The Power of Extended Black Community on Mental Health: How Non-Blood Relatives Contribute to Our Sense of Worth and Belonging
It has been said that family is not always blood! Typically, we do not receive all that we need emotionally or intellectually from biological or marriage relatives. This is where the non-blood “relatives” or extended community comes into play in a powerful way!
Black culture is rich with stories and experiences of love and care-giving that comes from non-blood “relatives” or extended community. And this should be celebrated! I will draw upon my personal experiences of receiving love and care from unexpected places among my Black Community. I would like to celebrate and give tribute to a few African American or Black “aunties”, “uncles”, and “cousins” who have boosted my sense of worth and belonging, and thus my mental health!
Disclaimer: I have received love and care from black and non-black community members alike. In honor of Black History Month, I am focusing on those in my black community. This is not an exhaustive list, not everyone is mentioned. However, my community knows how I feel about them because I believe in telling them often!
I AM WORTH IT: Dr. Sandrock was an educator I met in high school. She welcomed me to come to her office everyday and I would spend at least a half an hour talking to her about anything and everything important to me. For a period of time, she was the only one I had who would listen without judgment and respond with the message that I was important. I remember telling her how I lost 50c in a vending machine but I had to just get over it. She exclaimed, “FIFTY CENTS IS FIFTY CENTS!” Wow, did I learn that fifty cents was important because I was important.
Takeaway: You are worth fighting for, even if it is fifty cents.
OWN AND EXPRESS WHO YOU ARE: C. Coleman, MS is a colleague and friend who taught me how to love the skin I am in and the hair I wear. She inspired me to explore proper hair care, which is a form of self-love. This led me to explore my personal identity, my link to my ethnic culture, my confidence, and my self-expression, which were all areas I struggled with feeling permission to own.
Takeaway: You are who you are. No apologies. No permission.
YOU ARE NOT SECOND-RATE: Mr. T was my fourth grade teacher. There was something about HIS love for African-American culture that was captivating. In a world where being black was not safe, nor preferred according to dominant cultural narratives, he showed me a cultural self-love that took years for me to fully understand.
Takeaway: You are always worth more than people say!
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ALONE: L Holliday, MS was a friend who is biracial. As we were both “othered” and did not feel completely accepted into either community of our multiple ethnicities, we bonded together. I was able to feel less alone in this world. At many times, that was enough! Our togetherness made life’s problems more manageable.
Takeaway: Surround yourself with quality friends who will go through life with you!
YOU ARE A PART OF A CULTURAL TAPESTRY: S. Davilmar is a friend of Caribbean descent who teaches me about my brothers and sisters who grew up in a different part of the world. This helps me to appreciate diversity and similarity. Somehow, it helps me to understand myself in the context of others.
Takeaway: Embrace people who are different, it makes life beautiful.
NOT ALL BUSINESS IS GOOD BUSINESS: T. Young, RN was a team leader/supervisor and still a great inspiration to me. She made her moves without permission and asked forgiveness later! She showed me that I do not need to prove my value to anyone. Our job was to gain teaching contracts and we would often joke that “not all business is good business” especially if it meant compromising who we are.
Takeaway: You don’t need everyone, especially those who require you to not be you.
HANDLE CONFLICT WITH GRACE: M. Thompson, MS was a therapist in a center for children where I worked. It was quite noticeable when people were unnecessarily giving her a hard time, being disrespectful, and even undermining her professional authority. However, she did not snap or “treat” them. She took notice and continued to be herself. Remaining connected to who she was and where she was headed in life was more important than “getting with” those who were disrespectful.
Takeaway: You are the best person to belong to.
IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU: R. Gomes, PhD is an educator who showed me how to build professionally. She would spend hours on the phone with me until my questions about my professional self were sorted through. She was witness to a conflict I experienced and asked me how I felt about the treatment I had received. This helped me to center my thoughts instead of privileging the feelings of others. She also explained that the way others treat me has nothing to do with me but everything to do with them. A person will treat me based on their emotional and intellectual functioning, not based upon my worth!
Takeaway: How people treat you is a reflection of what is going on inside of them, not you.
YOU BELONG: G. Simpson, MS is a colleague in my field. During the painful racial injustices of 2020, I experienced an unprecedented shift in my perceptions of others and myself. My biracial identity added another layer of experiences for me to process. G held space for me while I sorted through some of those thoughts. And when it was time for me to find a sense of direction in life, he said to me, “You belong.” I take that to mean that wherever I go, I deserve to belong.
Takeaway: You are worthy to belong.
YOU ARE INSECURE, BUT ITS OK: D Medina is a pastor’s wife whose church I attended during college. One night, I believe I was telling her that I struggle a lot, but I was not sure why. Very lovingly, she responded, “You’re insecure.” I was stunned, but recognized it was true. This conversation gave me the power to turn away from fighting myself all the time and to begin fighting the real enemy – insecurity. Years later I thanked her for telling me the hard truth. It saved me.
Takeaway: Acknowledging and showing compassion towards your weaknesses is strength.
YOU ARE LOVEABLE, NO QUESTIONS ASKED: “Mama” was the mother of an ex-boyfriend. Over time, she began to treat me as if I was her own. She would send me back to my college campus with loads of greens and baked mac and cheese and dressing. Oh, her dressing! We would go shopping together and rip jokes on my boyfriend-in front of him. (Don’t worry, he’s fine.) There was no drama or competition, just a natural welcome! Basic interactions like these are not to be minimized!
Takeaway: Not everyone is your competition – loving people do exist.
FIND ENJOYMENT: My therapist I had few years ago affirmed me that I was putting forth adequate work towards my career, building my finances, and tending to my spirituality. So gently, she expressed more need for me to simply enjoy my life and the people in it. Part of my sadness emanated from only doing the right things and not enjoying what I do or the people I know. “Enjoy yo’self” is definitely cheaper than “Treat yo’self” and it results in beautiful connections that contribute to mental health.
Takeaway: Give yourself permission to enjoy right now.
Who are the wonderful people in your life that boost your self-worth and sense of belonging? Who would you like to reach out to or build a relationship with in your life? How do you contribute to the feelings of worth and belonging in others? I would like to encourage you to take time to recognize those people and thank them for contributing to your mental health!
Until next time…
Nyla Whitehead, MS, CDVP