Fitness class

The Healthy Start Brooklyn Community Action Network (HSBCAN) hosted its second annual Wellness Weekend in Brownsville on May 19 and 20. The weekend started off on Friday at the Gregory Jackson Center, with a film screening of “Healing Neen,” the story of Tonier Cain, a mental illness survivor, and concluded the next day on Saturday with the March for Mental Health and a variety of fitness classes at the Van Dyke Community Center.

Tonier Cain (left)

Following the screening of “Healing Neen” guest speaker Tonier Cain answered audience questions with calm, confidence and humor, despite having suffered through various types of childhood trauma, spending two decades of her adulthood sleeping under a bridge and in and out of mental institutions. Few may be as experienced as Tonier Cain when it comes to breaking the silence around mental illness. Yet, there are many more stories like hers unfolding every day all over the United States – and in Brooklyn.

Healthy Start hosted the wellness weekend in Brownsville, because it is a community where resources for treating mental illness are severely disproportionate to the number of people who need them.

Mary-Powel Thomas, director of HSBCAN, said that residents who test positive for depression may have to be on the waiting list for six weeks before they are able to receive help or therapy. “This is one thing we hear anecdotally, at least,” she said. “The Department of Health is trying to bring resources back to these neighborhoods and to empower the people who live here.”

But not only is there a lack of resources, the problem is further exacerbated by a resistance to seeking help due to the stigma around mental illness that persists in African-American communities. HSBCAN hopes that the Wellness Weekend program will help break the silence around mental illness. 

George Hulse and Torian Easterling

Additionally, with the establishment of the Wellness Weekend, HSBCAN seeks to coordinate the efforts of various organizations to provide residents resources in a systematic manner, said Torian Easterling, assistant commissioner of the Department of Health.

Combining efforts to combat the mental health crisis was also an incentive for building the Community Action Network, according to Thomas. Therefore, organizations such as Red Tent Pop Up Circle, which help new mothers to cope with mental issues, and Power of Two, which offers parenting classes, were among the organizations invited to the Wellness Weekend. 

The group set out for the March

All of the events were well attended, and HSBCAN plans to host many more film screenings like “Healing Neen”. The March for Mental Health also garnered quite some attention, particularly from the residents around the Van Dyke Community Center who looked curiously out of their windows.

As Thomas said at the end of the day, “It is a good starting point for creating a larger impact and building a healthy community from the ground up!”


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