Wellness Connect Empowers Black Youth on their Self-Care Journey

By Lidia Abraha, p
Posted on January 15, 2021

Flower Painting by Ryan Williams, a participant in Wellness Connect

Anti-Black racism poses significant barriers to the positive development and healthy identity of Black youth. In a recent study by the Government of Canada 14.2% of Black Canadians over 18 years old reported their health to be fair or poor, compared to 11.3% of white Canadians. The prevalence of fair or poor health for Black women reached 15.0%. 

We recognize the growing challenges for Black youth to prioritize and maintain their mental well-being. While navigating the impact of anti-Black racism, the global pandemic forcing the world into self-isolation and the transition into virtual learning—it’s been a hard time for young people in our community.

“I think it’s important for Black youth to learn about wellness and self-care because it can help us navigate through a world that may often seem against us,” said Leila, a Grade 11 high school student who joined Wellness Connect, a free program for Black youth between the ages of 14-29 to explore wellness through an artistic lens. Since November, participants worked alongside wellness educators—to redefine self-care in a way that’s meaningful and accessible to them. 

Sessions take place twice a week on Zoom, and normally start with check-ins, where participants go into break rooms with 4-5 people and work through their challenges together. From educational sessions like our workshop on Decolonizing Mental Health with Keosha Love to art-therapy classes like Mindfulness in Art with Micah Nelson—participants are provided with food and materials for art-based workshops and learning sessions. 

“Recognizing how mental health is stigmatized in the Black community, there’s a strong need for programs like Wellness Connect in our community. We provide a safe space for Black youth to channel their creativity in a way that will uplift their well-being—where they can let go, unwind and release all their worries and anxieties,” said Sanique Walters, the program coordinator. 

Even though Leila was introduced to wellness practices at a young age, she didn’t fully understand the value until she got older. “By addressing our feelings and emotions and really taking the time to take care of our mental health, we become more in control of our emotions rather than trying to suppress our emotions or feelings, and ignore them.”

Watercolour Mandela Painting by Leila, a participant in Wellness Connect.

In each session, participants get to press pause and unwind while learning the best practices for developing a routine that supports their mental well-being. Ryan Williams is a 19-year-old, who joined the program to help deal with the challenges of 2020 and improve his overall well-being.

“The year 2020 has been very difficult for me, as I’ve been taking care of myself less, feeling unmotivated, feeling isolated, dealing with grief, and I just wanted to get out of this rut,” he said.

In terms of mental health support, people in their 20s face an unprecedented gap in affordable mental health resources. The beauty of this program is that it helps bridge that gap by offering participants resources and counselling referrals to partnered organizations, therapists and Peer Supports to help meet their needs.

“We want youth, especially Black youth, to feel a sense of belonging in this program. We want them to know there is help, and that our community can care for you,” said Sanique. 

So far Ryan’s favourite session has been the Mindful Arts program, facilitated by Micah Nelson, an arts educator. During this session, participants were introduced to art therapy by painting mandalas with water colours, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. 

Zoom session from Wellness Connect, a free program for Black youth to explore wellness through art.

“My relationship with wellness has improved by a lot since joining the program,” said Ryan, 

“I’ve used art to explore and enhance my wellness by painting, drawing, taking photos, and writing. These art practices helped me discover my true self during the lowest points in life and have been a great wellness booster for me. I’ve learned that through art, you can channel your inner world experiences onto your very own canvas.”

Each month, new facilitators and participants are welcomed into the program. Learn more about Wellness Connect here

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