Akron’s Black community has experienced several tragedies over the past three years, including higher pandemic death rates, increased gun violence, and opioid-related deaths. The community is still struggling to heal from the shooting death of Jayland Walker, almost a year later. Additionally, the suicide rate among Black men in Ohio has increased from 10% in 2014 to nearly 18% in 2021, with Summit County’s rate reaching almost 32% last year. Kemp Boyd, executive director of the Christian based organization Love Akron, expressed his concern about these startling figures. Boyd believes it is necessary to have more vulnerable conversations about mental health in Akron, especially as access to mental health services is not always easy, with prevalent barriers to services, such as transportation and insurance.
Boyd believes that, along with increased conversations and access to mental health services, addressing the stigma surrounding Black men going to therapy is a vital step. Eric King, president of Mental and Emotional Wellness Centers of Ohio, and a Black male therapist, agrees and believes that the therapy profession needs more diversity, as it is currently 72% white nationally. Boyd, along with other community organizations in Akron, is working towards making mental health conversations less stigmatized with Black youth. However, even when mental health conversations are started with students, sometimes these conversations end with them, and they do not reach other important adults, like parents.
Akron Public Schools and Love Akron have partnered to host an event providing a safe space for conversations on mental health, including discussions around the impact of Jayland Walker’s killing on students. Boyd and Love Akron hope to facilitate conversations about mental health in other trusted places, like schools, to reach more members of the community. Additionally, Love Akron runs a program called the Grief Recovery Method that helps participants overcome grief through eight weeks of sessions with a Grief Recovery Method specialist and each other. Boyd has seen success with this program in adults who are more willing to speak about their feelings and struggles without the label of therapy.
Overall, Love Akron and other community organizations, Akron Public Schools, and mental health professionals are working towards bringing more access and openness to mental health conversations and resources in Akron’s Black community. The hope is that these efforts will continue to grow and expand throughout the community, enhancing mental health care services and diminishing the stigma associated with seeking help.