recently laws that allow those with criminal records to actively participate in the voting process on all levels have changed. This would give those underserved citizens a voice in what happens in their communities.

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

We can help ourselves and make changes by voting with our full strength.

We of the Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) will be canvassing throughout our communities to register this obscure neglected class of prison returnees and their families. We will also join with other organizations, churches and the Post News Group, along with other media to spread the message of our mission. FIGB will also help contact and sign all other unregistered voters to impact change at the polls. We will collaborate with other groups, voting blocks, and entities to increase awareness while raising the turnout at the polls. We are asking all churches, institutions, and social clubs to join this endeavor by engaging with FIGB.

During the next two months we will regularly publish the results of our coordinated efforts to put boots on the ground in this column.

Change is an inevitable phenomenon; however, the right changes are not. We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few. Let’s be clear, nothing should be taken for granted. Just as one is seated, so can one be unseated. Let the voices of the underserved be heard loud and clear. The policy of exclusion must be replaced with inclusion.

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Activism

Amos C. Brown Fellowship to Ghana Begins

The students come from colleges and universities throughout the United States. Leaders from the NAACP and the Church of Jesus Christ are traveling with the students. NAACP leaders include President Derrick Johnson and the fellowship’s namesake, the renowned civil rights leader and NAACP board member the Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. From the Church of Latter Day Saints are Elders Jack N. Gerard and Matthew S. Holland of the Seventy, along with their wives, as well as the Africa West Area Presidency.

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Students with the Amos C. Brown Fellowship to Ghana visit the Jubilee House in Accra on Aug. 2, 2022.
Students with the Amos C. Brown Fellowship to Ghana visit the Jubilee House in Accra on Aug. 2, 2022.

This trip is a collaboration between the NAACP and the Mormon Church

Forty-three students are in Ghana for 10 days to experience Ghanaian culture, learn about their ancestral heritage and become ambassadors of racial harmony.

This group — part of the first Amos C. Brown Fellowship to Ghana — is the fruit of a collaboration between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In June 2021, Church President Russell M. Nelson pledged $250,000 for this fellowship. This and other initiatives the two organizations are engaged in, President Nelson said, “represent an ongoing desire of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach and live the two great commandments — to love God and neighbor.”

The students come from colleges and universities throughout the United States. Leaders from the NAACP and the Church of Jesus Christ are traveling with the students. NAACP leaders include President Derrick Johnson and the fellowship’s namesake, the renowned civil rights leader and NAACP board member the Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. From the Church of Latter Day Saints are Elders Jack N. Gerard and Matthew S. Holland of the Seventy, along with their wives, as well as the Africa West Area Presidency.

“Welcome to Ghana. We’re so grateful that you are here,” said the Church’s new Africa West Area President Elder S. Gifford Nielsen on Monday night during a welcome dinner. “I was listening very closely to the opening prayer. And there was a plea for light. And the way that you find light is to connect hearts. And so, in the next 10 days, to all of our fellowship students, and to our leaders and anybody else who has any part of this, as we connect hearts, get out of our comfort zone just a little bit, we’re going to have an even more amazing experience.”

The Rev. Dr. Brown said, “Words fall far too short for me to define and convey to you the significance of what we are doing.” He added that “this momentous occasion is not about one man. This embodies what a dream team has brought to pass.”

In interviews after the dinner, several students talked about why they wanted to go on this trip.

“[I thought this fellowship] would be a great opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone, to see outside the American lens, to see what it would be like to not be a minority for once,” said Lauren George, a student at San Francisco University. “I thought that would be a life-changing experience that is necessary for me, because in my field of work, I want to be able to be as innovative as possible.”

Carter Martindale of Utah said, “the purpose of the fellowship, of talking about how we can better address racial divides, how we can better love our neighbor as we love ourselves, is really important just in general in America.”

This report is from the newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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Activism

Oakland City Council Approves Funding for African American Healing Hubs

The economic, physical, and spiritual damage, coupled with the pandemic crisis, must be met with healing and love, said Dr. Wade Nobles, a co-founder of the Black Psychologists Association. “Black people must save ourselves, for no one is coming to our rescue. Therefore, we are working towards constructing an African American Healing Hub that embraces African-centric mental wellness modalities utilizing a holistic approach.”

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Dr. Wade Nobles says the healing hubs proposed by Oakland Front Line Healers will be a first in addressing specific traumas African Americans experience daily living in a racist environment.
Dr. Wade Nobles says the healing hubs proposed by Oakland Front Line Healers will be a first in addressing specific traumas African Americans experience daily living in a racist environment.

By Tanya Dennis

Last week, the Oakland City Council approved $250,000 to assist the East Bay Association of Black Psychologists (EBABP) and Oakland Frontline Healers (OFH) open two emergency mental health centers, one at True Vine Ministries and BOSS in East Oakland.

Oakland Frontline Healers, a collaborative of Black-led non-profits and medical doctors that joined together in April of 2020, to combat COVID-19 in the African American community by providing free PPE, testing, vaccines and support services.

Last October the collaborative, after assessing their successful frontline status in serving the African American community determined they must address other critical issues. They decided to address Black mental health.

Reaching out to the East Bay Association of Black Psychologists, Oakland Frontline Healers discovered that providing mental health services specifically to Black folks would be more detailed then simply securing a space and providing services.

Dr. Wade Nobles, a co-founder of the Black Psychologists Association, revealed that the European model had done a disservice to the African American community. In October 2021, the American Psychologists Association offered a public apology to the African American community with a commitment to “shed racist and colonial roots to embody the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion to become an actively antiracist discipline.”

With that knowledge, both EBABP and OFH committed to creating an African-centered mental wellness model.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has glaringly illuminated the disparities in America that compromises Black health daily,” Nobles said. “Unfortunately, incarceration or worse is presented as the only recourse as resources addressing Black trauma is extremely limited and for many non-existent.

The economic, physical, and spiritual damage, coupled with the pandemic crisis, must be met with healing and love, he continued. “Black people must save ourselves, for no one is coming to our rescue. Therefore, we are working towards constructing an African American Healing Hub that embraces African-centric mental wellness modalities utilizing a holistic approach.”

Vice-Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spearheaded the City Council to approve $250,000 of City funds towards the training of “culturally congruent” behavioral specialists and frontline workers to support mental wellness in the African American community.

Vice-Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spearheaded the City Council to approve $250,000 of City funds towards the training of “culturally congruent” behavioral specialists and frontline workers to support mental wellness in the African American community.

Vice-Mayor Rebecca Kaplan agreed after attending the group’s town halls and submitted a proposal to award $250,000 to the project for culturally congruent training for behavioral specialists and frontline providers.

“The City Council’s vote of confidence and support is amazing! Their vote aligns with the African-centric tenet that it takes an entire community to ensure the wellness of the village,” said OFH facilitator Tanya Dennis.

The Association of Black Psychologists and Oakland Frontline Healers are currently working with Alameda County on the healing hubs and a healing center that has been in planning since 2015.

Dr. Lawford Goddard, an EBABP representative says, “We are committed to wellness, and treating the whole person and the whole community. Our project with the County, once complete, will also serve as a representative of our culture.”

They envision a space for meetings, conferences and banquets, a place where self-care like yoga, Reiki, urban gardening, massage, dance, drumming, healing circles and fun activities that promote wellness are offered.

“Unfortunately, our project with the County is three years or more in the future and we cannot wait,” Goddard said. “We must help our people now, by working with Oakland Frontline Healers and their emergency healing hubs enabling us to provide services within months.”

The County has committed $19 million toward the purchase of a site to establish a larger complex that will embody African American wellness as envisioned by EBASP.

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