Posts Tagged appreciation

Guest Blog: Finding Humanity Amidst the Chaos (Julius Boatwright)

Guest Blog: Finding Humanity Amidst the Chaos (Julius Boatwright)

We are honored that Mr. Boatwright has agreed to compose a special blog about community written specifically for Men’s Mental Health Month 2020. (More about Julius can be found after the blog.)

While we’re living in the midst of a public health pandemic and seeing some of the most wretched police brutality happen, it can be difficult for us to honor the humanity in other people. Every time we scroll through social media, we don’t have to look far to find someone making a divisive comment that alienates a group of people who are already marginalized. When we’re bombarded with these messages, it can be challenging for us to see the good in people as human beings.

As most of us know, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer on film. It’s important because the way he died was different than how other Black people have while in police custody. Watching an officer apply the weight of his body on George’s neck until he became lifeless was a shock to our souls. This was long, drawn-out, and heart-breaking. There are hundreds of folks who have been murdered during routine interactions with law enforcement. As a society, we’ve become desensitized to seeing someone murdered on video by officers. With George Floyd though, that desensitization was reset.

Then, something different began to happen across the globe. On social media, we started to see people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds coming together to impact change. At protests, white bodies placed themselves on the front lines to protect Black people. Companies began to donate millions of dollars to Black-led organizations doing work at the grassroots level. Politicians began to stand in solidarity with Black activists fighting against police brutality.

What happened to George Floyd, coupled with the world’s heightened emotions due to COVID-19, put people in a place where they finally said, enough is enough.

Does this mean that racism is over, police brutality will stop, and humanity is saved? We have a long way to go before we reach that point.

I believe that every day, people are beginning to see that Black people deserve to be loved, valued, and appreciated like everyone else in the world.

After losing my best friend from college to suicide years ago, I knew that honoring people’s humanity was part of my greater purpose. We have feelings and emotions. We go through trials and tribulations. We experience joys and successes. All of these things are part of being a human.

I hope that we continue to honor this sentiment when no one’s watching and the cameras stop flashing. I envision a future in which we don’t have to advocate for people to believe in humanity. I believe that as humans, there’s goodness in all of us.

I believe we have the power to stand up to racism and bigotry together for the betterment of our society. The younger generation is rising to the occasion and driving this movement in a sustainable, transformative direction. We should all be excited about how systems and archaic policies are being challenged right before our eyes. The revolution is happening today and it’s a beautiful experience to witness.

In solidarity,

About the writer: Julius Boatwright is a licensed social worker and Founder/CEO of Steel Smiling, a local organization that bridges the gap between Black community members and mental health support through education, advocacy, and awareness. Mr. Boatwright’s work engages Black communities in the Pittsburgh area and throughout the country to create connections and address the specific challenges they face. His personal experiences, education/background, and passion for addressing trauma and mental health have overflowed into a range of services to help Black children, youth, and families learn about mental health, share stories about their experiences, and strive to collectively heal.

Special thanks to Julius for sharing a part of himself and his wisdom in this meaningful blog. You can learn more about Steel Smiling at their website and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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West A: Education & Engagement

West A: Education & Engagement

West Allegheny High School is no stranger to Stand Together. This is their third year in the program and each year it gets better and better. Although some of the students may change, their passion for ending stigma and focus on education and engagement shine beyond their years.

One of West Allegheny’s priorities has always been education. Whether it’s in discussions with staff/faculty during professional development sessions or during peer-to-peer sessions, the team uses contact in small groups to connect with their audience and educate them in a way that is not only fun and engaging, but also incredibly valuable.

Common Ground

Since one of the team’s advisors is the physical education and health teacher, she was more than happy to share time with her classes to discuss mental health, after all: mental health is just as important as physical health! Students learned not only about the Stand Together program and the West A projects, but also about mental health diagnoses and each other. Members started by engaging their peers in Common Ground, an activity where students learn more about each other by moving seats when different statements apply to them. This helps break-the-ice and get people moving and talking.

The rest of the time was spent sharing information and engaging in a diagnosis/definition match game and Kahoot! This medium has been a favorite for many of our schools as it uses technology and competition to keep the students engaged while learning the information. Students also shared some resources and how individuals could get help if they were worried about themselves or someone else. They covered all three goals in this project: increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and encourage reaching out to a trusted adult! Woah!

West A’s squad also had a W.H.A.P.P. day for the students in their school. The team painted their faces with a hand-print to signify the ratio of 1:4 individuals that are affected by a mental health and/or substance use disorder. Painted in green (mental health) and purple (substance use) awareness colors, their peers could visualize the number of youth experiencing these conditions and were also reminded of the W.H.A.P.P. acronym-signs they could see that someone was struggling and needed emotional support.

During this activity, students learned what stigmatizing language is, how to recognize it, and positive words to replace it with instead of the negative connotations associated with mental and substance use disorders. Students wanted their peers to know that a person is just that-a person-first and that a behavioral health condition doesn’t define who someone is; that disorder is only part of who they are. Although it may affect that individual in many ways, people with mental and substance use disorders recover and have successful, meaningful lives.

Students demonstrated this by removing a red post-it note with stigmatizing language on it with a green note with a personal characteristic or appropriate word/phrase. Youth that engaged in the activity also received a ticket to win a gift card as a token of the team’s appreciation. By the end of the day, all of the red had been replaced with green in the shape of a green ribbon for mental health awareness! What a meaningful visual and physical activity for students to participate in!

Students also signed the anti-stigma pledge, agreeing to:
-speak up and speak out against stigma associated with mental and substance use disorders in their school and community
-not use stigmatizing language, like ‘psycho,’ ‘crazy,’ or ‘mental,’ to refer to anyone, whether that person has a mental illness or not
-share information, resources, and experiences to spread awareness and acceptance
-provide support and hope and encourage others to seek help when they’re struggling (S.H.E.)

The team also had plans for a mural that is still in the works. This whole quarantine thing has really dampened a lot of our teams’ plans, but West A continues to work virtually to educate their peers and provide resources. They have recently started an online campaign to provide their peers with tools to help them deal with anxiety and engage in self-care, become aware of the signs, and learn when and-more importantly-how to get help. This virtual project continues to keep the team’s momentum, even if they can’t hold events in person! How awesome is that?!

Thank you, West A, for another great year! We can’t wait to see the finished mural and follow your virtual project for tips. You’re changing the world-one student and staff member at a time!

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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A Happy, Healthy New Year: New Year, Better You

A Happy, Healthy New Year: New Year, Better You

The common phrase we hear around the New Year is: New Year, New Year. I want to tell you that you are already enough! But there’s always things we can work on to better ourselves and achieve our goals. We don’t want a ‘new you;’ our goal is to give you some tips and tricks to incorporate into 2018. No matter if you set resolutions or just see it as another day, it’s important to remember that the small things matter, you’re not alone, and we’re in this together.

The most important of them all:


You DESERVE to be HAPPY!!!

1.3.18 new year blog (1)Should I say it again? YOU! Yes, you! Many of us struggle with self-confidence, high standards/expectations, and so much pressure. Sometimes it’s hard to think that there’s more to life than the hustle and bustle of everyday or the chasing the ideas of perfection. You are unique. There is no one else exactly like you in the world. You are human and you deserve love and happiness. And that starts with you. You’ve got this!

You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
– A. A. Milne

2. Treat yo-self!

I know we preach and preach about self-care, but is it so 1.3.18 new year blog (2)incredibly important. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so the saying goes. As members of Stand Together, we ask you to be there and practice SHE: support, hold hope, and encourage each other. You can’t do that if you’re not well. Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise, and do things you enjoy. Be kind to yourself. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit (aka holistic wellness). Take care of yourself and you’ll be able to share yourself with others.

3. Surround yourself with positive people.

We all need SHE in our lives. Friends and close family members are some of the most important tools for resiliency (the ability to bounce back after difficult experiences). You’re never alone and we’re in this together. Don’t be afraid to share your joy, your fears, your struggles with someone else. We have more in common than we do different.

1.3.18 new year blog (5)4. Don’t sweat the small stuff-but the little things matter.

This comic is me to a ‘T.’ So often I focus on the few negative things than all the great things. It’s so hard to do! We have to rewire our brains to make this happen-but it’s well worth it. At the same time, we need to appreciate the little things in life: a text from a friend, a sunrise/sunset, (for me) a nice cup of tea…the list goes on. Gratitude helps us stay centered and have a more positive outlook. Have you given thanks today?

Last, but not least…
5. This is YOUR year.

You have the power to change things you do not like. You have the ability to set boundaries to protect your mental health. You have the chance to advocate for yourself and others. You can and will make a difference. We believe in you. Live in expectation; the best is yet to come. Happy, Healthy New Year!

1.3.18 new year blog (6)

Written by Danyelle, Project Coordinator

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