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Juneteenth Town Hall Addresses Mental Health Needs For Black Utahns

Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs

To celebrate Junteenth, the holiday commemorating the emancipation of American slaves, the Utah Juneteenth Commission held a town hallon Friday and addressed "The State of Black Utah.” The town hall’s primary topic was mental health care and resources for Black Utahns. 

“For us as Black people, we have a dark history that runs through our veins and that is also continuously being perpetuated against us today in 2020,” said Gregory Noel, a counselor at Weber State University, who opened Friday’s town hall. “Racial trauma, I would say, is where a lot of our anxiety and depression stem from.” 

As part of the online event, Jazzalyn Livingston, National Program Manager for the NAACP’s Youth and College Division, led the attendees in a group breathing exercise, partly, she said, on behalf of the Black Americans who could not breathe. Livingston said that the historical trauma, or as many called it, “Post Traumatic Slave Disorder,” is compounded by the graphic evidence of violence against black Americans. 

“Black people are dealing with two pandemics,” Livingston said. “The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing pandemic of racism.” 

According to Livingston, Black Americans face many barriers in finding mental health care. 

“Black people have had a really difficult relationship with health in this country. We know that our black skin is oftentimes seen as a threat,” Livingston said. “Lack of financial resources, and we know that therapy isn’t free. Racism and discrimination is a major factor in our wellbeing. And we’re having to carry that fear that whoever we’re speaking, sharing our vulnerability, sharing our truths cannot understand the nuances and the impact that racism and discrimination has on our everyday mental stability.”

Livingston said it’s important to make sure the current movement is not just a moment after the protests dies down. And that means, she said, mental health care is a priority for Black Americans’ welfare. 

“We are the generation to see the change and to be the change of what we want for tomorrow. And the things that we saw that our ancestors endured, as an honor to them we no longer have to carry that any longer. But that also requires us to take care of our well being.”