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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,
Julius

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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Mental Health Advocacy & Me-ST Youth take on Legislation

Mental Health Advocacy & Me-ST Youth take on Legislation

We often hear: ‘Youth are our future.’ As cliche as it sounds, it’s 100% true. Change starts with you and YOUth across Allegheny County are paving the way for mental health education, resources, and parity by meeting with local legislators to discuss the future of mental health in our area.

Stand Together staff had the pleasure of assisting the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and PA Youth Advocacy Network in planning and implementing the Youth Mental Health Advocacy Workshop on Tuesday, March 3 during the Dan Miller Disability Awareness Summit-but the students did all the work. Members of Stand Together teams from CAPA, Montour, West Allegheny, and West Mifflin high schools joined students from other schools to gather their perspectives on teen mental health and work together to identify issues, formulate questions, and propose suggestions to advocate for mental health. Afterwards, the students had the opportunity to discuss their findings with members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate.

Team leads walked their groups through concerns and opportunities, current and proposed policies/bills, and the importance of youth voice in government. These weren’t easy issues either! Students discussed:
-Addressing disparities in mental health;
-Creating safe, inclusive school communities;
-Educating teachers and students on mental health;
-Equality in support for mental and physical health; and
-Promoting suicide prevention and awareness.
Stand Together’s goals address many of these areas: increase education and awareness, promote social inclusion, and reach out to an adult (which requires adequate training for staff and faculty). Because of this, Stand Together team members brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the tables that day!

Our students made some really introspective and keen observations and remarks:
-‘It’s important to talk about mental health just as much as physical health in school…it needs to be stressed and ‘normalized.’ – Emma Dischner (HB 1696: Mental Health Parity)
-‘The media needs to stop making suicide look like a way out.’ – Angela Brown, West A (SB 199: Suicide Prevention & Awareness)
-‘Females tend to get more mental health attention in schools. Talking about mental health is a ‘choice,’ but because of the culture of toxic masculinity, it’s also not a choice. ‘Treatment’ is for the behaviors, not the cause (mental health)…A big part of it is changing the cultre surrounding mental health and making small changes.’ – Aiden Magley, CAPA (Federal: HRes480: Disparities in Mental Health)
-‘It should be a conversation between youth and staff what Act 71 (suicide prevention education) looks like in schools. – Emma Dischner (HB 590: Ed. for Teachers & Students in MH)
-A student from Montour agreed: ‘Teachers are afraid to reach out to students because they don’t know how to or are afraid to.’

The legislators were invested and had much to add:
-‘You can’t reach your potential unless this issue of mental health is addressed.’ – Sen. Pam Iovino
-‘What’s more important as a parent? That my son has a cavity or a mental health issue?…I think it (mental health) should be prioritized…We’re bringing students together, but we’re not talking about it enough and this can cause social isolation. We need to teach all health in fullness and connect people together.’ – Rep. Dan Miller
-‘We need more human-centered policies that have real-world application (about the people, not the numbers). Engagement of students and citizens is so important.’ – Rep. Sara Innamorato

Students and legislators discussed a lot of key issues, but this is just the start. We need to keep talking about mental health in our schools and communities and advocate in government for policy reform and support. We will continue to support our students as they speak up and speak out against stigma and build a youth mental health advocacy movement that will change our county for years to come.

‘Keep it going…you are just as much our constituents as your parents are. Keep using your voice.’

-State Senator Lindsey Williams

Written by Danyelle, ST Coordinator & JHF planning team member

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