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From farming to poetry: Tampa Bay organizations get creative with Black mental health awareness

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Posted at 5:23 PM, Jul 07, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — July marks Black Mental Health Awareness Month. Throughout Tampa Bay, organizations are coming together to break the stigma surrounding mental health needs in the Black community.

One group is the St. Pete Youth Farm. Collaboration Manager Carla Bristol said the farm is giving teenagers more than a paycheck.

"In 2019, 33% of the young people that came to us had already been Baker Acted at some point. And once I saw that, I felt like that was something that needed to be involved in our programming, more importantly, the stigma associated with mental health," Bristol said.

The job on the farm, tucked behind the Enoch Davis Center in St. Pete's 13th Street Heights neighborhood, isn't just growing and harvesting crops. The teens take a moment out of their day to focus on mental health.

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"We started having Mental Health Mondays, and we deliberately do it on Mondays, because I've no idea what your weekend was like, I have no idea what your first day back to school was like," said Bristol. "But if we start giving you tools and areas of how to communicate, how to address your frustration, your anger, not only will it be helpful for you, it'd be helpful for your family, for your friends, interactions at school, and we recreate more mindful young people."

Kianna Chambers, 15, is one of the teens working on the farm.

"I like Mental Health Mondays because we talk about different mental health topics and like, how we can like basically help, like what they can do to help us overcome, some of those topics and like, how it benefits us like pros and cons," said Chambers.

Chambers said she takes her lessons from work and shares them with her friends and families.

"I tell my friends what I learned here, like some of the strategies to some of the mental health topics like depression and like how it can help them. And it has helped some," Chambers said.

The teens are paid with money from the South St. Pete CRA. The farm is helping more than just its workers. It's also filling a gap left behind in the community.

"Back in 2019, this was formed as a response to the 2017 closing of a Walmart, which was the second of two grocery stores in the same location," said Bristol.

Since then, access to quality food has boosted the community's mental health. The farm provides fresh produce and soon even tilapia fish at a pay-as-you-can rate.

"But more than that it's a cultural community, gathering space for the entire community to learn how to grow food for themselves. To become independent about growing food, and to create programming that's informed by the youth that that work here," Bristol added.

Over in Tampa, Michelle Morton is blending mental health and poetry.

"I felt that I wanted to bring both worlds together, mental health and poetry. The beauty of it is that they collide together and it can be a beautiful platform for healing and wholeness," said Morton.

The clinical therapist and spoken word artist started As She Speaks, an organization that provides mental health resources to Black women.

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"Our purpose is to really defeat those stereotypes and show people that mental health, does not have to be something labeled for crazy people, which is absurd to me it's something that should be labeled as being a healthy start to the mind and healing," Morton said.

She's hoping to change the stereotypes this Black Mental Health Awareness Month.

"Within the Black community, I really do believe that there has been a stereotype said to be 'whatever goes on in the house, stays in the house'. That is something that we as a community have to get away from," she said.

One way to break the stigma is through their "Poets Meet Mental Health" series. It's a therapeutic open mic night, focused on healing.

"My focus was to bring something to the community of women to really help them to be whole. To help them to see that there can be healing outside of therapy and outside of art. So that's why I decided to put mental health and art together to be successful in helping women and men express how they feel," she said.

As She Speaks next Open Mic Night is July 11 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

St. Pete Youth Farm is hosting a community event focused on mental health on July 30 starting at 6 p.m. More information on them can be found here.