May 19, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

community conversations aim to foster well-being

5 min read

Esther Eugene likens living with unresolved trauma to driving on a spare tire: You can make it work for a while, but eventually you’re going to run down.

“That’s how I look at most of the trauma that our community is facing. We put Band-Aids on and we use spares, just so that we can get to the next place. But we never really address the repairing of the body and the mind and the soul that we need to fully recover,” said Eugene, the president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP.

But on Tuesday, in St. Petersburg’s historic Deuces neighborhood, a community center launched a campaign to begin working toward just that.

Around 40 people, including Eugene, gathered in person — another 40 joined online — for the launch of the Liberated and Living Well campaign. It was started by The Well for Life, a local community center that prioritizes the needs of people of color and focuses on leveraging the strengths of marginalized communities. Tuesday’s program brought both local and national advocates together with the purpose of starting conversations about what it means to build community wellness and to help heal each other.

People attend the Liberated and Living Well campaign launched by The Well for Life organization. The event, held at the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, aimed to help individuals share their stories and take actions to improve their health and safety and inspire investment in community initiatives. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

“It’s a campaign rooted in our strengths, it’s a campaign rooted in our story, and it’s a campaign rooted in our beliefs,” said The Well for Life founder LaDonna Butler. “It is so important that we say that we are worthy of investment, and that the strategies that we use to establish safety and well-being are worth investment.”

Butler said that Liberated and Living Well is about bringing a solutions-oriented approach to addressing community trauma that stems from structural racism, poverty and inequity. The purpose of campaign is to bring residents together to talk about the positives, and to reflect on what’s working. But it’s also about creating a space for people to feel comfortable sharing their own stories of grief.

“The older I get, the more I understand that I have trauma I need to heal,” said Kenyatta Rucker, a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg, who addressed the gathering.

Rucker said that as a child, her father was in and out of jail on drug charges. She said the effects of having a missing parent have been long-lasting, but it wasn’t until recently that she began to open up and interrogate the weight that she carries.

“I don’t think I realized until I was an adult, that I had to heal so I could make myself whole again, so I could live my life,” Rucker said. “It’s okay to get help. Your past does not define your future, and this is about letting people know that they have a place they can come, people they can talk to.”

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Other speakers included St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Pinellas County Department of Health director Ulyee Choe.

“The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” said Choe. ” I believe that’s a powerful definition.”

Choe spoke about how social determinants of health — like poverty and access to transportation and food — affect well-being. He also spoke about the rise in mental health concerns and the high rate of trauma in Pinellas County schools.

Choe said a 2019 survey found that more than 30 percent of students in Pinellas were at high risk of mental disorders and physical ailments related to adverse childhood experiences. Addressing these issues will take the whole community, Choe said

“I remain hopeful that there are solutions. Public health has always been a collaborative effort and we need to hear the voices of our community members,” Choe said.

While health and well-being were the focus, some speakers talked about “restorative justice.”

An attendee reacts while listening to Dr. LaDonna Butler speak about the mission of the Liberated and Living Well campaign at The Well for Life’s launch of the movement. The event was held at the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
An attendee reacts while listening to Dr. LaDonna Butler speak about the mission of the Liberated and Living Well campaign at The Well for Life’s launch of the movement. The event was held at the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Kempis ‘Ghani’ Songster joined the launch from Philadelphia, where he works as part of a national movement to end incarceration without parole, and advocates for rehabilitation measures for people who have been imprisoned.

Songster, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole as a 15-year-old in 1987, was released four years ago after a federal court decision that declared juveniles could not be sentenced without parole, or, as Songster says, “be sentenced to death by incarceration.”

“Our current system is not concerned about rehabilitation, our current system is concerned about punishment,” Songster said. “But that doesn’t lead to betterment, and fails to acknowledge that people who victimize others have often been victimized themselves.”

Another national partner, Leon El-Alamin, tuned in from Flint, Michigan. He said that without efforts to rehabilitate people who have been incarcerated, the cycle of incarceration — and the community trauma that results — will only continue. Children will be the ones to suffer, he said.

“Mass incarceration really destroys so many family units. We can pour (resources into supporting) children, because we want them to grow up to be strong young adults, but if we don’t cater to the parents, then we still haven’t solved the problem,” said El-Alamin.

Artwork is seen behind people attending the launch of The Well for Life’s Liberated and Living Well campaign at the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
Artwork is seen behind people attending the launch of The Well for Life’s Liberated and Living Well campaign at the historic Manhattan Casino in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

As the launch event wrapped up on Tuesday, Butler acknowledged that the task at hand was a big one. But, she said, the first step is getting the conversation rolling.

“This is not a one-time story. This is about highlighting people, places and things that call for equity in health and safety in our community,” Butler said. “We are bringing people together so we can start to heal. That’s what it means to be liberated, to be free.”

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Tampa Bay Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.

https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2022/02/22/healing-while-black-community-conversations-aim-to-foster-well-being/