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Mental illness, homelessness major issue in South Los Angeles

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In a study published earlier this year by the American Psychiatry Association, Millennials were found to be the most anxious generation. Women reported higher anxiety than men, and people of color scored 11 points higher on the anxiety scale than Whites.

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Distinguishing myths from facts

By Lisa Fitch, Our Weekly News Contributor

During Mental Health Month (May) the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count results came in. While both subjects—mental health and homelessness—are becoming increasingly intertwined within the African-American community, the latter report is filled with “June gloom.”

“But not surprising,” said Dr. Erica Holmes, director of the Championship Counseling Center at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood.

“There are a lot of reasons that cause individuals to lose their housing and the city, county and state haven’t done much to reduce those risk factors.”

According to the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), this year’s point-in-time count put the number of homeless people countywide just shy of 59,000. That’s an increase of twelve-percent increase over last year’s count.

“A lot of people think the majority of the homeless population have some severe mental illness, but that’s not true,” said Holmes, a licensed psychologist. “Most of the homeless are women with children.”

According to LAHSA, 38 percent of the homeless are African-American and 30 percent of those counted are female. Twenty-seven percent of the 18-and-over homeless population reportedly have serious mental illnesses.

“Treating mental illness is kind of like with cancer – early detection is best,” Holmes said.

Driving through downtown’s Skid Row, one can see and feel the destitution. Hundreds and hundreds of people are in need of physical and mental services.

But somehow, Ericka Newsome, 39, found an oasis on Skid Row. The Downtown Women’s Shelter is helping her through mental health and housing services.

“I was in foster care a couple of times,” Newsome said. “I’m the second oldest of 12 children.”

Story of Ericka Newsome

After suffering beatings from an abusive mother, Newsome was determined to live on her own. She received prescription drugs for depression and attended Pasadena City College, close to where she was reared.

“The original plan was to transfer to a four-year music school,” Newsome said. “But I had to get a job right away.”

Newsome worked with temporary agencies and landed a job at a local bank. She was even a Rose Parade musician at one time.

“I was being a responsible citizen, paid my bills, following the rules,” Newsome added. “In 2009, a lot of people in the banking industry were cut back. There were no raises, but my rent went up.”

Newsome had to live in her car when she could not afford rent. To avoid parking tickets when she parked on the Pasadena streets, she slept in the bank’s parking structure. She became a member at a local gym, where she could take showers.

“One day after lunch I got a call to go to HR (Human Resources),” Newsome said. “’Hey, ‘you’re no longer part of this company’ they said. I remember walking out and I stood on the edge of the parking structure ready to jump.”

That’s when Newsome checked into the Huntington Hospital – Della Martin Center in Pasadena, where she received a psychological evaluation and hospitalization for depression and anxiety.

But after treatment, she was back sleeping in her car. When she had to sell her automobile to get some money, she was left to walk the streets. She found out about the Downtown Women’s Center while she was staying at a shelter in South Los Angeles.

Downtown Women’s Center

But then one day she was turned away because the shelter was filled to capacity.

“I was really scared and trying to find a place to keep safe,” Newsome said. “The shelter would bus us to this place downtown to shower, get food and clothes.”

Newsome tried to remember the bus route and walked the streets until she finally found the Downtown Women’s Center.

“In the shelter, you had to shower at night,” Newsome remembers. “But at the center you could shower in the morning. I really liked that.” She now attends their group sessions and receives assistance to live in an apartment.

The Downtown Women’s Center has operated for 41 years on Skid Row. They have 119 permanent, supported housing units downtown, as well as other housing units located throughout Los Angeles County.

Some renters pay 30 percent of their income for rent. But a job is not a prerequisite.

“Once a person gets housed, they make sure they are mentally stable there and we’re monitored,” Newsome said. “I don’t want a setback. I need to maintain.”

“I want to give back,” Newsome added, noting that she has joined the Downtown Women’s Center’s advisory board. “I want to pass the word. I was in the same situation. It’s possible.”

Newsome recognizes that there is a cloud surrounding the issue of mental health, especially in the Black community.

“There’s a stigma there,” Newsome said. “But you shouldn’t look down on me because I’m getting help. That doesn’t downgrade my value.”

The African-American community, in particular, has a fear of asking for mental health services, according to Dr. Holmes.

“Research shows that African-Americans tend go to ‘family first,’ then pastor or clergy, and then seek professional psychological services,” Holmes said. “By the time they come into counseling, dealing with psychological distress has become a way of life. Sometimes we have to unpack five, 10, 15 years of depression.”

A stigma in Black families

The center, which has more than a dozen clinicians on staff, conducts a standard intake, which includes a questionnaire asking potential clients about their current situation, why they want therapy, and their previous use of psychotropic medications. They provide services to children as young as four years of age and to seniors. Client fees
are based on their ability to pay.

Word is spreading through social media that mental health is an important part of overall health and is made up of our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It’s a part of life and nothing to be ashamed of.

Millenials embrace therapy

Although seeking out professional help has been a taboo subject for years, Millennials are more likely than previous generations to pursue therapy when they recognize the signs of stress, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.

A 2015 study conducted by American University revealed that Millennials grew up hearing about mental illnesses—including eating disorders and suicidal tendencies—more than any other age group. This younger society is reportedly more accepting of mental health challenges and is also more likely to talk about mental health issues than their parents or grandparents.

In the American University survey of 900 Millennials, more than 70 percent said they would be comfortable visiting a counselor or therapist.

As more people speak out, the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen. Celebrities are openly sharing their mental health struggles in social media, such as former Laker Metta World Peace, who regularly shared his challenges and experiences.

Stigma, distrust and socioeconomic reasons have historically all been factors in Black America’s shunning of professional mental health assistance. The need for these discussions has only increased.

In a study published earlier this year by the American Psychiatric Association, Millennials were found to be the most anxious generation. Women reported higher anxiety than men, and people of color scored 11 points higher on the anxiety scale than Whites.

Research suggests that African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience a mental health disorder as opposed to the general population, but many factors may inhibit proper treatment. Only 25 percent of Blacks seek professional help, compared to 40 percent of Whites with mental health disorders.

Daily stress can be an enemy of your mental health. It causes a chemical reaction that occurs when the body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode. Your heart rate increases and blood pressure rises.

Know the signs and potential triggers of mental illness and if you’re ever concerned about how you feel, consult a doctor:

  • Insomnia
  • Low energy
  • Negative outlook or thoughts
  • Pulling away from people or usual activities
  • Lack of affection
  • Mood disorder
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Poor judgment
  • Upset stomach
  • Racing thoughts
  • Chest pains

Mental health experts agree that when a person is experiencing excessive stress and it is interfering with daily activities, seeking help is key. In addition to discussing the situation with a professional, reach out to friends; look for local support; and find
therapeutic resources.

Some stress tools worth trying include, acupuncture; aromatherapy; art therapy; deep breathing; exercise; healthy eating; massage therapy; stretching; and yoga.

Your mental health affects your physical health. Don’t ignore the signs.

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

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Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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American Cancer Society and Four Historically Black Colleges and Universities Announce Groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research Program to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research. They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities. They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

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These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

The American Cancer Society (ACS), along with four historically black medical schools including Charles Drew Medical School, Howard University, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine, today announced a groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) Program to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cancer research field.

The inaugural initiatives of the overarching program include DICR Institutional Development Grants. The four HBCUs have received DICR grants in a pilot program for 2021-2022.

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research.

They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities.

They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

The grants will build sustainability for both clinical and scientific cancer-focused careers, launching or sustaining the careers of 104 individuals by 2025.

The impactful program will create a more inclusive research environment to address health disparities more effectively and could lead to targeted recruitment efforts focused on bringing people of color into clinical research protocols.

Establishing a research community that is made up of a diverse group of people is vital to ensuring scientific excellence.

“The American Cancer Society is committed to launching the brightest minds into cancer research and to reducing health disparities,” said Dr. William Cance, American Cancer Society Chief Medical and Scientific Officer.

“To accomplish this, we believe it is essential to invest in the minority workforce and their dedicated efforts to solve disparities and establish equity in cancer care.”

“There are many reasons the Black community continues to experience disparities in cancer care outcomes. But one of the most critical factors behind the imbalance, and one of the most promising paths to closing the gap, is diversity in cancer care research. We must improve diversity and representation in our laboratories if we expect different outcomes in our hospitals,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University.

“As a cancer surgeon and as the president of an HBCU, I believe the Diversity in Cancer Research Program will prove to be pivotal in altering the field of cancer care research and improving cancer care outcomes for Black Americans. I am deeply appreciative of the American Cancer Society’s efforts behind this initiative.”

Data show that African Americans and Black people, Hispanics and Latinos, indigenous people and native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in grant funding.

Fewer than 2% of applicants for the National Institute of Health’s principal grant program come from Black/African Americans, and fewer than 4% from Hispanic/Latino populations.

“We are incredibly excited about this new program with the American Cancer Society,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., MD, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College.

“There is a significant imbalance in the representation of minority populations in clinical research which has led to poorer outcomes for specific racial and ethnic minority groups. To eradicate the varying health disparities that affect these populations, we must prioritize diversifying clinical trials and those who conduct trials to ensure treatment is safe and effective.”

This is a fantastic step to ensuring minority populations receive effective treatment and provides great opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in cancer research,” Dr. Hildreth stated.

“The development of diverse, highly competitive, and independent research faculty has been a goal at CDU since its inception 55 years ago,” shared Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, located in South Los Angeles.

“This generous grant from the American Cancer Society will directly support a range of programs towards that goal, including the Center to Eliminate Cancer Health Disparities as well as our Clinical Research and Career Development Program, which provides training and mentoring in health disparities and community-partnered participatory research to minority scholars and junior faculty at CDU. This funding will undeniably help CDU in forming a solid foundation in social justice for future cancer research leaders.”

With the DICR program, ACS has committed to a $12 million investment to support four HBCU medical schools with DICR institutional development grants to fund a four-year program that aims to increase the pool of minority cancer researchers by identifying talented students and faculty from HBCUs.

This program will inform efforts to develop a national program to boost cancer research and career development at minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention.

“Here in Georgia, cancer health disparities exist by age, gender, race, income, education, and access to care, among other factors, with Georgia residents in rural communities experiencing worse cancer health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” said Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, president and CEO at Morehouse School of Medicine.

“The DICR program will be a much-needed and welcome contribution to our work at the Morehouse School of Medicine Cancer Health Equity Institute, forever changing the field of cancer research. The program will not only ensure diversity and inclusion in research, but address health disparities in diverse communities, and assist in our mission in leading the creation and advancement of health equity.”

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OP-ED: Welcome Back, NLRB – America’s Workers Missed You!

NNPA NEWSWIRE — All indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

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Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.
Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.

By Ray Curry, President, UAW

Before I get into just what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) means — and has
meant — to the working men and women of this nation, I want to start by citing a couple of pieces of data because I think they tell a real story.

Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high. So, what does it mean? As a union man myself, I would say it means that America’s workers are hurting, and they know they need a voice in the workplace. And they’re right. My second piece of data: According to a recent AFL-CIO analysis, the average CEO of an S&P 500 company made 299 times what the median worker made in 2020. In other sectors — like retail where Amazon lives — this number is much higher.

But this blog is not about numbers, it’s about people. Working people. And unions, the one force that has the power to close that shameful gap in earnings. The NLRB is a key player in making it possible for workers to organize and improve their lot. So I want to talk a little bit about where we’ve been and where we are going under labor friendly President Joe Biden.

Let me start with a little background on the NLRB. The president appoints this federal board, which has done so much to shape American labor practices since its inception 85 years ago. However, the board that President Biden inherited isn’t exactly what was intended.

In fact, it’s nowhere close.

Dark days

This story begins in the early ‘80s with President Ronald Reagan coming to presidential power and the shift from worker’s rights to corporate profits that his NLRB put into motion. I’ll spare you the decade of gory headlines and cut to the chase. A retrospective 1988 Washington Post article highlighting what the anti-labor, pro-management Ronald Reagan administration created put it perfectly, “It’s one of the great ironies of the day: The National Labor Relations Act, which is supposed to guarantee U.S. workers the right of unionization, is being used to deny them that vital right.”

Under Reagan’s two terms, the Board reversed previous NLRB policy in more than two dozen major cases, almost totally changing the direction the board had followed since its inception under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pro-management positions.

Instead of taking up worker complaints, Reagan’s NLRB backlog of unresolved complaints against employers rose to at least three times what it was before he took office. Delays of up to two years become common. Even more stymying to the labor force, his board took just as long to act on worker petitions to hold union representation elections and to certify fair union wins.

Fast forward almost 30 years to 2017 and President Donald Trump’s first year in office where we find his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, cheerfully announcing that Ronald Reagan, who did so very much to weaken organized labor, was voted into the Labor Hall of Fame.

There are truly no words adequate to express labor’s outrage at this. President Ronald Reagan joining the ranks of towering labor leaders like George Meany and the UAW’s own Walter Reuther! How cynical and what a harbinger of what was to come under President Trump for America’s workers.

Sadly though, he was just warming up. One could easily argue that President Trump’s NLRB went the furthest in systematically rolling back the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining, efforts that struck a further blow to America’s wage inequality and directly harmed workers, their communities, and the economy. This board also went on to diminish worker protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA/Act) with the administration’s NLRB general counsel (GC), putting into play policies that leave fewer workers protected by the NLRB while working toward changes in the law that directly roll back workers’ rights.

In short, the whole thing was a siege on the American worker.

A new dawn for labor

And then in 2020, the working men and women of this nation had enough and made their voices heard loud and clear at the polls. The 2020 election saw a record number of Americans voting. And what did they say? Enough of the corporate, anti-labor agenda.

This record turnout sent President Joe Biden to Washington and he got to work on the first day. On Inauguration Day, within a few hours of being sworn in, the new president acted boldly and decisively by firing Peter Robb, President Trump’s appointed NLRB GC. Lynn Rhinehart, a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and former general counsel of the AFL-CIO, characterized Robb’s anti-union activities this way: “A report by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Robb was dismantling the agency from the inside. He reduced staff size, destroyed employee morale, and failed to spend the money appropriated by Congress. This all occurred while Robb was pursuing an anti-worker, pro-corporate agenda.”

Biden then turned to Deputy General Counsel Alice Stock, who became Acting General Counsel with Robb’s ouster and asked her to resign as well. She also refused. Two days later, she too was shown the door.

Gutsy moves. In fact, it is the first time in more than 70 years that a president has exercised that power. Thanks to President Biden’s swift actions in January, as of August 28, Democrats are now in control of the federal labor board for the first time in four years and pursuing aggressive measures to regain for unions the ground lost during the Trump administration and even looking to go beyond the limits pushed by President Barack Obama’s NLRB.

And all indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years, and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

We’ve already seen this new NLRB in action. During the month of August alone, the board ruled that Amazon illegally discouraged union organization in Bessemer, Alabama, which may lead to a new vote; heard a case against Google for firing multiple employees for circulating a petition calling on the company to stop doing business with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement); and filed a complaint against Home Depot for penalizing an employee for wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. These are just a few examples of Biden’s new NLRB.

This new NLRB is an agency returning to its original purpose in a time when America’s workers need it most. Change for the rights and wellbeing of workers is on the way and I expect some of those numbers I cited at the beginning of this discussion are going to improve for my brothers and sisters.

We, as a nation and as a labor movement, are building back!

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