Coming Together Virginia to explore impact of racism on mental health

Darlene M. Johnson | 3/14/2024, 6 p.m.
For the next three months, Coming Together Virginia (CTVA) will host its Racism at Work (RAW) series to tackle how …
Danita Rountree Green, left, and Martha Rollins are co-CEOs of Coming Together Virginia, a local nonprofit organization that typically unites people over a meal to have difficult conversations. On Aug. 27, 2022 the women led Richmond-area residents on a Unity Walk to commemorate the 59th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech. Free Press file photograph

For the next three months, Coming Together Virginia (CTVA) will host its Racism at Work (RAW) series to tackle how racism affects physical and emotional well-being.

Founded by Danita Rountree Green and Martha Rollins in 2014, the nonprofit’s vision is of “a racially healed world of thriving, equitable and just communities.”

“We have noticed in our organization that racism in itself shows up in many different ways and it affects so many avenues in our lives,” Ms. Green said. “That is to say it affects us in some way spiritually, emotionally and physically.”

Research shows the different mental and physical effects racism has on Black people, such as depression, anxiety, hypertension and obesity, Ms. Green said. While it is known that Black people experience racism, CTVA has learned through monthly group gatherings that racism also affects white people. An example of this is their worship practices.

“We have a lot of segregated churches in the city and there’s a reason for that, that stems from our history, particularly here in the South” Ms. Green said. “It affects our belief systems, how we look at ourselves as a privileged class when we talk about white people, which also suggests that there’s a class of people who are not privileged and there’s a reason for that. We look at the spiritual quotient of that but we also look at the emotional quotient of that for white and Black people.”

All CTVA activities include a discussion portion and include diverse populations, from the Black and white communities, to youth and elders, and the wealthy and less wealthy, Ms. Green said.

During discussions about race, CTVA is able to get to “the heart of the matter,” which includes a person’s generational history and lived experiences.

“We talk and the most important thing is that we listen to get a greater understanding of who we are as Virginians, as Americans,” Ms. Green said.

Through these conversations, CTVA hopes that guests can heal personal wounds, build trust and relationships, and decide to take action for change and transformation for the greater good of the community.

“We want people to feel that they’re part of the process of being community members,” Ms. Green said. “We never know exactly where the answers are going to come from or where they lie but at least in the conversation, we can begin to discover more about ourselves and question some of our own beliefs, which is the basis of what we do.”

Jabriel Hasan will kick off the RAW series with a potluck and conversation gathering on Tuesday, March 26, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, 3601 Seminary Ave.

Mr. Hasan is an interfaith minister with the Inayatiyya and co-chair of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s Truth and Reparations Task Force. His presentation will cover the mental health implications associated with racial awareness development, such as typical trauma responses. Attendees will also learn techniques to reduce stress that stems from racial 'conscientization'.

Guests are encouraged to bring side dishes to share. Donations of $20 per person will help to cover costs, but are not required. Guests are encouraged to attend with or without food items or donations. To register, please visit www.comingtogethervirginia.org/upcoming-events. For more details, please contact Hayat Bain at 804-467-9674 or hayat@comingtogethervirginia.org.

On Tuesday, April 16, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Kay Hamlin, a community health specialist, will lead a panel discussion.

On Tuesday, May 21, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., Dr. Shawn Utsey, a VCU professor and documentarian, will provide a screening of his film “The Central Lunatic Asylum for the Colored Insane.” The film covers the history of the Petersburg facility, now called the Central State Hospital, that opened in 1869 and was the first psychiatric institution in America that exclusively treated Black patients.

For more information, please visit www.comingtogethervirginia.org.