Our Minds Matter Urban Teen Summit

“Emotionally healthy sons become emotionally healthy fathers. Emotionally healthy sons become emotionally healthy husbands. Emotionally healthy sons become emotionally healthy leaders.”

  These are the words of Jerome West, MAR, MRE, the program coordinator for the 16114995_10212342700389329_8743410722257652067_n
GRACE Initiative of CommQuest Services He is working toward a solution to destigmatize mental substance abuse in the African-American community and other minority communities in Stark County. He says that “Being emotionally healthy is a journey, and for that journey we need to be knowledgeable of coping mechanism and emotional and substance abuse services.”

     The GRACE Initiative, previously known as the Southeast Behavioral Health Project, is an acronym for, “Giving Recovery and Resiliency Assurance through Community Centered Services, which Empowers individuals to be emotionally healthy.”

     In Ohio, approximately every five hours a life is taken by their own hands. For Ohioans, this the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34. The numbers of death by suicide in America are staggering, as around 44,193 lives are lost annually.

   Nearly 40% of white Americans seek professional help, however, only 25% of African-Americans seek assistance for their emotional state. So, why are these numbers on the rise?

  The “Our Minds Matter Urban Teen Summit” will confront these issues and more with Stark County youth on April 22, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

  The idea behind the Summit was cultivated after West noticed a rise in suicide rates among minority teens. West wanted to raise awareness for emotional health in teenagers while connecting with the current theme of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Not only must we (and the world) understand that our ‘lives’ matter, we must also understand that our ‘minds’ matter just as much.


  “The ‘Our Minds Matter Urban Teen Summit’ is designed to empower students to be emotionally healthy,” explained West. “To inspire them to be leaders in the community and maximize resiliency. It is also Stark County’s Mental Health Recovery Services Addictions Boards bridge to inspire, and empower this community. A bridge that has never been built before.”

Going into its second year, the Summit is open to any student in grades 9-12 in Stark County. The First 200 students and 50 parents who register and attend will receive a gift card, and everyone will get a t-shirt, free lunch, backpack, and a ton of fun.



Ohio State’s 2002 championship team’s runningback Maurice Clarett will speak with attendants about his own personal challenges with mental health while competing.  In the “Breakfast with Maurice” segment, 125-150 students who have been identified as future leaders of Stark County, but need to be inspired will have a heart-to-heart with Mr. Clarett at the Metropolitan Center at-risk student athletes will have a heart-to-heart breakfast with Clarett at the Metropolitan Center.

 Other activities for the day include teen discussion panels and take-a-way sessions ran by mental health professionals from the community. Topics titled, ‘Getting High so I Won’t Feel the Hurt’ and ‘Angry and I Don’t Know Why’ will tackle substance abuse and anger management. Sessions titled ‘Where Are You?’ and ‘Love, Like, Angry, Share’ will dig into parental abandonment, self-esteem, suicide and social media.

  Nearly five years ago, the Stark County Mental Health and Services Board recognized that African-American and Hispanic communities do not use traditional counseling services for mental health and substance abuse problems. The cultural norm for these groups is to rely on faith and religion for emotional support, rather than therapeutic and medical facilities.

The GRACE Initiative was then designed to empower minorities to be emotionally healthy, but has unfortunately struggled to get a handle in the community because of stigmas unique to minorities due to both social and economic factors.


  “Historically, African-American’s do not trust the healthcare system,” said West, a mental health program coordinator and professor. “And then you have those historical, pivotal moments in American history where the system proved it wasn’t designed for us.”

The long list of historical distrusts for blacks in America such as slavery, Jim Crow laws and the crack epidemic have led to a cultural wariness of the system. The system must then, according to West, build the bridge that allows minorities to feel safe enough to seek the help being offered.

“The GRACE Initiative does that,” said West. “What we do is take emotional health services and couch them into those communities. For example, we have the only African-American, male psychologist in Stark County.”

Out of 360,000 people in the area, there is only one African-American male, licensed psychologist– Dr. Sylvester Huston. Huston is currently working with the Summit to provide insight on the mental health struggles in the minority community.

“One of the things that I would like people to recognize is that it is okay to see a mental health practitioner, the same way you’d see your family doctor or your dentist,” said Huston. “There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with going to the church and praying, but the church isn’t going to answer all your problems. Serious clinical problems need to be addressed clinically. Some people do need therapy, some do need medications to function effectively.”



A cultural disconnect with mental health professionals is the biggest barrier between healthier minds and the black community. To overcome this, a conversation must be started that leads more African-Americans into the mental health field both personally and professionally.

With the help of West and Huston, the “Our Minds Matter Urban Teen Summit” is the first of many steps to breaking this barrier, and leading Stark County to a healthier mind and community.

Join Stark County on the journey to healthier emotional lives by visiting starkmindsmatter.com  or calling (330) 409-3715 register or volunteer at the “Our Minds Matter Urban Teen Summit.”  



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