People of all ages attended the Mental Health Resource Fair 2020 at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church on 1010 Chauncey St. on January 25 from 1 PM to 4 PM. Although all the pews weren’t full, those in attendance ranged in age from teenagers to the elderly and they asked detailed and intense questions of the panel. The fair was prescient in light of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmore signing a bill on Monday that would create a 24/7 mental health resource hotline staffed by operators who would connect callers with local care providers and resources including substance abuse services.
Connecting people with the proper mental health resources was the focus of much of the discussion during the panel discussion on Saturday. In ministering to their congregation Pastor Bobby McKenzie and First Lady Justine McKenzie came across circumstances over and over again of people needing mental health support in their church and community. Said Pastor McKenzie, “We know that the congregation is a representation of the community. We see people in the community a little less coherent sometimes then they should be. We seem to see behavioral problems in our youth. We see people who can’t handle emotional issues, anger problems, depression … I didn’t look at it that our church was sick, but that is a representation of the community.” McKenzie went on to say, “If we heal the church, we heal the community and the first step was to get more information.” The mental health fair came about to address that need.
Concerns from Senator Dr. Bizon:
He stated, “I have great concerns about the use of marijuana within our community and especially by our youth.” He continued, “It does incredibly bad things to the adolescent brain.”
Pastor McKenzie acknowledged talking about psychological needs does have a stigma in the African American community, but he also pointed out, “The biggest obstacle is, no matter African American, European descent, doesn’t matter, people don’t want people to necessarily know that they are sick. And for me, I don’t care what color you are, I want us to be healthy and whole.” He shared a continual observation as he serves his church; “The biggest obstacle for me is having a people that want to come out and get help no matter what their color is.”
The resource fair started with a greeting from Pastor and First Lady McKenzie of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and then various organizations made presentations followed by time for networking and viewing of booth information. Then came the board presentation which tackled poignant issues for Albion. Presenters included Dr. Michelle Kachman, M.D. who works at Oaklawn Medical Group; Senator Dr. John Bizon, R, of Battle Creek; Dr. Randy Davis, Superintendent of Marshall Public Schools; Calhoun County Commissioner, 7th District, Gary Tompkins; Maurice Barry who shared his experiences with drugs and mental health; Albion Department of Public Safety Chief Scott Kipp; Jeannie Goodrich, MBA, Summit Pointe CEO; Michael Jones, BA who has fifteen years of rehabilitating and mentoring youth.
Marquetta Frost, an AmeriCorps member and coordinator of the fair said her church congregation wants to be a resource for the community because so often people deny or self-treat their condition. She explained how the problem escalates, “One is acceptance that you’re having a mental health problem. People just say no, I am mad or marijuana helps me to relax. So you had some issue that you need to go away and you decided to treat it with alcohol, drugs, whatever you decide is that vice to relieve that issue.” Moderator of the panel Shawnette T. Spicer brought up one aspect of that issue, the legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan and the effect on the community to the panel.
The topic brought up an animated discussion from the audience and concerns from Senator Dr. Bizon. He stated, “I have great concerns about the use of marijuana within our community and especially by our youth.” He continued, “It does incredibly bad things to the adolescent brain.” He also added the use of alcohol during pregnancy could make a fetus that is dependent on society forever due to brain damage. His concern with marijuana and the youth brain is the long-lasting effect on the youth’s mental health. He stated, “It is an increased risk of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis from the use and the current studies are showing that it is not only at the time of use, but also ten, twenty years later that you are still increasingly prone to those same psychiatric disturbances.” He expressed frustration over the problem when he said, “I don’t know how to keep things away from our kids. We haven’t kept tobacco away from the kids. We haven’t kept alcohol away from our kids and I am afraid we are not keeping marijuana away from our kids either. In my mind, this is a catastrophe. This is an emergency. We need to come up with a way to keep our kids safe and from going down that road.”
He said to the attendees of the fair, “I am looking to you for the answers.” He believes one answer might be testing for narcotics in schools. One Albion College student Ikpemesi Ogundare voiced her concerns about that and asked, “You said that you didn’t want this source of testing to be punitive. How would you make sure, if you install something like that, that it won’t be punitive? Who would be affected by these tests? Would it be low-income students? A whole school district? What would determine a cause for testing?” Dr. Bizon replied, “Now we are in the realm of what if?” He added that perhaps that would be a local decision lying with the superintendent Dr. Davis and then stated “I would think that we would require at least have education, and if education doesn’t work then what should we do about it? I take that question back to you. What should we do with kids that are using?” Ogundare was concerned that “We aren’t priming them to enter the school to jail pipeline.”
Moderator Spicer then commented that all issues won’t be solved during Saturday’s panel discussion but that there is something valuable to be learned during the afternoon. “We really talked about legislation and our responsibility that we share the things that are important to us. So we can take this as an opportunity to learn that we do have a voice and we have to start using that voice. That is a good mental health decision.” Panel member Dr. Davis commented that he appreciated hearing concerns on both sides of the issue. Another discussed included police CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) to help officers become better prepared to handle mental health issues in the field. Chief Kipp said that it has changed how his officers react to individuals exhibiting mental stress and that they now take more time to access the mental health needs of a situation and reassure the person that they are there to help them.
Harry Bonner, a long-time youth advocate, head of the program Substance Abuse Prevention Services in Albion, and the recent subject of Michelle Mueller’s book, “Mr. Bonner – The Story of a Mentoring Journey” explained why the fair was so important to the community. Bonner stated, “Today’s event was awesome. It was about the very critical issue, mental health. The church today led with action because of the people they had here.” He shared what he sees what the youth face in his program, “I think the greatest mental health issue for them is a lack of meaningful relationship with people.”
Sister Charmaine Bogan, a member of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, shared that the topics of the event were relevant to her life. “It was personal. I have a teenager. Actually, I have four teenaged grandchildren…I am afraid that people are smoking marijuana while they are driving. I worry about marijuana on campus. And also the mental health challenges that are youth have right now.” Bogan raised four of her five grandchildren for a number of years and said, “I didn’t even know there were so many resources in Albion and I have been a resident for over seven years. Now that I know there are resources, I think it will help me with my grandchildren.”
Pastor McKenzie and his wife expressed the hope to have another mental health fair at the church to continue building on the conversations that began during this year’s fair.
Pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
This story is reprinted with permission from The Recorder.
© 2020 The Recorder Newspaper. All rights reserved (About Us).
The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of The Recorder.